Does the BBC Favour Muslims?

Last Updated on Thursday, 11 September 2008 19:02


BBC ‘favours’ Muslims … or so says the Daily Telegraph. In a report by Ben Farmer on 8th September 2008, it was noted that Hindu and Sikh leaders had complained over the ‘disproportionate number of programmes … made about Islam, at the expense of their own faith’. Statistics gleaned from the BBC’s Religion and Ethics department claimed that since 2001, the BBC has made 41 programmes on Islam, 5 on Hinduism and 1 on Sikhism.

While this reveals a considerable comparative over-concentration on Islam, whether it amounts to ‘favouring’ Islam and Muslims is, of course, another question entirely. The starting point for the statistics (2001) might be taken to suggest not so much a desire to understand Islam as a religious system, as to situate Islam and Muslims within the usual ‘frame’ of issues having to do with security, ‘otherness’ and threat.

Of course, it would be of tremendous benefit to have a wider and deeper understanding of all the main religions through the medium of television. However, the limitations of the debate are indicated through the scant nature of the statistics. How many of these programmes about Islam were to some degree hostile? We are not told. It is unlikely that leaders of other communities would be comfortable with the same degree of microscopic and often critical scrutiny. Overall, however, what the report seems to teach us is not so much – in the misleading word of the title – that broadcasters ‘favour’ Muslims, but rather that a quantitative, rather than qualitative view of religious coverage does not take us very far.

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"The BBC does not like religion", not just Islam - Riazat Butt
written by Madeline , August 23, 2009

Riazat Butt's Media Guardian piece this Monday on the appointment of Aaqil Ahmed as Head of Religion at the BBC suggests that the BBC's "overcautious" coverage of Islam is in fact symptomatic of its wider attitude to faith. Butt sees the fact that "the BBC does not like religion or understand that" as a major stumbling block, preventing all faiths including Islam from "being presented in a modern, dynamic way."

Does she over simplify the matter, or is she correct to see the limitations of religious programmes in relation to Muslims as symptomatic of a more general, secular malaise?

For the full article see:

Lack of Relief?
written by spick , February 19, 2009

Certainly the BBC's decision not to show the DEC's appeal for Humanitarian Relief for Gaza could easily lead one to think that the BBC prefer us to think of Palestinians as perpetual victims. An (ironic?) regard for media impartiality was their cited reason for not running it when all other agencies bar Sky did, which made explicit these implicit linguitic prejudices detected by the Glasgow Media Group. Difficult to think that the BBC 'favours Muslims'.

How BBC frames news from Muslim territories?
written by scrutinizer , February 19, 2009

Lately, a spinwatch commentator has looked at how BBC's news coverage frame events in Muslim territories particularly in the Middle East.

"In a time of conflict BBC’s coverage invariably tends to the Israeli perspective, and nowhere is this reflected more than in the semantics and framing of its reportage. More so than the quantitative bias – which was meticulously established by the Glasgow University Media Group in their study Bad News from Israel – it is the qualitative tilt that obscures the reality of the situation."

The writer, a scholar at Strathclyde University, further notes:

"It is through these subtle – and not so subtle – manipulations of language that the BBC has shielded its audience from the ugly realities of Occupied Palestine. In the BBC’s reportage Palestinians ‘die’, Israelis are ‘killed’ (the latter implies agency, the former could have happened of natural causes); Palestinians ‘provoke’, Israelis ‘retaliate’; Palestinians make ‘claims’, Israelis declare. Schools, mosques, universities and police stations become ‘Hamas infrastructure’; militants ‘clash’ with F-16s and Apaches. ‘Terrorism’ is something Palestinians do, Israelis merely ‘defend’ themselves – invariably outside their borders. All debates, irrespective of fact or circumstance, are framed around Israel’s ‘security’. If the Apartheid wall is mentioned, it is in terms of its ‘effectiveness’. In the odd event that you have an articulate Palestinian voice represented, the debate is rigged with a set-up video that is meant to put them on the defensive. When all else fails, there is the reliable ‘both sides’ argument – if reality won’t accommodate the image of an even conflict, the BBC figures, language will."

Further details could be found at

written by Amena Saiyid , January 06, 2009

It's interesting to note that BBC has more programs on Muslims; however, what percentage of these programs actually talk about Muslims in a positive light and how many of these are looking at the links between Islam and terrorism..
its not how many programs BBC airs on Muslims, but how it portrays Muslims that should matter.

written by Madeline , September 30, 2008

Peter Morey is right to question limits of the data, and what – if anything – such bare figures can tell us of the ‘quality’ of the programmes the BBC produces on Muslims, the nature of their ‘bias’, or the image of Islam they may promote.

Some programme-makers see the BBC’s output of an apparently greater ‘quantity’ of material featuring Muslims as an indication not so much of a bias toward or against Islam, but rather a consciousness of the need, as part of its public-service remit, to ‘inform’ its audiences: to respond to contemporary events and developments which they may find ‘threatening and destabilising’, including the terrorist attacks perpetrated by Muslims and aspects of radical Islam.

Last year's Newsnight investigation into a Policy Exchange report on “The Hijacking of British Islam” might be seen to illustrate this apparent desire to ‘inform’ working in favour of Muslims, resulting as it did in Jeremy Paxman's direct challenging of the think-tank’s Research Director about the genuinness of ‘evidence’ which Policy Exchange had claimed proved that extremist literature was on sale at dozens of British mosques. Yet it might also be argued that the programme also contributed to a fetishisation of Muslims, entertaining as it did viewers' desires to probe the inner sanctums of radical Islamists apparently operating at the heart of Britain. Would Sikh and Hindu leaders really welcome such intrusive investigation into their own places of worship, whether conducted out of journalistic principle, to promote a ‘wider and deeper understanding’ or – more sensationally – to engage audiences in an exposé of the clandestine activities of an ‘other’ faith?

Elsewhere, while individuals such as Indarjit Singh consider Sikhs ‘brushed aside’ by the BBC (in quite what sense it is unclear), popular Sikh writer and broadcaster Hardeep Singh Kohli is established as a regular voice on Radio 4’s Front Row. While departmental statistics indicate a lesser number of features have been produced on Hinduism than Islam since 2001, the marriage of a well-established Hindu character to Ambridge’s parish priest divides the predominantly Christian community of its daily soap, The Archers. The inclusion or omission of individuals of a specific faith and their concerns is, inevitably, the result of a host of programme-making considerations (continuity, audience demand, contributor availability, in addition to the specific requirements to ‘entertain’, ‘inform’ and reflect ‘cultural diversity’). To what extent it can therefore be claimed that BBC productions indicate a clear bias towards one particular faith certainly remains in need of much more than statistical analysis.

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