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Parliament told BBC provides adequate Christian programming: The Church of England Newspaper, January 31, 2014 February 17, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Church of England, Church of England Newspaper.
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The Second Church Estates Commissioner has assured Parliament there is an adequate amount of Christian programming on radio and television.

During Oral Answers to Questions of the Church Commissioners on 9 January, the member for Strangford, Jim Shannon (DUP) asked Sir Tony Baldry “what discussions has the Commissioner had with media outlets such as TV and radio with regard to Christian programming? Does he agree that it is important to retain a level of programming that reflects the Christian status of this nation? What can be done to promote such programming?”

Sir Tony stated he did not believe there was a problem as if one looked, one could find religious programmes.

“To be honest, I do not think that Christians do too badly. If one gets up early enough, one can find a perfectly good programme between 7 and 8 o’clock on BBC Radio 4 every Sunday. I do not think we can feel that we are in some way discriminated against by the broadcasters.”

Tweeting Mohammad: Get Religion, February 3, 2014 February 3, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Islam, Press criticism.
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The Mohammad cartoon controversy has resurfaced over the past week with a flutter over a tweet.

The British press appears to have come down on the side of Maajid Nawaz. Newspaper articles, opinion pieces and television chat shows have defended his right to share a cartoon depicting Jesus and Mohammad. But they have also ceded the moral high ground to his opponents — Islamist extremists — by declining to publish a copy of the cartoon that has led to death threats and calls for Nawaz to be blacklisted by the Liberal Democratic Party for Islamophobia.

What we are seeing in the British media — newspapers and television (this has not been a problem for radio) — in the Jesus and Mo controversy is a replay of past disputes over Danish and French cartoons. Freedom of speech and courage in the face of religious intolerance is championed by the press — up to a point.

The point appears to be whether being courageous could get you killed or even worse, earn the displeasure of the bien pensant chattering classes.

The Telegraph gives a good overview of the affair.

A Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate has received death threats after posting a cartoon image of Jesus and the Prophet Mohammed on Twitter. Muslim politician Maajid Nawaz tweeted a picture of a t-shirt with a crudely-drawn cartoon entitled ‘Jesus and Mo’ which he describes as an “innocuous” and inoffensive.

However the image has caused fury among some members of the Islamic community who believe images of the prophet Muhammed are forbidden. More than 7,000 people have now signed a petition calling for the Liberal Democrats to suspend Mr Nawaz. Some have even suggested a fatwa should be placed on him while others have threatened they would be “glad to cut your neck off”.

The Guardian summarized Nawaz’s motives in this subtitle to their story:

Lib Dem candidate says he aimed to defend his religion ‘against those who have hijacked it because they shout the loudest’

It explained:

The row blew up after Nawaz took part in a BBC debate where two students were wearing t-shirts depicting a stick figures of stick figure of Jesus saying “Hi” to a stick figure called Mo, who replied: “How you doin’?”

The politician, who is founder of the Quilliam Foundation, an anti-extremist think-tank, tweeted what he believes is a “bland” image and stated that “as a Muslim, I did not feel threatened by it. My God is greater than that”.

Both stories are sympathetic and are topped by striking photos of Nawaz, who is  running to be an MP for Hampstead and Kilburn. But neither article reproduces the cartoon that has led to the threats against his life. In their defence, it could be argued that a photo of Nawaz, rather than the offending cartoon was more appropriate as the article focused on the politician’s travails over the cartoon, not on the cartoon itself. A week argument but an argument none the less.

Television was not blessed with this excuse. During the debate on The Big Questions which sparked the row, the BBC declined to show members of the audience who were wearing “Jesus and Mo” t-shirts. This censorship, avoidance, prudence (take your pick) led Nawaz to tweet a photo of the cartoon — leading to twitter threats to cut off his head.
Newsnight discussed the controversy over censorship, but decided not to show a copy of the cartoon. Newswatch also discussed the “Jesus and Mo” controversy, noting that complaints had been raised by viewers over its failure to show the cartoon. But Newswatch also declined to show the cartoon. Zero for three for the BBC.

The best (from a cognoscenti  of hypocrisy’s point of view) was Channel 4′s handling of the subject. It broadcast the cartoon, sans Mo. This prompted the popular British blogger, Archbishop Cranmer to write:

[This] censoring images of Mohammed establishes a narrow Sunni-sharia compliance: it is, effectively, a blasphemy code adopted by the state broadcasters.

The columnist for The Times, Janice Turner, excoriated the BBC and Channel 4 in an excellent piece entitled “Show us Jesus & Mo. It’s the price of freedom”. It was:

hard to watch Wednesday’s Newsnight without concluding that Britain has become a very strange place. We saw an artist so frightened for his life that his face and even his voice were disguised. We saw his hand sketching the Christian prophet in a crown of thorns, but forbidden to draw the Muslim one. An 11-minute film debated a drawing at the heart of a national controversy but at no point could we see it.

Turner further reported:

When challenged, Newsnight’s editor, Ian Katz, said that there was “no clear journalistic case to use” the cartoon, and that “describing” it was sufficient. (TV news will get a whole lot cheaper if we needn’t send a camera crew to war-ravaged Damascus: let’s just have it described by Jeremy Bowen.) Any depiction of Muhammad, Katz argued, “causes great offence to many, not just extremists” and to run it would be “journalistic machismo”.

She aptly summarized the journalistic and moral issues at play.

Mr Nawaz’s frustration is understandable. In banning the image, the BBC cast him as the faux-Muslim, his opponents as the rational, majority voice that must be heeded.

How can moderate Muslims be expected to speak out, if they are cast as apostates by national TV? Those who have not yet made up their minds will see angry offence as the default position. They hear it proclaimed by the deceptively reasonable Mohammed Shafiq, the Lib Dem, whose Ramadhan Foundation hosts homophobic speakers, and that hot-air balloon Mo Ansar, who argues that gender-divided public meetings are just like BBQs where guys cluster around the grill while wives chat with the kids. No biggie.

The BBC and Channel 4 are guilty of cant and hypocrisy. They are daring when it is safe to be daring, but cowards when it comes to militant Islam. Are the Guardian and Telegraph guilty of cant as well? They preach freedom of speech, but by refusing to show the Jesus and Mo cartoon are they not also ceding the moral high ground to the enemies of free speech?

First printed in Get Religion.

The BBC and the perils of press releases: Get Religion, October 21, 2013 October 21, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Church of England, GAFCON, Get Religion.
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The BBC and the perils of press releases

October 21, 2013 By 0 Comments (Edit)

The BBC’s internet news division stumbled badly this week in its initial report on a major meeting of Anglican church leaders in Africa. The 20 October 2013 story entitled “Archbishop of Canterbury makes Kenya detour on way to Iceland” has already had one correction and substantial alteration but the underlying premise of the story remains flawed.

It demonstrates the perils of relying on a single source in reporting the news.

The opening paragraphs of the original version, reprinted by the London Evening Post, and the revised BBC version are identical. They begin:

The Archbishop of Canterbury has made a detour of more than 8,000 miles to visit Kenya – on his way to Iceland. Archbishop Justin Welby, who arrived on Saturday night, gave sermons at All Saints Cathedral on Sunday morning. He made the “last-minute” 24-hour trip to offer condolences after the Westgate centre attack, Lambeth Palace said.He is also meeting conservative Church leaders who are in Nairobi for this week’s conference of the traditionalist Anglican lobby group, Gafcon.

The story offers background on the trip to Iceland and the al-Shabaab terror attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi. And then more details about the trip are added:

Archbishop Welby delivered sermons at 09:30 and 11:00 before having lunch with the Archbishop of Kenya and five Kenyan bishops. GAFCON2013 – the second such conference – will starts today and runs till Saturday. The original conference – held in Jerusalem in June 2008 – was organised in response to the appointment of actively gay men and women as bishops, especially in the US.

The stories then diverge. The original version stated:

Through the GAFCON movement, conservative Anglican provinces – mostly in parts of Africa but some in South and North America, Asia and the Middle East- have begun to function independently of the official Anglican Communion.

The revised version states:

 

Through the Gafcon movement, conservative Anglican provinces – mostly in parts of Africa but some in South and North America, Asia and the Middle East – have begun to function outside the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

And at the bottom of the revision we read this correction:

Correction 21 Oct 2013: This story has been amended to clarify that Gafcon remains within the Anglican Communion.

The problem here is the correction still is incorrect. As the correction notes the Gafcon movement remains within the Anglican Communion. To say they are acting “independently” is false. The churches who comprise the Gafcon movement represent the majority of all Anglicans. The correction stating they are outside the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury misunderstands the role of the office of the archbishop. He is not a pope nor are Anglicans outside the Church of England under his authority — and within the Church of England his authority is over the Province of Canterbury. The Archbishop of York holds authority in the Province of York. In short, the Archbishop of Canterbury has no more authority over Anglicans outside England than I, or you, do.

I should also note the facts presented in the story are false. For example, the BBC reports the archbishop had lunch “with the Archbishop of Kenya and five Kenyan bishops”. Yes, he did have lunch with these six people, but he also had lunch with the British High Commissioner, six other archbishops and a dozen or so Anglican worthies. I don’t know where the BBC got this information, but it certainly didn’t come from Nairobi.

And, the statement that the archbishop flew to Nairobi to offer support to the Kenyan people in the wake of the Westgate Mall bombing is false. It is not false in the sense that this is what the Lambeth Palace Press Office reported, but what Lambeth Palace said was untrue. If the BBC had bothered to contact the Gafcon conference organizers they would have learned the archbishop asked if he could meet the primates before the Westgate bombing took place.

How do I know this? I am in Nairobi reporting on the conference and I asked.

I might also add that in his sermons to the congregation of All Saints Cathedral the archbishop did not talk about al-Shabaab or terror. He spoke of Kenya’s Heroes’ Day (20 Oct) that commemorates the struggle against British colonial rule. He then focused on the Anglican Communion and the Gafcon conference. Nor did he visit the Mall or meet with ordinary Kenyans outside the cathedral.

By relying upon a single source and not verifying the information independently, the BBC propounded a false narrative. By being one sided and repeating information uncritically, the BBC let down the side.

A caveat, I may be violating one of Get Religion’s rules by reporting on a story in which I am peripherally involved. I am covering the conference for the church press and also appeared on the BBC’s Sunday programme after Archbishop Wabukala of Kenya offering my take on the latest perils of the Anglican Communion.

Ronald Reagan was right: trust but verify.

First printed in Get Religion.

Interview: BBC Radio 4 Sunday programme, October 20, 2013 October 20, 2013

Posted by geoconger in GAFCON, Interviews/Citations.
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Pay Day Loans; Christenings; Chief Rabbi

Duration:
45 minutes
First broadcast:
Sunday 20 October 2013

It’s four years since the first Global Anglican Futures Conference met in Jerusalem. This grouping of traditionalist Anglicans grew out of disaffection with the direction the Anglican church was taking in the USA and UK, particularly in relation to the issue of homosexuality. The second conference is taking place next week in Nairobi, and William Crawley will be hearing about its current agenda from its chairman, Archbishop Eliud Wabukala. l

The new Chief Rabbi has come under fire from ultra orthodox Jews for his decision to attend the educational Limmud conference in December. Does this decision mark a change in relationships between the Chief Rabbinate and ultra-orthodoxy?

Hear the broadcast at this link:

A new survey on loneliness suggests that religious people may be more likely to be lonely than those without a faith. Trevor Barnes considers whether the church’s focus on the family can alienate those who live alone.

And – to baptise, give thanks or simply to party? Guardians, godparents or “oddparents”? Prince George’s parents will give him a traditional christening next week , but what do the rest of us do?

Producers: Rosie Dawson
Annabel Deas

Guests:
Archbishop Eliud Wabukala
George Conger
Justin Cohen
Geoffrey Alderman
Stephen Evans
Bishop John Holbrook
Isobel Russo
Sheikh Mohammad Yacoubi.

Where is the BBC’s coverage of Egypt?: Get Religion, August 27, 2013 August 27, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism.
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What lays behind the Anglo-American press’s failure to report on the chaos in Egypt?

While there have been bright spots here and there in the coverage, the mainstream press appears to have dropped the ball, giving a stilted view of the “people’s coup” that overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood government of Pres. Mohammad Mursi. The claims coming from the liberal media in Egypt and pro-democracy activists is that the BBC and other major Western news agencies are pro-Muslim Brotherhood. Arab newspapers and blogs are full of reports of the crimes of the Muslim Brotherhood supporters — murder, arson, rape — yet the sympathy of the Western press is with the perpetrators of the violence.

Not all of the writing on Egypt is biased or ignorant. Look no further than Samuel Tadros’ article in The Wall Street Journal entitled “A Coptic Monument to Survival, Destroyed” to find a superior example of quality writing. This news analysis story printed on 22 August 2013 on page D4 in the U.S. edition of the WSJ  opens with a strong lede:

The Egyptian army’s crackdown on Mohamed Morsi’s Cairo supporters unleashed the largest attack on Coptic houses of worship since 1321.

And defends the assertion, telling the story of the destruction of the fourth century Virgin Mary Church by Muslim Brotherhood supporters. In relating this tale, Tadros helps the reader understand the destruction of this church is an analogy to the situation for Egypt’s Christians.

A Coptic exodus has been under way for two years now in Egypt. The hopes unleashed by the 2011 revolution soon gave way to the realities of continued and intensified persecution. Decades earlier, a similar fate had befallen the country’s once-thriving Jewish community. The departure of the people is echoed in the decay of the buildings. The landscape of the country is changing along with its demography. A few synagogues stand today as the only reminder of the country’s Jews. Which churches will remain standing is an open question.

But this WSJ story is the exception. Writing in Al-Arabiya, Joyce Karam criticized the parochial mindset of the American press.

