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The BBC and Religious Reporting

October 19, 2010

This story on the BBC website has gotten me annoyed. It’s about the “defection” of an Anglican bishop to the Catholic church

because of his opposition to the way the Church of England plans to introduce women bishops.

A perfect opportunity for the public to hear about an outdated, sexist policy that leads to a dangerous mindset where women are, whatever the justification may be, treated as second best to men. Or you would have thought so. Not the BBC! The closest the article comes to criticism is this passage:

The Pope has created a special enclave in the Roman Catholic Church for Anglicans unhappy with their Church’s decision to let women become bishops.

Under his controversial offer, Anglicans could retain some of their practices and traditions.

“Controversial” is the only word in the article that even suggests something bad is going on, and the way I read it the controversy in question is the Catholics deciding allow Anglicans to keep some of their “practices and traditions”, not the blatant discrimination.

The analysis at the side of the story is even worse. It starts:

It was thought to be priests rather than whole congregations who would drive to convert to Roman Catholicism. It is priests who would be most directly exposed to serving under a woman bishop.

So why should this be a problem? Any analysis about what this says about Anglican priests?

They are almost bound to have to give up attractive churches such as St Peter’s and spend some time worshipping in the “wilderness” of borrowed or rented accommodation, and there is a strong element among traditionalists on the catholic wing of the Church of England who want to stay and fight for increased “protection” from serving under a women bishop.

The analysis is completely from the viewpoint of a religious male. No thought given to the equality issues at stake. There’s impartial reporting, then there’s reporting a story from a particular viewpoint. This falls firmly in the latter category.

Ophelia Benson points out the sentence “…many traditionalist clergy are unhappy with the level of protection so far offered to them from serving under a woman bishop”:

Imagine re-writing that passage.

…many traditionalist clergy are unhappy with the level of protection so far offered to them from serving under a black bishop.

…many traditionalist clergy are unhappy with the level of protection so far offered to them from serving under an Indian bishop.

…many traditionalist clergy are unhappy with the level of protection so far offered to them from serving under a Mexican bishop.

If that story was in the news, the BBC would have something a tad stronger to say about it.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Hester permalink
    October 20, 2010 9:07 PM

    Christian, nice to see you’re up on women’s rights! However I thought that the article was impartial reported, taking “controversial” not to be the view of the journalist but of an unnamed group – presumably Catholics find it controversial? In addition stating that “many traditionalist clergy are unhappy with the level of protection so far offered to them from serving under a woman bishop” is not the same as condoning that viewpoint. I agree “level of protection” is an extremely odd phrasing to use but on the left in the Analysis it’s in quote marks so again the view of the clergy. The only thing that was perhaps biased was the random heading “personal hardship” halfway down the article. Seems odd to emphasize the hardship of having to change churches and not that of the women, who for some, reason still want to be part of this strange organisation. Pretty boring article but I guess its relevant to someone – although presumably/hopefully only people with a short remaining lifespan, would be more interesting to see how the discrimination stood within the law.

  2. October 23, 2010 4:26 PM

    But do you agree that the report would have been fundamentally different if the story wasn’t talking about women but black people, gay people, foreign people, or any other minority? I’m sure it would have been. That’s why I think the report is isn’t good journalism.

  3. Hester permalink
    October 27, 2010 5:25 PM

    I don’t think it would have been that different; it doesn’t seem like its an in depth analysis, just quick reporting on one aspect, which you can get away with when there are links to other related articles. Maybe it would have been a bit different if it was a case of racism instead of sexism but historically in the UK sexism doesn’t have the historical violence as racism so there’s not such a violent reaction against it?

  4. Hester permalink
    October 27, 2010 5:40 PM

    http://archive.catholicherald.co.uk/articles/a0000704.shtml

    needless to say the comments are hilarious.

    This articles makes some good points:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2009/nov/12/women-bishops-parliament-debate

  5. October 27, 2010 6:31 PM

    Awesome! I would bet on the gender of most of the people commenting. I paticularly like the comment saying that the government are “continuing the harassment of Catholics. Whats new?”. Ahem. The reformation, the enlightenment, modernity in general, I could go on…

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