For reasons related to the security crackdown inside Cairo and  the nature of the debate in Washington, the media coverage of the Egyptian crisis in major American news outlets has been lagging behind other parts of the world. The focus has been more on the policy of the Obama administration and less on the Egyptian dynamics and events outside Cairo. The overriding theme in the U.S. media since the crisis broke out last July has been centered around the question: “What should the U.S. do in Egypt?” rather than “what is going on in Egypt?”

The BBC did report on the anti-Christian pogrom of Aug 15. But its initial story was short on details and context. There does not appear to have been any follow up or mention of the chains of Muslim men protecting Christian churches from the Muslim Brotherhood in some sections of Cairo. The clipped account of the church burnings gave this explanation.

The Muslim Brotherhood has accused Christians, particularly the Copts, of supporting the toppling of Mr Morsi.  The Coptic Pope Tawadros II appeared to back the military after it deposed Mr Morsi on 3 July following mass protests. In turn, many Christians say Mr Morsi’s government was deliberately squeezing religious pluralism.

The head of the army, Gen Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, has described the attacks as a “red line” and promised to respond forcefully. Yet much of the violence has taken place outside urban areas, where there are few security personnel to intervene.

It may well be the BBC was unable to get out into the countryside to report on the violence — but this black/white view of the riots is woefully incomplete.

The story the BBC has missed — or ignored — is the widespread support the military ouster has in Egypt. The Egypt Independent reports that polling within Egypt reports two thirds of the country believe the army did not use excessive force in breaking up the Muslim Brotherhood camps.

The poll, conducted by The Egyptian Center for Public Opinion Research ‘Baseera,’ showed that 17 percent of Egyptians believed the sit-ins were peaceful, while 67 percent said they were not peaceful. Regarding satisfaction about the way of dispersal, the poll showed that 67 percent were satisfied, while 24 percent were unsatisfied. Nine percent said they were unable to decide.

The Guardian might well have been the only major Western outlet to report the “military-backed government in Cairo appears to be enjoying widespread domestic support for its bloody crackdown.”

However, the BBC has not completely withdrawn from the Cairo coverage.  It ran a human interest story about one family caught up in the violence on 18 August, two days after it ran its story on the church burnings.

Relatives of four Irish citizens caught up in a stand-off at a Cairo mosque have said they fear for their safety. The three young women and teenage boy are children of Hussein Halawa, the Imam at Ireland’s largest mosque in Clonskeagh in Dublin. All four were in the al-Fath mosque which was barricaded by supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi on Friday. It was cleared by Egyptian security forces on Saturday.

The story continues with reports about the family in Ireland’s fears for their relatives in Cairo. But while we know the four children of Hussein Halawa were in Cairo, the BBC does not seem curious to ask why they were there, and what they were doing inside the Muslim Brotherhood compound.

However a little searching on the internet will lead you to research conducted by Mark Humphrys on the Clonskeagh mosque — and there you will learn it is a Muslim Brotherhood operation. Watch the videos should you have any doubt as to where they stand.

Should the BBC have left its readers with the impression that these “three young women and teenage boy” were Irish tourists caught up in the turmoil, or foreign jihadists come to Egypt to lend their support to the cause?

All of which leads me back to my opening question? What reasons can there be for the dreadful coverage out of Egypt? Reports on the on-going destruction of a civilization are given short shrift, while the travails of Irish jihadists get the full on treatment. Why?

First printed in Get Religion.

The moral (and news) authority of Desmond Tutu: Get Religion, August 1, 2013 August 1, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Southern Africa, Get Religion, Human Sexuality --- The gay issue, Press criticism.
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An article at BBC.com on the launch of a United Nations-backed campaign to promote gay rights in South Africa is a perfect example of the kinds of difficulties that mainstream journalists face when reporting on world figures who have left the public eye.

The name and the work of retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu is known to most educated newspaper readers — but is a reputation built 25 years ago in the anti-apartheid struggle transferable to the modern debate on gay rights? Why should reporters automatically assume that the words of Tutu are major news?

Like Cher, Desmond Tutu has been on a never ending farewell tour. The ebullient archbishop will announce he is withdrawing from public life and then pop up again in conjunction with another cause or campaign. On 26 July the BBC ran a story under the catchy headline “Archbishop Tutu ‘would not worship a homophobic God.’” The article begins:

South Africa’s Nobel peace laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu says he will never worship a “homophobic God” and will rather go to hell. The retired archbishop was speaking at the launch of a UN-backed campaign in South Africa to promote gay rights. Despite same-sex relationships being legal in South Africa, it had some of the worst cases of homophobic violence, UN human rights chief Navi Pillay said.

Archbishop Tutu, 81, is a long-standing campaigner for gay rights. He retired as Archbishop of Cape Town in 1996, but has remained the moral conscience of the nation, correspondents say.

While it is tempting to focus on the first line of the story in this post, to do so would breach the parameters of this blog by discussing a religious and cultural issue, not journalism. Thus, my focus is on the last line of the paragraph, the “moral conscience of the nation” line.

Should the BBC be making this claim, or is this editorial advocacy? Is the Corporation making a value judgment that equates a struggle over race and politics with a struggle over sex and politics?

Tutu’s role in the transformation of the South African state is part of the historical record, and is rightly honored for his work. Yet he is not universally beloved. The pull quotes from a story reporting on comments made during a campaign rally this week by Zimbabwean strongman Robert Mugabe were unkind — and not unexpected.

“Never, never, never will we support homosexuality in Zimbabwe,” Mr Mugabe said. “Archbishop Tutu said it is nice to be gay, yet he has a wife, he should have begun by getting himself a man for a woman.

“When you are a bishop and cannot interpret the Bible, you should resign and give it to those who can. We will not compromise our tradition and tolerate homosexuality.”

For many years Mugabe has played upon the religio-cultural disapprobation of homosexuality in Zimbaber for political gain. It may be an act — a way of demonizing or scapegoating an unfavored minority to distract the people from the woes of the country. Sources in Zimbabwe, however, tell me that this is not feigned anger — he means what he says.

Being the object of Mugabe’s invective, however, is a badge of honor and would tend to boost Desmond Tutu’s credentials. Yet within the archbishop’s church his post-apartheid actions have made him yesterday’s man.

In 1998 I attended a meeting of the Anglican bishops of Africa held on the margins of the Lambeth Conference. What played out at this dinner was a contest for the unofficial leadership of Africa — who would be the paramount bishop. The new archbishop of Cape Town, a protege of Tutu — who had retired by this point — had his following. But the mantle of authority passed from South Africa to Nigeria. No votes were taken, nothing official occurred but at that dinner the Anglican churches of Africa moved on from apartheid. The culture wars and homosexuality took center stage.

One thing I took away from these encounters with African bishops was their visceral dislike of breaking ranks and of voicing public criticism of their own. As an American clergyman, I was used to one style of church warfare — Smite the Amalekites Oh Lord, smite them hip and thigh — not the African softly softly approach.

Thus when I saw this denunciation of Tutu by the Archbishop of Ghana following the publication of the BBC piece printed above, I was taken aback by its vehemence.

 

“Archbishop Tutu is respected in the Anglican Church and around the world but this time he has misfired and all Anglican Bishops from Africa, Asia and South America condemn his statement in no uncertain terms,” he told Adom News.

The Ghanaian archbishop goes on to say he believes Tutu’ is corrupt — and is now a moral authority for hire.

“We suspect that retired Archbishop Tutu may have collected some moneys from some of the western governments or from gay rights activists to do their bidding but the Anglican Church condemns gay practice,” he said.

This is all by way of background. Desmond Tutu has long been a vocal supporter of gay rights, and it is unlikely he has been swayed by American gold. The question I see is how to inject nuance into a story. Tutu may be a towering moral figure in the newsrooms of the West, but not in the African street or pew. I liken it to the reputation of Tony Blair — a prime minister beloved by American neoconservatives but despised by the British left. Should the BBC report on the launch of the Free & Equal campaign in Cape Town focused on Tutu or on the campaign? The quotes make for a fun story — but are they news?

Newspapers need shorthand ways of explaining issues in order to save space, to use code and symbols readers understand. But it is poor practice to allow historical analogies to frame issues as it distorts the past and does an injustice to the present. We see this sort of thing all the time — conflating the civil rights movement of the 60′s with the gay marriage debate of today, or the apartheid regime of South Africa with the modern state of Israel.

Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results, stockbrokers tell us. Should not newspapers do this too and inject context and nuance when discussing the contemporary comments of historical figures? Or is this asking too much? Did the BBC allow celebrity trump news? Did the BBC’s moral worldview, its conception of heroes and villains, prevent it from telling the true story? I think so.

First printed in Get Religion.

BBC silence on honor killings and Islam: Get Religion, July 3, 2013 July 3, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Islam.
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The BBC reports three Pakistani women were murdered by a member of their family for insulting the family honor by “smiling and laughing in the rain outside their family home” . The Corporation does a strong job in detailing the who, what, where and when of this “honor killing”, but continues its policy of hiding the why. The mention of Islam is absent from this story.

The story opens with the what, who and where:

Three women in north Pakistan have been shot dead by a male relative who seemed to have believed that they had brought shame on their family, police say. A mother and her two daughters – one aged just 17 – were allegedly killed by her stepson. He had apparently seen a family video in which the daughters were shown laughing in front of their family home.

We then are offered this tortured sentence explaining why:

The woman’s stepson appears to have considered the footage an assault on the family’s honour. So-called honour killings are common in northern Pakistan where women are seldom seen by men other than their relatives.

The story offers background information, noting this was not a freak occurrence.

The BBC’s Orla Guerin in Islamabad says that five young women and two men were reported killed in the same region last year after footage emerged of them singing and dancing together at a wedding. The killings were said to have been ordered by a tribal Jirga, or local council. But locals denied anyone had been killed when Pakistan’s Supreme Court send a fact-finding mission to the area. Leading human rights campaigners however expressed fear that all those in the wedding video were dead.

The article closes with this grim note:

Campaigners say more than 900 women were killed in Pakistan last year in the name of family honour. In spite of reform in the law they say conviction rates are not encouraging and in most cases the killers escape justice.

The self-censorship from the BBC on this issue would be comic if it were not so horrible. True, the BBC did not interview the killer and hear from his own lips the reasons why his relatives’ conduct impugned his family’s honor. Yet we have a statement from an advocacy group detailing the frequency of these crimes and the lack of punishment for the perpetrators. Might they have had an idea?

When the link between Islam and honor killings is raised, it more often than not takes the form of special pleading.  While it is important to hear why some Muslim scholars believe honor killings are not condoned in Islam, one is left wondering why we do not hear from those who support this barbaric practice, or who can explain why it is such a widespread belief. Do a little digging and you will find these voices. Do a little more digging and you will see that the legal codes of a number of Muslim-majority states do not in practice punish honor killings, or punish their perpetrators far less severely than they do others convicted of murder.

An example of the special pleading on honor killings and Islam came from CNN following the 2011 Shafia case in Ontario. “Islam doesn’t justify ‘honor murders,’ experts insist” stated:

Leading Muslim thinkers wholeheartedly endorsed the Canadian judge’s verdict, insisting that “honor murders” had no place and no support in Islam. “There is nothing in the Quran that justifies honor killings. There is nothing that says you should kill for the honor of the family,” said Taj Hargey, director of the Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford in England. represent?

Is this view universal within Islam? Why then do some Islamic jurists find justification in Islam for honor killings? Why did religious leaders object to laws strengthening penalties against honor killing in Pakistan if this was so?

In a 4 Dec 2008 interview with Al-Hayat TVWafa Sultan argued that honor crimes arose from within Islam.

The subjugation of women reduces them to a level lower than beasts – not to mention the laws of inheritance, testimony in court, the beating of a wife who refuses to go to bed with her husband, and ‘honor’ crimes. “Muhammad said in a hadith: ‘Three things spoil one’s prayer: a woman, a black dog, and a donkey.’ Do they ever give this any thought? Do they realize that Allah chose the female body for his greatest invention – creation itself? Wouldn’t it be moral to bestow upon the female body a certain holiness, instead of viewing it as impure?”

Should we take Dr. Sultan seriously? She is a Syrian-born physician and human rights activist who now lives in Southern California. In 2006 she was profiled by Time as one of the “100 men and women whose power, talent or moral example is transforming our world.”

In the Shafia case we have testimony from one of the killers explaining why he did it. The Star reported that a wiretap caught the killer telling his wife (and co-conspirator):

To his wife, Shafia allegedly assured that the right actions had been taken: “I say to myself, you did well. Were they to come back to life, I would do it again. No Tooba, they messed up. There was no other way. They were treacherous. They betrayed us immensely. There can be no betrayal worse than this. They committed treason on themselves. They betrayed humankind. They betrayed Islam. They betrayed our religion. They betrayed everything.”

Pride, culture and religion are cited as reasons for the honor killing. If the reporting does not lay out why these killers interpreted their faith as allowing them to kill women, the reader is left to conclude that the killers are moral monsters, are fanatics or insane.

Tell me GetReligion readers should the BBC raise the question of religion when reporting on honor killing? Is it right to ignore the religious element or make a blanket denial that Islam supports honor killings? Are we seeing unequal treatment of Islam from the BBC? Does it treat other faiths this way?

First printed in Get Religion.

Gosnell fog blankets Britain: Get Religion, April 19, 2013 April 19, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism.
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Last week my colleague at GetReligion Mollie Hemingway broke the American media blockade surrounding the Kermit Gosnell trial. Mollie, and Kirsten Powers writing in USA Today, reported on the absence of national press coverage of the trial of the Philadelphia abortionist — questioning why reporters who never tired of Sandra Flake or Komen Foundation stories shied away from this national news item.

Some members of the press and newspapers have sought to repair their damaged credibility and are now playing catch up, while others have retreated into the bunker (Nixonian allusions spring to mind but would likely be lost on the miscreants).

However, the British press appears not to have received the memo. As of the date of this post, the BBC has yet to air a story on the Gosnell affair (though it did run one web piece on 15 April after the Hemingway storm broke and the American media mea culpa.) ITV and Channel 4 have yet to report.

The newspapers have not raised the average. The Times ran one story on 13 April, but the Guardian and Independent have remained silent. The Telegraph does a little better — it had one news article dated 12 April entitled “Kermit Gosnell: US abortion doctor could be put to death over ‘baby charnel house’”. Op-Ed writers Damian Thompson and Tim Stanley weighed in on the Gosnell story as well as the media blackout. On 12 April Thompson wrote:

But British readers must know about the case of Dr Kermit Gosnell, which has been played down in the American media – possibly because the allegations of a homicidal abortion doctor don’t fit into their pro-choice narrative.

Well, Philadelphia is very far away after all. And a story about an abortionist on trial for infanticide in Philadelphia may not be interesting to the British newspaper reading public. American newspapers are notorious for their lack of in-depth overseas reporting due to the perception that  its readers don’t care about the outside world.

Perhaps the Daily Mail is an outlier — it has published 26 stories since 2011 on the Kermit Gosnell case — a number greater than all the news stories of the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, ABC, CBS, NBS, and CNN combined. It must be due to the large number of transplanted Philadelphians residing in Surrey.

The popular British blog Archbishop Cranmer explains the reticence stating:

This low-key response is almost certainly because Dr Gosnell’s case takes us to the question of what it means to be human and humane, and this is why it is so important. What he was doing crossed a fundamental line in law and morality between abortion and infanticide. Abortion prioritises the health of the mother. Dr Gosnell is accused of killing babies after the child was outside of the mother, at a time when the risks of childbirth were passed, though they were now entering the risk-laden world of Dr Gosnell’s post-operative care.

He sees a political explanation in all this. The same news outlets who pushed Barack Obama into the Oval Office are protecting their investment.

There is a political reason behind the silence amongst a media that subjected President Obama to as little scrutiny as Dr Gosnell. There have been efforts to legislate for doctors to be required to provide full medical treatment to babies who survive abortion procedures. Three times the President has voted against it, imperiously ignoring the possibility that men like Dr Gosnell exist. The US Federal Government provides 45% of the $1billion budget of Planned Parenthood, the US major abortion provider.

They, like the President, are very equivocal about this issue of infanticide as this video demonstrates. The lady struggling to answer the clear and direct questions is Alisa Lapolt Snow, a lobbyist for Planned Parenthood giving evidence to a committee of Florida legislators. Dr Gosnell’s trial puts the inconvenient truth of abortion and infanticide plainly into the public domain. It puts the brutal bloody facts to the sanitised language and could prove to be the tipping point in the public debate as ordinary people see for the first time how far the pro-abortion lobby are prepared to go in defending their industry.

There is a reason we talk about the ‘slippery slope’.

Why are so few people in the media, American or British, asking these questions?

First printed in Get Religion.

A Dan Brown Good Friday from the BBC: Get Religion, April 1, 2013 April 3, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism.
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What a difference a decade makes. In 2002 the BBC broadcast a documentary on the Virgin Mary characterizing her “as a poor and downtrodden girl, who might have conceived Jesus as a result of being raped.” This Life of Brian view of the birth of Jesus prompted outrage -– letters, editorials, statements from church leaders leaders condemning the broadcast.

A documentary broadcast on Good Friday by the BBC entitled “The Mystery of Mary Magdalene” that suggests Mary Magdalene and Jesus were sexual partners has provoked a complaint from a retired bishop but little else. The Telegraph reports:

The Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, the former bishop of Rochester, said the programme, presented by Melvyn Bragg would be “hugely offensive” to devout Christians because it amounted to the “sexualisation of Christ”. He said it was all the more upsetting because it is being screened at midday on Good Friday – the moment the Bible says Jesus was put on the cross.

The article notes:

Lord Bragg, who describes himself as “no longer a believer”, argues that Mary’s close relationship with Jesus was effectively airbrushed out of the accepted Biblical account by “misogynist” Romans. He points to a series of ancient writings known as the Gnostic Gospels which were not included in the agreed list of books which became the New Testament. They include references to Mary being “kissed on the mouth” by Jesus, being his favourite and even, as one passage suggests, his wife.

Writing in the Telegraph last week, Bragg argued Mary Magdalene:

was acknowledged by other disciples as his favourite and there is one taunting scrap of record which may well lead to the conclusion that she was his wife.

Which leads Bragg to the conclusion:

What then? What then for the celibacy which has led the organised Church into so many abuses and crimes and distorted lives?

Pretty clear were Bragg is going with all this. Bishop Nazir-Ali, the Telegraph reported, accused the BBC  of being deliberately provocative and noted that they would not treat Islam in the same way.

Why is the BBC doing this on Good Friday and why is it doing it in such a provocative way. … There will be huge offence, there must be some way of putting the other point of view across.

Maybe it is true that Mary Magdalene was married to Jesus and emigrated to the South of France where her offspring founded the Merovingian Dynasty. Perhaps the Priory of Zion, Illuminati, Rosicrucians, Knights Templar and Freemasons really do rule the world? Or maybe this is a ploy to hype ratings for a film that would otherwise disappear into the limbo of the History Channel — immediately after Ancient Aliens. As an aside, it would be interesting to see a documentary on Gnosticism that discusses and explores the tenets of this faith and its influences on modern thinking.

Bishop Nazir-Ali’s complaints are on point. The BBC would no more broadcast a show that questions the historical basis of Islam at the start of Ramadan than it would surrendered its license fees. These sorts of stories are not confined to the BBC. Easter and Christmas bring all sorts of silly stories to the pages of American newspapers and magazines. But it comes amidst a change in British religious attitudes toward religion. The former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey has denounced the Conservative government of Prime Minister David Cameron for deliberately alienating British Christians by its strident secularism and support for gay marriage. David Cameron is either a very poor politician, or he believes the Conservative Party will suffer no electoral consequences for dumping it traditional electoral base.

It very well may be that after 30 years of anti-Christian bias from the BCC there is not much the Corporation can do anymore to shock television viewers. I know I’m tired of these silly stories and wonder if you are too?

First printed in Get Religion.

Guardian wins week one of the 2013 All-England Pope-Bashing Contest: Get Religion, February 19, 2013 February 19, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Roman Catholic Church.
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The year’s at the spring, And day’s at the morn; Morning’s at seven; The hill-side’s dew-pearled; The lark’s on the wing; The snail’s on the thorn; God’s in His heaven—All’s right with the world!

Robert Browning, Pippa Passes (1841)

It’s a wonderful life. My heart has been singing songs of joy every morning as I take up my newspapers and survey the latest news on the abdication of Pope Benedict XVI. For a critic of religion reporting these are the good times — no slogging through continental newspapers to find a story to review for this blog. I am spoiled for choice just by reading the British press. Some of the stories have been so silly and wrong-headed as to be bizarre.

But there have been quite a few good stories from the religion reporters at the Times, Telegraph, Guardian, BBC and Independent in addition to the speciality church press (Catholic and Anglican) on this issue — but outside the specialist reporters the quality falls off sharply in the secular press. There is also an undercurrent of hostility towards the Catholic Church that few media outlets bother to hide — or appear to recognize.

A typical example came in BBC Radio 4?s Any Questions program. Members of the audience are asked to submit written questions on topical issues for discussion by a panel of speakers that ostensibly will provide a balance of views. The producers of the show pick the panel and the questions — and on Friday’s broadcast 23:45 minutes into the show (after questions on the food standards in the wake of the horse meat in hamburgers scandal) the question was put to the panel: “Is now the time for a  black, woman pope?”

The first speaker, Ruth Davis, chief policy adviser for Greenpeace sidestepped the question, but said she did believe it was the duty of the next pope to “reconcile” the church with “the values most people hold” in Britain. Liberal Democrat MP Nick Harvey MP said to a roar of applause from the audience the Catholic Church “should be dragged into the 21st century,” and that it should update its teachings to “connect” with the values of the modern world. He and Labour MP Margaret Hodge urged the church to permit women clergy and and bring its moral ethic in conformance with those of the British establishment.

Mrs. Hodge — who was head of the Islington  Council when that London Borough was responsible for the oversight of local care homes where investigators uncovered evidence of sexual abuse (Hodge refused to investigate the charges at the time as it would have cost too much) raised the issue of child sexual abuse. She argued the Catholic Church had been lax in addressing the sexual abuse scandal and observed that child sexual abuse and pedophilia were “rampant in the Catholic Church”. Only Environment Minister John Hayes declined to attack the church noting that he was not black, not a woman and not Catholic so he felt disqualified in offering an opinion on the propriety of a black woman pope.

Let me say that Any Questions is a serious, highly respected news program. The discussions of the other topics were measured — and somewhat dry. It was when the topic turned to the Catholic Church common sense flew out the door.

However, it was the Guardian that took the prize for week one in the All-England pope-bashing contest. The news article entitled “A black pope could result in mixed message over priestly celibacy” informs British readers that Africans are cretinous sex-maniacs whose Catholicism is skin deep and that the priesthood is a haven for gay men seeking meaning for their pitiful lives. This strange piece begins with an unfavorable comparison between Benedict and John Paul to John XXIII.

When Pope Benedict addressed the clergy of Rome on Thursday, he chose to talk to them about the Second Vatican Council, perhaps the central event of his life. He is among the last people alive to have taken part in that momentous gathering and it is a privilege of the long-lived to rewrite history. The then Joseph Ratzinger played a leading role in the revolutionary changes brought about by what Catholics call Vatican Two, but then did a theological U-turn after witnessing with horror the more secular upheaval of 1968. He and his predecessor, John Paul II, have step-by-step reoriented the Catholic church to the point that it is nowadays an institution which might dismay the pope who convoked the Council, John XXIII, and reassure his austere predecessor Pius XII.

Get that — Benedict has sought to reverse the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. And the evidence for this assertion? Well there is none, but we do get another outlandish assertion.

The change of direction has created a smaller, but more homogenous, church. Millions of the laity in Europe may have drifted away in despair at the gap between their lives and the Catholicism preached by the Vatican; priestly vocations in Europe may have fallen off a cliff, but those who remain – worshipers and clerics alike – are proud to belong to a conservative institution at odds with the times.

The article states the decline in church attendance and the fall of priestly vocations in Europe is not a phenomena of liberalism and secularism but the ultramontane (reactionary) policies of the last two popes. Evidence for this extraordinary assertion? Again, there is none. But at this stage we do move into the meat of the story.

So the election to the papacy of a conservative African or Asian prelate would, in principle, be welcome to large sections of the church in Europe and the United States. Even for the dwindling minority of liberals, it would be a reminder to the world that, overall, Catholicism is growing, and at a faster rate than the global population. But traditionally-minded Catholics might see one major change resulting from an African pope; the tradition of priestly celibacy.

Because of that tradition, combined with the contemporary intolerance of the laity towards unmarried relationships between priests and their “housekeepers”, it would appear that the number of gay men in the Catholic priesthood has increased.

How’s that for a plot twist — bet you didn’t see that one coming. Because the church no longer lets priests fool around with their housekeepers the clergy are now gayer. In support of this assertion we have a comment by the chief executive of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (a minister of the Metropolitan Community Church) that the Catholic priesthood is a haven for those who cannot answer the question “Why aren’t you married yet?”

It is unlikely an African or Asian cardinal would be elected pope because they would crack down on the gay subculture of the European Catholic Church, the article states, and because they would be more likely to end priestly celibacy. The article observes:

 … time and again, bishops on visits to Rome have stressed that, in many African cultures, a man without a woman beyond a certain age incites suspicion and lacks authority.  That puts a Catholic priest at a notable disadvantage to the local imam in many of the areas where Christianity is competing with Islam for ascendancy. And since that is one of the most important challenges facing the church, a black pope could put an end to priestly celibacy.

Remember this article did not appear in the Comment is Free section of the Guardian or as an editorial or op-ed piece. It was printed in the news section — and did not even have the cover of being called “news analysis”. Where does one begin? There are several statements offered as fact that need substantiation — the cause of the decline of the Catholic Church in Europe, the priesthood as a refuge for gay men, the disinclination of Africans to honor clerical celibacy, and cultural pressures from Africa that identify unmarried men as being “suspicious” characters. These are opinions, not facts and this is certainly not news. The lack of professionalism in this story is compounded by an extraordinary cluelessness — the Guardian‘s Rome correspondent does not seem to get out very much.

My favorite Guardian article of the week though was published on 15 Feb in the World News section. It stated the pope had resigned because he had lost his faith.

When the resignation of the Pope was announced earlier in the week, the news seemed bizarre, almost unbelievable. I find, as I get my head around the idea, that the whole thing just becomes more bizarre, not less. If you strongly believe in God, I suppose you can tell yourself that He moves in mysterious ways, as per. But if you don’t, then this all seems rather like the moment when the curtain moves back to reveal the Wizard of Oz as a wee man pulling levers. Exposing the Papacy as a job, not a sacrosanct heavenly ambassadorship, is a quite risky thing to do, precisely because it’s so human, so humdrum, so non-spiritual. The only logical conclusion is that Joseph Ratzinger no longer believes that he is God’s representative on earth. Awkward. The Pope has surely lost his faith.

While I was surprised by the news of the pope’s resignation, I did not find it bizarre. The suggestion that he was stepping down because he no longer believed — that is bizarre.

I must say these stories made me laugh. While the first few roused my professional ire, the great number of silly stories (these three are but a skim of the surface) soon brightened my day. There is a Monty Pythonesque sense of the absurd in these stories.  They are so terrible that they cease to upset me and leave me smiling. What say you GetReligion readers? Am I so jaded that I am unable to be offended anymore?

First printed in GetReligion.

The New York Times’ Conservative love affair: Get Religion, February 4, 2013 February 5, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Archbishop of Canterbury, Church of England, Get Religion, Press criticism.
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The New York Times may not love American conservatives, but they are certainly enamored with a British one, David Cameron. His push to introduce gay marriage in England, over the objections of the rank and file members of his party, has the paper swooning.

There does not seem to be a way to keep gay issues or advocacy out of the New York Times. The Gray Lady finds this angle in just about any story. Today’s example comes in an article that combines the news of the confirmation of election of the new Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby with the first vote in Parliament on the government’s gay marriage bill.

Unfortunately the article tries a little too hard to link these stories. Combining the two events may have seemed a good idea to an editor not familiar with the issues, but it does not work as a single piece. “New Archbishop of Canterbury Takes Office” has some factual errors, faulty assumptions, insufficient context and a lack of balance.

The article begins:

On the eve of a divisive vote in Parliament on the legalization of same-sex marriage, Justin Welby, the former bishop of Durham, on Monday took over formally as the 105th archbishop of Canterbury, the spiritual head of the world’s 77 million Anglicans, saying he shares the Church of England’s opposition to marriage among people of the same gender.

The lede is fairly straight forward, but I wondered why the author tortured the opening with such strained language — “marriage of people of the same gender”. Have I missed a new style directive to mimic “people of color” when describing gay issues?

And, how many Anglicans are there? The New York Times says 77 million. In the interview cited later in the story, the archbishop says 80 million — which includes 20 odd million Englishmen and women (when only a tenth of that number attend services). What is the source for this number? But I digress.

The article notes the new archbishop took office today replacing Dr. Rowan Williams, and then moves to a post-ceremony interview.

In an interview broadcast on the BBC after his inauguration, the new archbishop said he was not on a “collision course” with the government. But he endorsed the traditional view that while the church has no objection to civil partnerships between people of the same gender, it is, as a recent church statement put it, “committed to the traditional understanding of the institution of marriage as being between one man and one woman.”

This paragraph also struck me as odd. Not for what it reports about the new archbishop’s sentiments, but in its report of who reported what. The BBC story did not have the “collision course” phrase. That appears in an ITV story. The story broadcast by the BBC I saw cut the “collision course” phrase, while ITV ran the segment uncut. Perhaps there was a second BBC story that used the quote? I do not know. The Religion News Service printed at the Huffington Post account of the ceremony made this mistake as well, but it embedded both videos — BBC and ITV — with their story.

The article then moves to commentary.

His stance did not come as a surprise since he had made it clear at the time of his appointment in November, but the timing of his remarks was certain play into both the political and the ecclesiastical debate about the issue. The church has long been locked in debate over gender issues, including the consecration of female and gay bishops and same-sex marriage.

Now I understand the language of the lede — gender is the plat du jour for the Times allowing it to link the women bishops vote to the same-sex marriage vote in Parliament. (Wait, it is now same-sex marriage by paragraph six.) The article notes:

In December, the church voted narrowly to reject the notion of female bishops, despite support from senior clerics including Archbishop Welby. In January, the church followed up with a ruling admitting openly gay priests in civil partnerships to its ranks, provided that, unlike heterosexual bishops, they remained celibate.

Some more mistakes here. The women bishop’s vote took place in November, not December 2012. Clergy were permitted to register gay civil partnerships in 2005 not in January 2013. A condition of their being allowed to register these domestic partnerships was that they be celibate. Clergy may be “openly gay”, whatever that means, but may not engage in sexual relations outside of marriage (marriage being defined as being between a man and a woman). The question of how rigorously this is enforced is a separate matter.

In December 2012 the House of Bishops ended a ban imposed in 2011 that forbade clergy who had entered into a civil partnership from becoming a bishop. Heterosexuals may not contract civil partnerships in Britain, so the analogy offered by the Times is inexact. However all bishops — heterosexual and homosexual — who are unmarried must be celibate also. There have been homosexual bishops for quite some time — by homosexual I mean men whose dominant sexual attractions are to other men. However, these bishops do hold to the church’s teaching that to act upon these inclinations would be sinful, and are celibate.

Using the pivot of homosexuality, the article then moves to the House of Commons.

Parliament is set to vote on Tuesday on a proposal to legalize same-sex marriage that has been championed by Prime Minster David Cameron. The issue, however, has inspired one of the most toxic and potentially embarrassing rebellions among Mr. Cameron’s Conservative Party colleagues since he took office as the head of a coalition government in 2010.

British news reports have suggested that as many as 180 of the 303 Conservative Party members of Parliament might oppose Mr. Cameron or abstain from voting.

Here we have a “yes, but” situation. Yes, the Second Reading of the government’s bill that would legalize same-sex marriage and allow those in civil partnerships to convert them to marriages is set for tomorrow. However, the issue will not be decided tomorrow. Here is a link to Parliament’s web page describing what happens at a Second Reading. MPs will be given a chance to discuss the bill and vote on whether it should be sent to a committee or be kept before the House of Commons as a whole.

The leaders of the three main parties — Conservative, Liberal Democrat, Labour — support the bill. A vote to send it to committee where they appoint the members is a way to prevent the issue from being debated before Parliament as a whole. Voting to keep it before the House allows greater involvement from backbench MPs. There is an element of political gamesmanship here. While Labour is in favor of the bill, they are also in favor of allowing the Tories to do as much damage to themselves as possible. Keeping the bill before the whole House allows the Conservative rebels to give full voice to their displeasure with their party leader, weakening the prime minister.

The Times however quotes the leader of the opposition Labour Party, Ed Miliband, but displays an acute lack of awareness of what really is going on.

Ed Miliband, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, said Monday that he would be “voting for equal marriage in the House of Commons, and I’ll be doing so proudly.” He also said he would urge his 255 legislators in the 649-member body to vote with him. “I’ll be voting for equal marriage for a very simple reason: I don’t think that the person you love should determine the rights you have,” Mr. Miliband said.

The Times neglects to mention the political calculus involved in the passage of the bill, which when it goes to committee is then subject to amendment before it goes to the House of Lords. If the Times wanted to tie the Church of England into this story more tightly it could have mentioned that all of the bishops who sit in the House of Lords will vote “no” and may offer wrecking amendments. And, Miliband’s urging his party’s MPs to vote for the bill is a recent change — Labour was going to make this a party line vote, requiring all its MPs to vote the same way, but senior leaders of that party refused to go along — changing Miliband’s song from must vote to should vote for gay marriage.

The article then closes out with two quotes from a government spokesman who dismisses the church’s objections to the bill — but offers no rejoinder from the Church of England, the Catholic Church (which by the way is also strongly opposed) or MPs who are opposed to the legislation.

So what do we have in this story. Minor points such as the BBC v. ITN. Larger mistakes such as dates of actions and the misstatement of actions. Omission of context and explanation — as written a casual reader would assume that gay marriage was about to be passed, when it has only just started its legislative journey. And a lack of balance coupled with the framing of the story in such a way as to make clear the Times‘ support for gay marriage.

Should we expect better of the Times? Is this story an example of carelessness or bias? What say you Get Religion readers?

First printed at GetReligion.

Interview: Issues, Etc., January 22, 2013 January 25, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Interviews/Citations, Issues Etc.
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Here is a link to an interview I gave to the Issues, Etc. show of Lutheran Public Radio broadcast on 22 Jan 2013

4. The BBC’s Coverage of a Paris Marriage March & the Sydney Morning Herald’s Story “Anti-Gay Rights to Stay” – George Conger, 1/22/13

Anti-gay marriage protests prompts the ire of the BBC: Get Religion, January 14, 2013 January 15, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism.
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Figaro 14 Jan 2013The BBC has an extraordinary report on its website detailing Sunday’s march in the French capital by opponents of a government bill to create same-sex marriages. Fact free, disdainful of opponents of gay marriage, incurious as to the intellectual and moral issues at play, lacking in balance, padded out with the author’s opinions and non sequiturs — this report entitled “Mass rally against gay marriage in France” is a poor outing for the corporation. It has the feel of a rush job written in the back of a cab on the way to the airport — or at the hotel bar.

Written in the one sentence paragraph style favored by British tabloids, the article opens with the news of the protest, where it took place and why:

But the demonstrators, backed by the Catholic Church and the right-wing opposition, argue it would undermine an essential building block of society.

The BBC then plays the Million Man March game. (For those unfamiliar with this sport, the Million Man March game is one way a news outlet telegraphs its opinions. If it favors the event it accepts the numbers given by the organizers. If opposed, it plays up the numbers offered by the police.)

The organisers put the number of marchers at 800,000, with demonstrators pouring into Paris by train and bus, carrying placards that read, “We don’t want your law, Francois” and “Don’t touch my civil code”.

Police said the figure was closer to 340,000 and one government minister said the turnout was lower than the organisers had predicted. A similar march in November attracted around 100,000 people.

Where the reader in any doubt as to where this was going, the sentence structure should clear that up. The BBC offers the organizers’ numbers first, but undercuts them with police numbers and the claim of an unnamed government minister who poo-poos the turnout. Absent from this is the news that this is the biggest mass protest in France since 1984 or that the organizers were hoping to have at least 100,000 people in the streets. That is called context and that is missing.

We then move to ridicule, or in modern parlance “snark.”

The “Demo for all” event was being led by a charismatic comedian known as Frigide Barjot, who tweeted that the “crowd is immense” and told French TV that gay marriage “makes no sense” because a child should be born to a man and woman.

A charismatic comedienne shall lead them, the BBC reports — even though the story opens with the news that the march is backed by French religious leaders and the opposition (the right wing opposition the BBC reminds us).  Hiss and boo here. The French press and Reuters reported the presence of French archbishops, the head of the Protestant Federation, the chief Imam of Paris in the march. Gay leaders who oppose gay marriage on the grounds that it is an imposition of bourgeois heterosexual norms on homosexuals — by backing gay marriage French President Francois Hollande is condescending and homophobic some gay activists claim — were marching also. And what does the BBC offer as the face of the opposition? The “muse” of the march, as she is called by La Croix, Frigide Barjot.

The article notes:

Despite the support of the Church and political right, the organisers are keen to stress their movement is non-political and non-religious, and in no way directed against homosexuals, BBC Paris correspondent Hugh Schofield reports.

In its broadcast, the BBC’s Paris correspondent states the organizers of the rally are being “clever”.  They wanted to give a “clear message”.  They “don’t want to be typecast as homophobes and they rather resent the way that what they would see as the ‘left wing liberal establishment’ has tried to paint them as reactionaries and homophobic types.”

Or, the clear message might be, “they don’t want a law passed creating gay marriage” and resent the false caricatures offered by the left wing press. Watch the report to hear that English classic — a harrumph — offered by the BBC’s correspondent when saying “left wing liberal establishment.”

The reporter also mentions the presence of anti-gay marriage gay activists — but tells the audience they are a minority within the French gay community. How does he know this? Is this not a “man bites dog angle” that is news worthy? Evidently not — for the BBC tells us to “move on, nothing here to see.”

The next trick used to rubbish the marchers is the use of selective polling.

An opinion poll of almost 1,000 people published by Le Nouvel Observateur newspaper at the weekend suggested that 56% supported gay marriage, while 50% disapproved of gay adoption. The poll also said that 52% of those questioned disapproved of the Church’s stand against the legislation. Earlier polls had indicated stronger support for the legalisation of gay marriage.

Would it have made a difference to report on other polls showing a shift in public opinion away from gay marriage since the Church began to rally the opposition — or that a majority in France are opposed to passage of both the marriage and adoption bill?

The article closes with this gem.

As the marchers began arriving in the centre of Paris, four Ukrainian activists staged their own protest in St Peter’s Square in the Vatican in support of gay rights. The women from feminist group Femen appeared topless while Pope Benedict recited his traditional Angelus prayer. Police moved to restrain the activists, one of whom was attacked by a worshipper brandishing an umbrella.

Nice photo of a topless blonde being savaged by an old Italian women wielding an umbrella — but apart from the opportunity to use that photo in the story, what purpose does adding four Ukrainian activists in Rome to a story of several hundred thousand Frenchmen protesting in Paris?

Perhaps I am as the psychologists say, “projecting”, seeing in the actions of others my own sins? Perhaps there is some of that behind my ire. But I’ve been at this  long enough to recognize the tricks of the trade.

Read it all in Get Religion.

Self censorship and the New York Times: Get Religion, December 5, 2012 December 5, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Al Qaeda, Free Speech, Get Religion, Islam, Persecution.
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An International Herald Tribune report about Pakistan seems a bit confused as to what constitutes sectarian violence. Written under the title “Christian Aid Worker Is Shot in Pakistan” the article from the New York Times’ international edition ties together three different stories in one article. But it does not want to say why.

This story with a dateline of Hong Kong is a compilation of Pakistani press reports and wire service bulletins. As per its ethical reporting standards, the Times‘ man acknowledges his debt to these sources, though he did make a few phone calls to provide some original material to the stories. As this is a first report on the incidents I am not that concerned with how complete it is or if all the facts are properly nailed down. My interest in in how the reporter laid out his story given what he had in hand.

And it is the construction of the article and the unwillingness to state the obvious that leads me to say the Times has lost the plot.

The shooting of Swedish missionary, an attack on a Ahmadiya graveyard, and the kidnapping of a Jewish-American aid worker all have something in common (it is called militant Islam) but the Times’ reporter appears at a loss as to how to put the pieces together. Last month the New York Times brought on board as its CEO Mark Thompson, the former Director General of the BBC. It also appears to have taken on board Thompson’s policy of treating Islam with kid gloves.

Here is the lede:

HONG KONG — A Swedish woman doing charity work through her evangelical church was shot outside her home in Lahore on Monday, according to news reports from Pakistan. A gunman riding a motorcycle fired at the 72-year-old woman as she got out of her car in the upscale Model Town neighborhood.

It was not immediately clear whether the attack was sectarian in nature or was perhaps linked to another event Monday in Model Town in which masked gunmen vandalized a cemetery.

The article then goes into the details as they were known of the attack and then links to the second subject with this transitional sentence:

But early Monday morning in Model Town, gunmen tied up the caretakers of an Ahmadi cemetery and desecrated more than a hundred grave markers, the Express Tribune newspaper reported.

The Times gives details of the attack on the graveyard, notes that Ahmadiya Muslims are “considered heretical by mainstream Muslims”, and recounts past terror attacks and government fostered discrimination against the Ahmadiyas.

The story closes with the tale of a kidnapped American aid worker Warren Weinstein seized by al Qaeda last year. Details of Mr. Weinstein’s plight are offered and a quote from an earlier Times story is offered.

Mr. Weinstein, now 71, also appeared in a video in September, embedded below, in which he appeals for U.S. acceptance of the Qaeda demands. At one point he addresses Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, saying:

Therefore, as a Jew, I’m appealing to you, Prime Minister Netanyahu, the head of the Jewish state of Israel, one Jew to another, to please intervene on my behalf. To work with the mujahideen and to accept their demands so that I can be released and returned to my family.

These three stories share the common theme of extremist Muslim violence against religious minorities in Lahore: Christians, Ahmadiyas and Jews. What then is the problem I have with this article, you might ask?

Look at the second sentence of the story.

It was not immediately clear whether the attack was sectarian in nature or was perhaps linked to another event Monday in Model Town in which masked gunmen vandalized a cemetery.

The choices the Times is offering the reader are: a) the shooting of the Christian missionary was a sectarian act; or b) it was not a sectarian act but somehow linked to the attack by Salafist Muslims against an Ahmadiya graveyard. Perhaps I am thick but I do not see the distinction between a and b. Are they not both sectarian attacks?

And by adding in Mr. Weinstein’s case, which also took place in Lahore and also has a religious element — an American Jew being held captive by Muslim extremists who is forced to make a plea to the Israeli prime minister for his life — the militant Islam links are all there. But the Times does not want to connect the dots.

Why? Maybe the author was in a rush to get something into print quickly and mangled his syntax. Or is this an example of the Times‘ stifling political correctness? Is the Times heading the way of the BBC and self-censoring its stories?

In March 2012 the Daily Telegraph carried a short item reporting on Mark Thompson’s decision not to broadcast a show that might be offensive to Muslims.

Although the BBC was willing to disregard protests from Christians who considered its decision to broadcast Jerry Springer: The Opera as an affront, Mark Thompson, its outgoing director-general, is more wary of giving airtime to Can We Talk About This?, the National Theatre’s examination of how Islam is curtailing freedom of speech.

Lloyd Newson, the director of the DV8 physical theatre company which staged the new work, challenged Thompson to screen his production during a platform discussion at the theatre.

He pointed out that Jerry Springer: The Opera was a lot more controversial because it was a “satire”, whereas his work, consisting of a series of comments and factual statements set to dance, is “a factual piece”.

Thompson’s spokesman tells me: “We are currently working with the National on various ideas. There are currently no plans to broadcast Can We Talk About This?, but this is not due to the play’s content or themes.”

In the past, Thompson has conceded that there is “a growing nervousness about discussion about Islam”. He claimed that because Muslims were a religious minority in Britain, and also often from ethnic minorities, their faith should be given different coverage to that of more established groups.

Has more than Mark Thompson crossed the Atlantic from London? While the Times has long been a bastion of PC reporting, its aping of the BBC’s supine stance on Islam is disappointing. The hiring of Mark Thompson did not cause the New York Times to engage in self-censorship on Islam — but I suspect courage will not be one of the strengths he will bring to his new post.

First posted in GetReligion.

BBC to review its religion coverage: The Church of England Newspaper, November 25, 2012 p 6. November 29, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England, Church of England Newspaper, Press criticism.
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The BBC has released the terms of reference for the review of its coverage of religion. The review led by former ITV chief executive Stuart Prebble will investigate the “breadth of opinion” by conducting a content analysis of the BBC’s coverage of religion, immigration, and the EU, by comparing its coverage of these issues in 2007 to its current coverage.

BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten told a Broadcasting Press Guild lunch last month the review had been prompted by complaints that the corporation’s coverage of world news and religion was not always impartial.

“It’s an acceptance that these are areas where people are particularly concerned that we should get it right,” Lord Patten said. “We’ve been criticised in those areas and we think it’s very important to listen to that criticism, not necessarily because it’s right but because it reflects real and interesting concerns.”

The review will have four principal terms of reference:

“Whether decisions to include or omit perspectives in news stories and current affairs coverage have been reasonable and carefully reached, with consistently applied judgement across an appropriate range of output;

“Whether ‘due weight’ has been given to a range of perspectives or opinions – for example, views held by a minority should not necessarily be given equal weight to the prevailing consensus;

“Whether the opinions of audiences who participate through phone-ins or user-generated content have been given appropriate significance, and whether the use of audience views in this way has correctly interpreted the relative weight of opinions of those who have expressed a view on an issue; and

“Whether the BBC has ensured that those who hold minority views are aware they can take part in a debate such as a phone-in.

The BBC Trust has previously examined the impartiality of the Corporation’s coverage of business (published 2007); network news and current affairs coverage of the UK nations (2008); science (2011) and the Arab Spring (2012). The report is expected to be completed by early 2013.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Sex and the Single Indian: Get Religion, September 7, 2012 September 7, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Hinduism, Popular Culture.
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The BBC’s inability to comprehend religion is not a new story at GetReligion. Often as not the corporation appears oblivious to the faith dimension of a story. I should say the BBC’s religion reporters are a professional lot and there are a number of fine specialty programs that treat faith issues well and when it focuses on religion it does a good job. It is outside the religion ghetto that the BBC fails to “get religion.”

This item, “Virginity cream sparks Indian sex debate”, is an example of the BBC’s failure to comprehend the faith element of a story.

It begins:

An Indian company has launched what it claims is the country’s first vagina tightening cream, saying it will make women feel “like a virgin” again. The company says it is about empowering women, but critics say it is doing the opposite. The BBC’s Rajini Vaidyanathan in Mumbai reports.

It is certainly a bold claim. As the music starts playing on the advertisement for the 18 Again cream, a sari-clad woman is singing and dancing. It is an unusual take on Bollywood. “I feel like a virgin,” she croons, although the advert makes it clear she is not. Her shocked in-laws look on, before her husband joins her for some salsa-style dancing. “Feels like the very first time,” she continues, as she is twirled around. Cut away to her mother-in-law who begins by responding with a disgusted look on her face, but by the end of the advert even she has been won over, and is seen buying the product online.

This video is designed to market a vaginal “rejuvenation and tightening” product, which was launched this month in India. The makers of 18 Again, the Mumbai-based pharmaceutical company Ultratech, say it is the first of its kind in India (similar creams are already available in other parts of the world such as the USA), and fills a gap in the market.

The article starts off with a few facts about the product but then turns into a discussion of the importance of virginity for women. It states:

… the company’s advertising strategy has attracted criticism from some doctors, women’s groups and social media users, who say the product reinforces the widely held view in India that pre-marital sex is something to be frowned upon, a taboo which is even seen as sinful by some.

The clause that ends this paragraph frames the rest of the story: “which is even seen as sinful by some.”

The BBC then lines up critics of 18 Again: doctors, activists and bloggers whose objections are that the add campaign reinforces a taboo on pre-marital sex.

Objection one comes from Annie Raja of the National Federation of Indian Women who says “this kind of cream is utter nonsense, and could give some women an inferiority complex,” as it reaffirms

a patriarchal view that is held by many here – the notion that men want all women to be virgins until their wedding night. “Why should women remain a virgin until marriage? It is a woman’s right to have sexual relations with a man, but society here still says they should not until they are brides.”

Second comes the doctor with the sex-advice column in the newspapers.

“Being a virgin is still prized, and I don’t think attitudes will change in this century,” says Dr Mahinda Watsa, a gynaecologist who writes a popular sexual advice column in the Mumbai Mirror and Bangalore Mirror newspaper. … Men still hope they’re marrying a virgin, but more girls in India, at least in the towns and cities, are having sex before.”

And then we move to the internet. Man (woman) in the street comments followed by Dr Nisreen Nakhoda, “a GP who advises on sexual health for the medical website MDhil” who questions the science behind the product, and observes:

The young generation wants to be hip and cool and try out sex before marriage, but they’re still brought up in the traditional set up where it’s taboo to have sex before marriage. This leads to a lot of confusion in many teenagers. On one hand you’re supposed to be the traditional demure Indian bride, but on the other hand, you don’t want to have to wait for sex because people are marrying later. Temptations are coming their way and people are no longer resisting,” says Dr Nakhoda.

Any comment representing a voice in support of the traditional view? No, but the BBC does provides a sidebar which begins with this questionable statement:

Ancient India has always been celebrated for its openness and lack of hypocrisy, for its modernity and inclusive attitude; but in one aspect, it has remained rigid: the need for women to be virgins.

But closes with the admission that virginity is a religious issue and is:

Considered to be a spiritual obligation, Hindu wedding ceremonies even today centre round the Kanyadaan, which literally translates as the gift of a virgin.

From the start the BBC has framed this story in a faith-free atmosphere.  We see this in the line about some “even” seeing pre-marital sex as being sinful. Who might these people be? Answer: India’s Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Jains and Parsis to name but a few.

Were India a fiercely secular society, such an omission might be justified. But it is not — nor are the rates of pre-marital sex comparable to the West. A study by the International Institute for Population Studies estimated that 3 per cent of women had engaged in pre-marital sex.

Why? Perhaps it is because sexuality for a woman in the Vedic tradition of Hindu culture is controlled by her age and marital status. It frames virginity, chastity and celibacy as being appropriate for distinct periods of life. Virginity is expected of a woman before marriage and chastity is expected within marriage. Celibacy, as signaled by an ascetic withdrawal from the obligations of marriage and family life, takes place at the end of life with abstinence being a liberation of the self from worldly attachments. While Tantric cults exalted women in worship, their sexual mores did not extend to a modern notion of female sexual autonomy. While the ideal seldom governs the real, it must be stated that pre-marital sex simply does not work within the Hindu worldview.

From what I have read, discussions of sexuality in India often turn to a mythologized past where it is claimed “openness and a lack of hypocrisy” ruled. This is the Kama Sutra narrative, but it is not history. It is more a product of the nationalist aspirations of the rising middle classes of the Twentieth century, mixed with anti-colonialism, coupled with a dash of “Orientalism” — a belief in repressed Westerners and liberated Orientals. However the Kama Sutra narrative of Indian sexuality is largely irrelevant to an understanding of its modern manifestations and as sociologist Sanjay Srivastava of the Institute of Economic Growth in Delhi writes:

is best confined to expensive coffee table books of our ‘glorious’ past that was supposedly destroyed by foreign invaders.

Does the BBC truly believe that it is not necessary to note the objections that might come from religious scruples? I do not believe I am being too harsh. Though an off color topic, the story was not treated in a light tone. It was given the full BBC treatment — 1400 words including an analysis side bar. Yet the final result was one-sided and woefully incomplete.

Bottom line — a poor outing once again for the BBC.

First printed at GetReligion.

BBC Bias? Sharia law and Egypt: Get Religion, August 24, 2012 August 24, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Islam.
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Above all – Allah is our goal… The shari’a, then the shari’a, and finally, the shari’a. This nation will enjoy blessing and revival only through the Islamic shari’a. I take an oath before Allah and before you all that regardless of the actual text [of the constitution]… Allah willing, the text will truly reflect [the shari'a], as will be agreed upon by the Egyptian people, by the Islamic scholars, and by legal and constitutional experts…

Mohammed Mursi: Jihad Is Our Path, Death for the Sake of Allah Is Our Most Lofty Aspiration, the Shari’a Is Our Constitution. Misr-25 TV, 13 May 2012. Video clip and translation provided by MEMRI.

From time to time it is important to remind readers (and me) about GetReligion‘s mandate. This site does not seek to discuss religious issues of the moment and their intersection with politics, culture, the arts, economics and the like. It critiques press coverage of religion. The underlying issues are not central to a GetReligion story line.

Nor is this a “gotcha” site. I have made mistakes as a writer and have suffered from the deprivations sub-editors pruning and mis-titling my work. An example of a religion article that is not a proper GetReligion story is this article from the Seattle Times entitled: “Pakistani Christians flee after girl, 12, is accused of blasphemy”.

The subheading states: “A 12-year-old Muslim girl is in jail while Pakistani police investigate allegations that she burned a Quran, a crime that, if she is convicted, carries a life sentence.”

Now this is a dumb mistake. The girl is described as Christian in the article but called a Muslim in the subheading. This is not a question of the Seattle Times not getting religion, but a sub-editor’s mistake.

The mission of GetReligion is to point out what our editor TMatt calls “religion ghosts” — examples of an article misunderstanding, omitting or denigrating the role religion plays in a story. A classic example of this sort of religion ghost appears in a BBC story printed today entitled “Egypt requests $4.8bn loan from visiting IMF chief”.

The story opens:

Egypt has asked the International Monetary Fund for a $4.8bn (£3bn) loan to help revive its struggling economy. The request was made during talks in Cairo between President Mohammed Mursi and IMF chief Christine Lagarde.

Ms Lagarde said the IMF would respond quickly, while Prime Minister Hisham Qandil said he hoped the deal could be finalised before the end of the year. It is needed to cover budget deficits resulting from shrinking tourism and foreign investment revenues.

The article unfolds as a straight forward international finance story, discussing Egypt’s parlous economy, its “balance-of-payments crisis and high borrowing costs”, summarizing negotiations with the IMF, exploring possible U.S., Qatari and Saudi aid, and describing the terms of the loan:

After meeting [IMF chief Christine] Lagarde on Wednesday, Prime Minister Qandil said he expected the IMF loan would be for five years, with a grace period of 39 months and an interest rate of 1.1%.

Perhaps you are asking yourself where the GetReligion angle lies? Is this not a straight forward, somewhat dull, international economics story? Yes — but go back to the top of the article and look at the comments made by candidate Mohammed Mursi to the Muslim Brotherhood. If elected he would govern Egypt under the dictates of Shari’a law — which means a banking system without interest.

Throughout its time in opposition and underground, the Muslim Brotherhood denounced Western banking as being contrary to Shari’a. Sayyid Qutb, the ideologue of the Muslim Brotherhood interpreted the Koran’s verses on riba (interest or usury) to apply to commercial banking.  He accused banks of “eating the flesh and bones” of the poor and “drinking their sweat and blood” through the charging of interest. Hasan al-Banna, the founder of the Brotherhood, in 1947 wrote to the leaders of Muslim state calling for them to repudiate Western banking practices in favor of interest-free Islamic banking.

The religion ghost in this story is whether Mohammed Mursi will jettison his protestations about Sharia law being the cornerstone of his administration in exchange for cheap interest loans from the West to keep his economy afloat.

Reuters and the Telegraph made no mention of the religion angle in their stories also, while the AP noted that past negotiations had been stalled by opposition from the Islamists.  The Financial Times reported:

Analysts say the IMF’s loan terms could impede its acceptance by an Islamist government with populist pretences and a rhetorical commitment to thinning the gap between rich and poor.

The religious ramifications of the interest bearing loans were not omitted in the Egyptian press however. The Egypt Independent reported:

The government should not borrow from the International Monetary Fund to boost the country’s cash reserve, the Salafi Nour Party stated on Wednesday.  “Borrowing from abroad is usury,” said Younis Makhyoun, a member of the party’s supreme committee. “God will never bless an economy based on usury.”

Mahkyoun called on Prime Minister Hesham Qandil to find other ways to raise funds instead of “allowing foreigners to interfere in our affairs.” The government should reduce spending, apply an austerity policy, set a maximum wage, apply Islamic regultations to stock exchange speculations and repatriate funds siphoned abroad, Makhyoun added.

Al-Ahram reported the left was outraged too by the prospect of IMF loans.

Dozens of demonstrators, meanwhile, protested outside the Cabinet building in downtown Cairo during Lagarde’s visit. Protestors, consisting mainly of leftist and revolutionaries, called on Egypt to reject the loan.

They chanted slogans and held signs against the proposed loan –and capitalism in general – such as “No to crony capitalism,” “Down with capitalism,” and “Reject the loans.”

“Why did we have a revolution? Wasn’t it to improve the living conditions of the people? We know that the money from these loans is pilfered by the authorities and will only lead to the further impoverishment of the people,” protest organiser Mary Daniel told Ahram Online.

IMF and World Bank loans are notorious among leftist activists in Egypt, as in the rest of the world, as they are generally seen as a means of spreading capitalism throughout the world.

The state-run daily, which has the largest circulation of any newspaper in Egypt, also noted that  Islamists had been quiet.

Notably, Islamist political forces – which rejected a similar IMF loan offer last April – were nowhere to be seen in Wednesday’s protest.

In April, Egypt’s Islamist-led parliament said that the government’s economic programme failed to provide details on how the key problems facing Egypt’s economy – namely, unemployment and security – would be solved.

Some Islamists went so far as to say that such loans were haram (religiously proscribed) since they relied on interest, which is forbidden according to the tenets of Islam.

Let me offer a historical analogy. In the Fall of 1932 Adolf Hitler toned back his anti-Semitic tirades and played the bourgeois, President Paul von Hindenburg, the army and Germany’s wealthy industrialists. When he was appointed chancellor in 1933 some expected the Nazi leader’s anti-Semitism would dry up as he had achieved his goal of power.

The liberal German-Jewish playwright Carl Zuckmayer wrote at that time:

… even many Jews considered the savage anti-Semitic rantings of the Nazis merely a propaganda device, a line the Nazis would drop as soon as they reached power.

At that time it seemed reasonable that Hitler would drop the anti-Semitic rantings that had helped bring him to power as it no longer served a rational political or economic purpose. Are we seeing something similar happening in Egypt?

Is the Morsi government shedding its ideology, its fundamental commitment to a state governed by the dictates of Sharia law in return for cheap Western loans? Now that the army has been neutered, parliament dissolved and the opposition broken Mohammed Morsi can do as he likes. It would seem to make rational sense that he would drop his anti-modernist religious views now that he has a modern state to run — but will he?

Is there a religious ghost in the IMF story? Is the BBC bringing a Western secular worldview to this story that misses its inherent non-Western faith-driven elements?

Should these two stories be kept separate? Keep financial news in the business section and religion in the Saturday lifestyle supplement? Or, is there a religion angle in this finance story that must be explored in order for the reader to understand? What say you GetReligion readers?

First printed in GetReligion.

BBC bias from Cuba: Get Religion, July 24, 2012 July 25, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
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In my experience, the BBC does not ‘get religion’. I am not speaking of the reporters assigned to cover religion stories — they are a professional crew and are always worth reading. I find the problem with the BBC’s coverage arises when a religion angle appears in a non-religion story. More often than not the BBC is at sea when it comes to the faith. You can see this confusion in the BBC’s coverage of the death of Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya.

The BBC story entitled “Cuba dissident ‘forced off road’ to death, says family” consists of 24 paragraphs, each one sentence long. It begins:

Family members of prominent Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya, who died in a car crash on Sunday, say they believe his car had been forced off the road.

At a funeral mass attended by hundreds of people in Havana, Mr Paya’s son, Oswaldo, told the BBC that his father had received many death threats.

An official statement said the driver lost control as it drove on a road in eastern Granma province and hit a tree.

Mr Paya, 60, was one of Cuba’s main pro-democracy campaigners.

The story proceeds to offer details of the auto accident; the claim by the family that it was murder; a summary of his anti-Castro activism, his awards from European Human Rights organizations; and the funeral arrangements. The BBC notes:

Mr Paya is best-known as the founder of the Varela Project – a campaign to gather signatures in support of a referendum on laws guaranteeing civil rights.

And then offers one or two snippets about what might have motivated the man to stand against the Communist regime. The

Paragraph 13 gives us a hint:

Mr Paya was sent to a work camp in 1969 as punishment for his faith.

But it is not until paragraph 22 (of 24) that we learn that Oswaldo Paya was:

A devout Christian, Mr Paya was also the founder of the Christian Liberation Movement, which campaigns for political change, civil rights and the release of political prisoners.

What sort of Christian Mr Paya was the BBC does not say. We may infer he was Roman Catholic as the story reports that his funeral was held at San Salvador Catholic Church. The photo the BBC used to illustrate this article may also be a give away as to the man’s beliefs — he is standing in front of a mural of Jesus Christ with hands raised to mid-chest — though obscured it could be a representation of the sacred heart of Jesus or of his giving a blessing.

Compare the BBC’s treatment of Mr Paya with the Los Angeles Times. The lede in its story entitled “Oswaldo Paya dies at 60; Cuban anti-Castro activist” begins:

Cuban activist Oswaldo Paya, who spent decades speaking out against the communist government of Fidel and Raul Castro and became one of the most powerful voices of dissent against their half-century rule, died Sunday in a car crash in Cuba. He was 60.

Paya and a Cuban man described by media as a fellow activist, Harold Cepero Escalante, died in an accident in La Gavina, just outside the eastern city of Bayamo, Cuban authorities said. A Spaniard and a Swede also riding in the car were injured.

Cuba’s International Press Center told the Associated Press that witnesses said the driver of the rental car lost control and struck a tree. Rosa Maria Paya, the dissident’s daughter, told CNN en Espanol that other witnesses said the car was run off the road by another vehicle. Police are investigating.

Paya, who drew strength from his Roman Catholic roots as he pressed for change in his homeland, continued to voice his opposition after Fidel Castro resigned due to illness in early 2008, calling the passing of the presidency to younger brother Raul a disappointment.

The LA Times story notes Paya became a dissident when he “founded the non-governmental Christian Liberation Movement, which emphasized peaceful, civic action.” It states Paya:

… gained international fame as the top organizer of the Varela Project, a signature-gathering drive asking authorities for a referendum on laws to guarantee civil rights such as freedom of speech and assembly.

… The Varela Project was seen as the biggest nonviolent campaign to change the system the elder Castro established after the 1959 Cuban revolution.

The LA Times article closes by stating:

Oswaldo Jose Paya Sardinas was born Feb. 29, 1952, the fifth of seven siblings in a Catholic family. An engineer by training, he was employed at a state enterprise that deals with surgical equipment. Survivors include his wife and three children.

Reading these two articles, which do you believe paints a better portrait of the man? The BBC pushes his faith all the way to the end of the story — mentioning in passing that he was religious. The LA Times places the man’s faith front and center, stating that it was his Catholic faith that led him into opposition against the Communist regime.

We see in these two stories a clash of sensabilities. For the LA Times, Paya could not be understood apart from his faith. For the BBC, the pertinence of his Catholic faith is not understood and added as a subordinate item to the main story.

Perhaps one could argue in defense of the BBC article that it led with the accusation of foul play — that Paya may have been murdered. It might be argued that his Catholicism was not the proximate cause of his suspicous death — and hence more time was devoted to his political work such as the Valera project.

Yet the LA Times also places the suspicious circumstances of Paya’s death high in the story. And by the way it links his politics and his faith a reasonable assumption is that if this was a political murder, exploring Paya’s motivation for his politics is necessary to the story. The BBC also appears to have missed the significance of the name of Paya’s civil rights project. Padre Felix Valera was a Cuban Roman Catholic priest who was forced to flee the island after he was sentenced to death for his agitation against slavery and Spanish political tyranny.

On 12 April 2012, the Sun-Sentinel reported Fr. Valera is currently in the process of canonization.

 It may have been Easter, not Christmas; but South Florida Catholics — especially the Cuban-Americans among them — got a gift when the church declared Father Felix Varela “venerable,” one of three steps toward possible sainthood.

Varela, a 19th century priest, philosopher and statesmen, was approved for the title by Pope Benedict XVI, reported the Archdiocese of Miami. The title is given to Catholics whose lives are considered virtuous and worthy of emulation.

As one measure of Varela’s regard in the United States, the announcement was shared on April 7 by Cardinal Timothy Dolan in New York and by Father Juan Rumin Dominguez at the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity in Miami. The shrine not only has a statue of Varela, but a mural of Cuban patriots that is dominated by his face.

I am not saying the BBC made factual errors in this story. Rather the story it told was incomplete. The BBC appears tone deaf to the religious meaning and significance of words and to Cuban history. Nor is this a one-off mistake. When dealing with religion — apart from anthropologically tinged stories about non-Western faiths or deferential, often cringe-inducing stories about Islam — the BBC more often than not is incapable of reporting accurately. There is an institutional blindness against Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism and Protestantism — no sympathy, no empathy, no understanding of what is going on or why.

The inability to understand the role faith played in the life and death of Oswaldo Paya and of Cuba is speaks poorly of the professionalism and rigor of BBC reporting. At best it is ignorance, at worst it is bias.

First printed in Get Religion.

Soft-peddling the Savior: Get Religion, December 29, 2011 December 30, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Church of England, Church of England Newspaper.
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Russell Powell — late of the ABC and now head of media relations for the Anglican Diocese of Sydney — suggested I take a look at the coverage given by the BBC to the Queen’s Christmas message.

In the pages of this blog I have been critical of the BBC’s coverage of religion. I have argued the corporation has at times displayed bias or disdain for religion and the faith component of news stories. My initial response to Russell’s suggestion was one of glee. Here was an opportunity to write a quick post that conformed to the narrative I had established in my previous posts.

Then I read the BBC article and found my assumptions were unfounded. The article entitled “Queen speaks of hope in 2011 Christmas Day message” was a workman-like piece of reporting that displayed none of the cant to which I had objected in other reports. Nevertheless I found the story to be off. I re-read the queen’s message, watched the video again, and attempted to shed my skin – hearing the queen’s words from a perspective outside my own worldview.

I have come to believe this report is unfaithful to the meaning of Queen Elizabeth’s Christmas message. To quote the Captain played by Strother Martin in Cool Hand Luke: “What we’ve got here is (a) failure to communicate. Some men you just can’t reach.”

What the Queen was saying about God appears not to have been understood by the BBC. Hence the Christian element of this profoundly Christian message was buried at the back of the story.

The British monarch has spoken to her subjects each Christmas since 1932. Wikipedia has a good summary of the practice, noting that the first message read by George V was written by Rudyard Kipling. This year’s message was written by Queen Elizabeth and taped on 9 Dec 2011.  The Duke of Edinburgh was hospitalized over Christmas with heart trouble and his brush with illness is not touched upon.

This year’s message speaks to the value of family in times of adversity – and begins with a discussion of the queen’s family. She then broadens the concept of family through the successive paragraphs of the speech, expanding the discussion to Britain, the Commonwealth and to the family of man. She then pulls back the focus on the family, recounting the marriage of two of her grandchildren and the sadness of those British families who have sons and daughters serving in Afghanistan.

So far, so good … a standard Christmas greeting that touches upon the highpoints of the year …  a royal version of the newsletter some stuff into their Christmas cards. But then the speech takes a turn.

the world is going through difficult times. All this will affect our celebration of this great Christian festival.

Finding hope in adversity is one of the themes of Christmas. Jesus was born into a world full of fear. The angels came to frightened shepherds with hope in their voices: ‘Fear not’, they urged, ‘we bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

‘For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Saviour who is Christ the Lord.’

Although we are capable of great acts of kindness, history teaches us that we sometimes need saving from ourselves – from our recklessness or our greed.

God sent into the world a unique person – neither a philosopher nor a general, important though they are, but a Saviour, with the power to forgive.

Forgiveness lies at the heart of the Christian faith. It can heal broken families, it can restore friendships and it can reconcile divided communities. It is in forgiveness that we feel the power of God’s love.

In the last verse of this beautiful carol, O Little Town Of Bethlehem, there’s a prayer: O Holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us we pray. Cast out our sin and enter in. Be born in us today.

It is my prayer that on this Christmas day we might all find room in our lives for the message of the angels and for the love of God through Christ our Lord.

I wish you all a very happy Christmas.

At little less than 750-words, the queen’s message offers a solid statement on Christian belief and hope. I find it outshines the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Christmas homily and is clear, concise and powerful. A pedestrian Christmas greeting with commonplace sentiments becomes a lovely statement of Queen Elizabeth’s Christian faith.

What does the BBC do with this? It reports the speech in linear form, working through each section in turn and starts off with:

The Queen has used her annual Christmas Day broadcast to speak of courage and hope in adversity. … The Queen also spoke of “the importance of family”, and called the Commonwealth a family “in the truest sense”.

In her message, recorded on 9 December, the Queen said the Royal Family had been inspired by the courage shown in Britain, the Commonwealth and around the world.

She noted the resilience of communities in New Zealand after earthquakes, Australia after flooding and Wales after the mining disaster at Gleision Colliery.

The article notes Prince Phillip’s illness and her Christmas Day activities, offers quotes from the first half of the message on family, friends and communities, and then discusses the Queen’s dress, Royal Family news and related tattle.

The Queen’s Christian mediation comes at the close of the story, and is encapsulated in these phrases:

“Finding hope in adversity is one of the themes of Christmas,” she said.

“Jesus was born into a world full of fear. The angels came to frightened shepherds with hope in their voices: ‘Fear not’, they urged, ‘we bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people’.”

The monarch also said: “Although we are capable of great acts of kindness, history teaches us that we sometimes need saving from ourselves – from our recklessness or our greed.”

I cannot fault the BBC for omitting anything from their account of the Christmas message. But I do believe  it is a mistake to lead with the friends and family motif over against the power of her statement that Jesus Christ is not merely a wise man or moral exemplar, but God.  And it is through this God that we the families, communities and nations that are suffering can be reconciled and find peace.

In the ears of a Christian, the queen offers a meditation of God’s purpose in having his son become incarnate. In the ears of the BBC the Queen offers a Rodney King-speech — “Why can’t we just get along” – with a touch of Bill Cosby-like family sentiment.

Now is this fair on my part? Could it not be argued that in addressing a post-Christian audience, the BBC must use tropes that its listeners will understand? Would leading with platitudes and cliches familiar to its audience opens the door for mention of faith?

Or, as I have argued, leading with the principle statement of the message — faith in Christ is the way towards establishing peace on earth — is the better way to report this story. Even if such a message will seem foreign to many of its listeners.

There was no ambiguity in the queen’s speech. No half statements or hedged bets. These faults are found in the coverage.

What say you GetReligion readers? Am I being too hard?

BBC Double Standards on Abuse: Get Religion, December 16, 2011. December 17, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Abuse, Get Religion, Islam, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
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There are times when the BBC is beyond parody. It is so relentlessly awful, biased and reflexively p.c. that many viewers become inured to its excesses. Yet Orla Guerin’s report from Pakistan is quite extraordinary — even for the BBC.

Take a look at the video and story entitled “Pakistan police free chained students in Karachi” and see if you see what I see.

The print version of the story from the BBC website begins:

About 50 students have been freed from a religious school in the Pakistani port city of Karachi, where some were being kept in chains, officials say.

The male students, some as young as 12, were reportedly beaten, deprived of food and kept in what police say amounted to a torture chamber.

Some parents paid for their children to attend the school known as the “jail madrassa” because their sons were addicted to drugs or involved in crime.

What type of religious school was it? We don’t know yet. Should we assume that being Pakistan, it is a Muslim school? No. The country’s leading private schools — the institutions where the elite educate their children are run by the Catholic Church and the Church of Pakistan. One can find Christian schools all across Pakistan, many with no Christian students. However, the next sentence gives us some hints:

At least two people helping run the madrassa have been arrested, but the head escaped, police said.

Ah, its a madrassa — you know what that is don’t you? Is it a Hindu, Jewish, Catholic, Muslim, Unitarian, Quaker madrassa? The story continues:

Students have described the brutal regime inside the seminary – some spoke to the media while still wearing their chains.

O.K., its a seminary. I went to one of those. Perhaps these are particularly strict Episcopalians. I was once punished by the dean for wearing golf spikes to prayers — there was a foursome ahead of me that would not allow me to play through. But while I was admonished for my gaucherie, the students at this seminary were “beaten 200 times” while others were told they would be “sent to join the jihad.” Perhaps that’s another clue.

The article states:

But the discovery of chained students of a religious seminary who claim they were being motivated to join the ranks of Taliban has come as a shock. These claims are still being verified as there seems to be no evidence of any weapons training being given there.

The words madrassa and seminary are used throughout the rest of the story, but it is not until the penultimate line that we are treated to the word “Islamic.”

The video report is even worse — it makes no mention of the world Islam or Muslim at all.  When Guerin covered the Middle East for the BBC she was often pilloried for her biased reporting. Burying the Muslim angle of the story is shoddy reporting. Can you imagine a story about abuse at a Catholic school from the BBC not mentioning the world “Catholic” until the very end of the story? Compare the handling of religion in the Pakistan story to this one broadcast three days later entitled “Institutional Dutch Catholic abuse ‘affected thousands’.

Tens of thousands of children have suffered sexual abuse in Dutch Catholic institutions since 1945, a report says.

The report by an independent commission said Catholic officials had failed to tackle the widespread abuse at schools, seminaries and orphanages.

I find the BBC’s handling of the Pakistan abuse allegations troubling as well. While it reports the abuse, it juggles the facts of the abuse with their explanation, so that the explanation is given prominence of place. It gets the last word.

Many parents had left their children at the madrassa for treatment, believing that the harsh regime would aid rehabilitation – some of these parents told the BBC they were happy with the result. They say they were chained to prevent them for escaping.

“If a child has issues such as bad company, smoking and drugs then we have no choice but to get him admitted in such places,” Mohammed Qasim, the father of one student, told the BBC.

In her broadcast report, Guerin follows this pattern. She begins her story by saying there were “disturbing” reports of children as young as 8 being beaten, and notes that a local education official states the basement where the students were kept resembled a “torture cell.” But she then responds to a question from the newsreader by reporting that locals called the school the “jail madrassa”.  She adds that this was one of its “attractions” for some parents, who “paid for the privilege” of sending their troubled sons to the school and “some of these parents even provided the chains.”

How does she know the mind of the parents? Was this a reform school or a seminary? Were no unhappy parents to be found? The arrangement of the arguments and lack of contrary voices gives the impression the BBC is explaining away the abuse. If the parents aren’t bothered, why should we be? The abuse was one of the attractions of the school after all, the BBC reports.

Nor am I arguing that the BBC should omit mention of the Catholic angle to the Dutch abuse article. It is an important component to the story. I am saying the BBC appears to have two standards when it comes to reporting religion related abuse. Play up the Catholic theme – play down the Muslim theme.

There are different reporters, different editors, different departments of the BBC involved such that it is not possible to have a one to one comparison. However, the way in which religion was handled in this Pakistani abuse case gives every appearance of a double standard.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

First printed in GetReligion.

Free will, miracles and the BBC: Get Religion, Oct 24, 2011 October 24, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism.
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“In miracles we are dealing … with the unreal world of fairy-tale,” Matthew Arnold wrote over 125 years ago in God and the Bible. An observer of the BBC’s religion reporting would not be wrong in concluding the Corporation follows this general line, treating faith with a modicum of skepticism.

However, a recent story on faith healing and HIV crosses over the line of healthy skepticism that all good reporting should display into pamphleteering — offering an opinion as news and marshaling facts to support the argument.

The author of Church HIV prayer cure claims ‘cause three deaths’ means well and his intentions of exposing a religious charlatan are good. Intentions aside, this BBC piece is bad journalism. It is poorly sourced, offers inferences as facts — repeat after me  correlation does not imply causation — displays an ignorance of religion and lacks context, balance and tone. On a philosophical level it also breaks with the BBC’s stance on free will — which is not such a bad thing, by the way.

But let’s first jump into the story and see if you see what I see. It begins thus:

At least three people in London with HIV have died after they stopped taking life saving drugs on the advice of their Evangelical Christian pastors.

The women died after attending churches in London where they were encouraged to stop taking the antiretroviral drugs in the belief that God would heal them, their friends and a leading HIV doctor said.

Sometimes I think I will die after attending church, but setting aside faulty syntax let’s return to the story. It continues with a critique by a former government health minister of the general principle of stopping one’s medicine in such circumstances before moving back to substantiate its opening sentences.

Jane Iwu, 48, from Newham, east London, described one case, saying: “I know of a friend who had been to a pastor. She told her to stop taking her medication – that God is a healer and has healed her.”

“This lady believed it. She stopped taking her medication. She passed away,” said Ms Iwu, who has HIV herself.

BBC London spoke to a second woman from east London who told of a friend who died after taking advice from her pastor who told her to stop taking her antiretroviral drugs.

Meanwhile, the director of a leading HIV research centre in east London said she had dealt with a separate case in which a person with HIV died as a result of advice from a pastor.

The story then moves to the experts, who say such practices are harmful.

“We see patients quite often who will come having expressed the belief that if they pray frequently enough, their HIV will somehow be cured,” she added.

“We have seen people who choose not to take the tablets at all so sometimes die,” [said Prof Jane Anderson, director of the Centre for the Study of Sexual Health and HIV, in Hackney.]

The culprits are then identified.

HIV prevention charity African Health Policy Network (AHPN) says a growing number of London churches have been telling people the power of prayer will “cure” their infections.

“This is happening through a number of churches. We’re hearing about more cases of this,” AHPN chief Francis Kaikumba said.

AHPN said it believed the Synagogue Church Of All Nations (SCOAN), which has UK headquarters in Southwark, south London, may be one of those involved in such practices.

The church is headed by Pastor T B Joshua, Nigeria’s third richest clergyman, according to a recent Forbes richlist.

When approached by BBC London, leaders of the church described themselves as Evangelical Christian pastors.

The church’s website, which was set up in Lagos, Nigeria, shows photos of people the church claims have been “cured” of HIV through prayer.

The article offers extracts from SCOAN’s website about its healing ministries and quotes a London resident who said that when she spoke with a representative of the church on the telephone she was told prayer can cure HIV.

At this point a SCOAN representative appears on the scene, but he doesn’t appear to be on the same script as the BBC.

However, when asked by BBC London if it claimed its pastors can cure HIV, SCOAN responded: “We are not the healer. God is the healer. Never a sickness God cannot heal. Never a disease God cannot cure.

“We don’t ask people to stop taking medication,” the church added. “Doctors treat; God heals.”

Let’s go through the problems in the order they appear in the story. The story claims that three people have died after they were told to stop taking their HIV medications by “Evangelical Christian pastors”.  The evidence for this claim comes from friends of the deceased (whose names have been changed for the story, the article reports in a footnote.) In other words, there is no credible evidence for the claim. No one in a position of authority (police, doctor, coroner) is suggesting the deaths were caused by having stopped taking medications.

We don’t know who has died; we don’t know what they were told; we don’t know when they were told; we don’t know who told them; we don’t know if what they were told led to their deaths; we don’t know how they died. No evidence is presented that the three deaths were linked in any way to their church-going, or to their religious beliefs. Rather friends of the deceased think this might be so.

And on a lesser point, but one that particularly irritates me, we have the claim of Evangelicals being behind this, based upon someone from the church in question self-identifying as evangelical. However, Pastor T.B. Joshua and his Synagogue Church Of All Nations (SCOAN) is not an evangelical church, but comes out of the Pentecostal tradition. And a review of the literature about SCOAN finds that Nigerian Christian leaders have denounced it as a cult. Possessing a Christian overlay of vocabulary and symbolism, SCOAN is better described as an African Indigenous Church that combines elements of Christianity with Nigerian traditional beliefs — others argue TB Joshua is a charlatan. But I’m jumping ahead in the narrative.

The group that fingers SCOAN as the villain, said it “believed” the church “may be one of those involved.” In other words, we only have conditional language linking SCOAN to the deaths, and that is not enough to convict.

When the SCOAN spokesman appears, the statements he makes about prayer and healing are so anodyne they could have been offered by the Church of England. If this was meant to shock the reader, I’m afraid the author will be disappointed.

The bottom line here is that there is no evidence to support the statements made in the lede. There is nothing in this story other than the author’s opinion that it is wrong to stop taking antiretroviral drugs and the statements of experts who support this view. Now I happen to agree with this view. But this story as journalism is junk.

However, if we take all of the inferences and assumptions laid out in the story as being true, I was struck by the shift in the BBC’s views on human autonomy this would imply. The Corporation has long championed the cause of euthanasia and has been accused of supporting the right to die through biased news reporting. To be philosophically coherent, I would have assumed the BBC would have supported the choice of the three HIV patients to have stopped taking their medication. The Corporation’s support of human autonomy, of freedom conceived as the faculty of acting spontaneously according to the representation of ends (the will), is rejected in this story and has been replaced with a censorious moralism. “What these people have chosen to do with their own lives is bad,” is how I understand the author’s point of view in this story.

I should say I do not disagree with this sentiment, yet though we have arrived at the same destination I came on a different train. Free will, when it is expressed in secular terms is a moral good for the BBC. Free will when expressed as a choice to believe in miracles and hope for God’s intervention in your life is treated with scorn by the Corporation.

It may have been his sweet reasonableness or Victorian sensibilities, but Matthew Arnold tried to coat his unbelief with with a gentile wash of regret.

The reasons drawn from miracles on cannot but dismiss with tenderness, for they belong to a great and splendid whole, — a beautiful and powerful fairy-tale , which was long believed without question, and which has given comfort and joy to thousands. And one abandons them with a kind of unwilling disenchantment, and only because one must.

The BBC, unlike Arnold, doesn’t do sympathy for the Christian world view and as such misses the deeper story here. The question why someone would do what the BBC is claiming they have done is glossed over — yet the why is the most important question.

John Henry Newman stated that “Catholics believe that [miracles] happen in any age of the Church, though not for the same purpose, in the same number, or with the same evidence, as in apostolic times.” The question for the believer is not whether miracles can occur—of course they can, if God is God—but why they should occur so randomly, why this person and not that should be their recipient.

As he explained to Charles Kingsley in his Apologia pro vita sua, miracles “must be clearly proved, because perhaps after all it may be only a providential mercy, or an exaggeration, or a mistake, or an imposture.”

Here is the heart of the story — a Nigerian pastor has been promising miracles to those who believe (in him?) and three of his followers have died after following his council. This story is inferred but not told, and as such fails.

The article does appear to have legs, however, with the Guardian, and the Sunday Herald in Scotland among others picking it up. I do hope though that those who follow in the reporting do take the time to get to the heart of the matter and answer Newman’s question. What is going on here: providential mercy, an exaggeration, a mistake, or imposture.

First published by Get Religion.

Anglican Unscripted: Oct 1, 2011 October 3, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Anglican.TV, Property Litigation, South Carolina.
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Has OE and KE become a disease of BC and AD? No it is not algebra, it is the new era and Kevin and George explain it and use it. Also in this week’s episode our hosts discuss Pastor Youcef bound in Iran and South Carolina and whether it is bound by title IV. Our legal segment with Allan Haley is on Bishop Seabury’s recent court loss.

God & gays: the BBC on the Marin Foundation: Get Religion, Sept 29, 2011 September 29, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Human Sexuality --- The gay issue.
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“Can one man build effective bridges between evangelical Christians and Chicago’s gay community?”

This question kicks off a fascinating article written by Christopher Landau for the BBC World Service’s Heart and Soul Programme entitled “Why conservative Christians flock to a Chicago gay bar“. I honor the BBC for tackling this difficult story; one with landmines for the unwary journalist.

But I ask, who would criticize a story about Andrew Marin: a man who “believes that polite, honest conversation between people of all perspectives is essential if Christians are to address questions about sexuality more effectively”? Who would be so heartless as to be against peace, love and happiness? It would be like drowning kittens.

I answer, me. This profile misses the mark. In its attempt to allow Andrew Marin to tell his story, it neglects to put that story into context. It makes assumptions and value judgments about the Evangelical Christianity and the GLBT movement that Marin seeks to reconcile without allowing the protagonists to define their terms or explain their cause.

This BBC story is quite similar to an Aug 2010 CBN broadcast entitled “Christian’s Outreach to Gays: I’m Sorry“. It too tees one up for Marin, not pressing him to define or defend his views, nor presenting opposing or critical comments. Marin even offers the same “Bible-banging homophobic” ‘money’ quote in each piece. He has his patter down pat.

Am I saying Marin’s work is misguided? No.

I am not offering opinions about his ministry or Christian moral teaching or the gay critique of institutional Christianity. It is the way the story has been crafted that I find unsatisfactory. No dead cats here.

Follow me then inside and see if you come out where I do.

The article begins by stating Marin is a “straight” evangelical Christian who:

.. works to try to bring Christians and gay people together in open conversation about sexuality and spirituality – and that includes running a large-scale meeting four times a year at Roscoe’s, one of America’s most famous gay bars.

That is no small achievement in a culture where openly gay people and evangelical Christians have long viewed each other with suspicion.

The scene has now been set and the BBC’s editorial voice speaks, saying “[Marin] believes that too many Christians don’t understand the complexity of the small number of Bible verses that mention homosexuality – he also thinks that gay people are often too quick to dismiss Christianity.”

On the heals of these strong sentiments, the story moves to a chronicle of Marin’s evolving beliefs and how he came to this work.

He had grown up in a conservative Christian household, and says he was “the biggest Bible-banging homophobic kid you ever met”. .. “I didn’t know what to do. I thought there was no way my theological belief system could ever line up with my [gay] friends’ way of life, so I ended up cutting ties with them.”

But Andrew Marin says that over the following months, he believed God was asking him to get back in touch with his friends and apologise to them.

A few weeks later, along with two of the three friends, he moved into Boystown [a gay neighborhood in Chicago].

The article then offers a colorful anecdote from his ministry and an explanation of his worldview.

One of the most unusual aspects of the Foundation’s work are its Living in the Tension gatherings, where people from all perspectives gather together to explore questions about Christian faith and sexuality. .. Most intriguing were two gay Christian men who had reached dramatically different conclusions about faith and sexuality.

Will is an openly gay man, and a pastor in the United Methodist Church.

He says he has resolved a “creative tension” he initially felt between his calling to ministry and his sexuality.

Sitting opposite him was Brian, who also says he’s always known he was gay – but whose traditional theology meant he chose to marry a woman and has since fathered a child.

He says that falling in love with his wife was “an experience that I can only say was through God himself bringing my wife and me together”.

A gay clergyman and an ex-gay: a nice counterpoint. This leads to the story’s cri de coeur:

http://downloads.cbn.com/cbnnewsplayer/cbnplayer.swf?aid=17710

But the Marin Foundation believes that polite, honest conversation between people of all perspectives is essential if Christians are to address questions about sexuality more effectively.

Not everyone is convinced that Christians are ready – or able – to have many such discussions. .. He says that the Marin Foundation simply wants to get gay people thinking about Christian spirituality in its broadest sense, without a disproportionate emphasis on sexual morality.

“What we try and do is help the person live the most faithful, God-honouring life that they can through their understanding of where God is leading them.”

This open-ended approach will frustrate both traditionalist and progressive Christians.

But few can argue with the fact that Andrew Marin’s foundation has enabled many conservative churches to begin open discussions about sexuality for the first time.

Now what is wrong with that? Well there is the small matter of hyperbole: Marin’s work has led “many” conservative churches to discuss human sexuality “for the first time”. Which churches? Or does he mean congregations? It seems conservative churches have been talking about sex for quite some time. Controversies over contraception, divorce and remarriage, the swinging 60′s, and now gay rights have been topics of seemingly unending discussion for the past seventy-five years, while the Bible seems to have had a bit to say about this (c.f. the Apostle Paul).

An expert’s voice is heard towards the close, a Harvard professor who says “my hope is that I would be willing to kneel at a communion table with my bitterest enemy in these debates.” Yet this quote shows the Harvard man holds a particular theological view of the Eucharist as a sacrament of unity that would not be shared by conservative evangelicals. For conservative evangelicals, one must have a shared doctrine to share communion, while for Roman Catholics, the Orthodox and like groups Eucharistic discipline forbids allowing those outside the fold from receiving the sacraments.

But more than this, the voices of evangelical Christians and the gay non-Christian community are missing from this article and last year’s CBN story. Robert Gagnon, the leading scholar on the traditional side of the debate, has sharply critiqued Marin’s work finding it to lack theological and Scriptural vigor. The blogosphere is also replete with critics of Marin from the opposite corner. Where are they?

Why spoil the sweetness and light with clouds of criticism? Because such reporting is unfaithful to the story.

American journalism is founded upon a methodology best articulated by the German historian Leopold von Ranke. It is a scientific objective worldview that sees the task of the journalist (like the historian) to report what actually happened (wie es eigentlich gewesen). In this school of writing, the journalist must set aside his own views and present a story on its own terms, to establish what the facts are and let the facts dictate the story.

Omitting dissent, in this view of reporting, gives a false impression of the past and injects the present into the past.

These high minded words beg the question whether such a project is even possible in this post-modernist age. Is it still possible for a reporter to show what actually happened?

God, gender and gays – BBC bias on display: Get Religion Sept 10, 2011 September 29, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion.
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“World Ends Tomorrow: Women and Minorities Hit Hardest!”

American lexicographer Barry Popik credits comedian Mort Sahl with having coined this fictitious New York Times headline that encapsulates the Gray Lady’s liberal world view. The New York Times reports talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh incorporates this joke about the weltanschauung of the left-wing press into his repertoire. But El Rushbo attributes this bias to the Washington Post.

One of the complaints of media bias of longest standing is that leveled against the BBC. The corporation’s reporting style has generated a Wikipedia entry and launched a host of blogs chronicling its errors, suppositions and biases.

In 2006 the Mail on Sunday summarized the results of an internal BBC review:

Senior figures admitted that the BBC is guilty of promoting Left-wing views and an anti-Christian sentiment.

They also said that as an organisation it was disproportionately over-represented by gays and ethnic minorities.

It was also suggested that the Beeb is guilty of political correctness, the overt promotion of multiculturalism and of being anti-American and against the countryside.

So what does this all have to do with God, gender and gays? I’ve digressed from the story under consideration to introduce to a North American audience the phenomenon of BBC bias. I am illustrating this point with a recent article from the BBC’s website concerning the appointment of the new chief justice of South Africa. “Zuma appoints controversial Judge Mogoeng to top post” begins with:

South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma has appointed a judge who is an ordained pastor with controversial views on rape and homosexuality as chief justice.

Lobby groups had urged Mr Zuma not to appoint Judge Mogoeng Mogoeng as South Africa’s top judge, saying he was lenient on rapists, which he denies.

South Africa has one of the world’s highest incidences of rape.

Mr Zuma said he was confident that with Judge Mogoeng at the helm, the judiciary was in good hands.

Last week, Judge Mogoeng said God wanted him to be chief justice.

How about that! In five sentences we have established, or perhaps better said, insinuated that the new chief justice is an anti-gay anti-women Christian minister who believes God is talking to him. The article continues with a statement the judge’s nomination was opposed by “top lawyers”, human rights groups and trade unions, and then states the Nobel Women’s Initiative, (I had to look this up too), had issued a statement denouncing the judge as being soft on crime.

The article then discussed the incidence of rape and crime in South Africa and noted the judge had reduced the life sentence of one convicted rapist to a term of 18 years and of having reduced the term of imprisonment of an attempted rapist from five to two years. The judge had also “suggested that sex between a husband and his wife could not be considered rape, AP reports.” ‘Suggested’ mind you, not ‘said’.

The judge was given a chance to defend himself and the Christian motif was resurrected.

During his nomination hearing last week, Judge Mogoeng denied he was insensitive to rape.

He said he had also increased the sentences of rapists – in some cases to life imprisonment.

Judge Mogoeng – who is an ordained pastor with the Winners Chapel International, which condemns homosexuality – said he would uphold South Africa’s constitution, which respects gay rights.

“When a position comes like this one, I wouldn’t take it unless I had prayed and satisfied myself that God wants me to take it,” Judge Mogoeng said during his nomination hearing.

Why is this biased or blinkered reporting? Let’s begin with the ‘controversial’ descriptor. Belief that homosexual behavior is sinful is controversial (and wrong-headed) for the BBC, but no source is cited in this article to say South Africans believe the judge’s views on homosexuality are controversial. The Beeb offers examples of the criticisms of those who see the judge as being soft on rape, but are content to illustrate his controversial views on homosexuality by saying the Mogoeng is a pastor in a Protestant denomination that holds to traditional moral teachings.

The “God wanted him to be chief justice” comment, left hanging out there on its own without explanation, insinuates the judge is some sort of nutter that takes his cues from ‘sky pixies’ over head. The qualifier, the judge prayed about this appointment and was satisfied that “God wants me to take it”, is left until the end. And in Christian circles is not only non-controversial, but what you should do in these circumstances.

The BBC also advances the notion that belief that homosexual behavior is sinful entails the belief that gays and lesbians should not be accorded civil rights. This, of course, is nonsense. The Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Church .. for that matter just about all churches short of the Fred Phelps crew supports the basic human rights of gay and lesbian people and rejects as sinful any acts of prejudice and discrimination against them.

The story is also incomplete and focuses on areas of concern to the BBC, rather than to the participants in the story. Yes, questions of gender bias were raised by opponents of the nomination. However, the principle opposition to the ruling African National Congress objected to the judge’s appointment because he was an unqualified party hack. The judicial fraternity, e.g., “top lawyers”, believed Judge Mogoeng was not up to the job. Bloomberg News reported:

Mogoeng “is not the best person for the job in the eyes of a lot of the legal community,” Cathy Albertyn, a law professor at the University of Witwatersrand, said today in a telephone interview from Johannesburg. “He wasn’t able to express any kind of constitutional vision. It’s a pity that we have set the constitutional test at a level that doesn’t allow us to insist on the best candidate.”

An op-ed piece in the Times (South Africa) argued Judge Meogong was a mediocrity. The G. Harold Carswell of the South African bench.

Mogoeng had made about 10 reported judgments before joining the Constitutional Court. Given that he had been a judicial officer for more than 10 years, this is an important intellectual indictment. It points to either a lack of industriousness or judicial work of a standard not deemed sufficiently noteworthy for editors of law reports to record for posterity. By contrast, more respected jurists, such as some of his Constitutional Court colleagues, have literally hundreds of reported judgments.

Whether the bias and incomplete reporting is unintentional or merely sloppy is unclear. However, such a stance is not new. Writing in the Sunday Times in 2007, Antony Jay, the author of ‘Yes, Minister’ stated that from 1955 to 1964 he was:

part of this media liberal consensus. For six of those nine years I was working on Tonight, a nightly BBC current affairs television programme. My stint coincided almost exactly with Harold Macmillan’s premiership and I do not think that my former colleagues would quibble if I said we were not exactly diehard supporters.

But we were not just anti-Macmillan; we were anti-industry, anti-capitalism, anti-advertising, anti-selling, anti-profit, anti-patriotism, anti-monarchy, anti-empire, anti-police, anti-armed forces, anti-bomb, anti-authority. Almost anything that made the world a freer, safer and more prosperous place – you name it, we were anti it.

Caveat lector .. reader beware.

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