BBC Faces Accusation Of Bias Against Catholics

By Mike Wendling | July 7, 2008 | 8:14 PM EDT

London ( - A senior bishop has launched an attack on the British Broadcasting Corp., accusing its journalists and television schedulers of anti-Catholic bias.

The Rev. Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Birmingham, highlighted several programs in making his allegations earlier this week.

He said that reporters from "Kenyon Confronts," an investigative series about to be broadcast on BBC television, had unfairly targeted the church.

"That this program has been allowed to progress this far shows either malice towards the church or a total lack of judgment, or of managerial responsibility, within the BBC news and current affairs department," he said.

The archbishop claimed that reporters for the show, which uses a confrontational approach to uncover scandal, called priests in the middle of the night, misrepresented themselves to church officials and others and employed subterfuge to interview an elderly priest in a residential care home.

The show's investigation springs from a series of sex abuse incidents and alleged cover-ups that have rocked the Catholic Church both in Britain and around the world.

In the most high-profile case in the U.K., the leader of England's Catholics, Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor, admitted reassigning a priest suspected of sexual abuse without telling police about the allegations.

The priest, Michael Hill, was eventually convicted of sex attacks on nine children, but prosecutors cleared the cardinal of criminal charges earlier this year.

In the last 20 years, three Birmingham diocese priests have been convicted of sex abuse while two others accused have fled the country, and the "Kenyon Confronts" program is expected to delve into alleged church mishandling of those incidents.

But Archbishop Nichols said that the BBC was dredging up old news, that it hadn't uncovered any new allegations of sexual abuse and that its techniques weren't warranted by the circumstances.

The archbishop also criticized the BBC's decision to broadcast an episode of the investigative reporting show "Panorama" entitled "Sex and the Holy City" next month. The broadcast will coincide with the silver jubilee of Pope John Paul II and the Mother Teresa's beatification.

Nichols also railed against Popetown, a satirical cartoon about the Vatican.

"The Catholic community is fed up seeing a public service broadcaster using the licence fee to pay unscrupulous reporters trying to recirculate old news and to broadcast programmes that are so biased and hostile." Nichols said.

"Investigative journalism of this sort may have its place. ... But I am not prepared to respond to a messenger who throws bricks through my back windows instead of coming and ringing at the front door," he said.

The BBC license fee, or "television tax" is a government-mandated charge of about $185 each year on every television-owning household in the United Kingdom.

Recent charges

The corporation has faced a number of bias allegations in recent months, some of them conflicting.

Both the Labor and Conservative parties have accused the corporation of being slanted towards the other side of the parliamentary aisle. The corporation has also faced charges of being too pro-Europe and for allegedly failing to cover groups critical of the European Union.

Allegations by the U.K. government that the BBC had an anti-war bias during the recent conflict in Iraq have surfaced during the Hutton Inquiry, an investigation into the death of a government weapons expert. But some anti-war protesters charge just the opposite and say the BBC was virtually a cheerleader for the military action.

In addition, Israeli officials have snubbed BBC reporters, charging the corporation has a pro-Palestinian bias.

In response to the Catholic allegations, the BBC said in a statement that it would respond positively to a request for a meeting with Nichols.

"We recognise the Archbishop has concerns about the 'Kenyon Confronts' program and these will be discussed at the meeting," the statement said. "We do not believe that the BBC is in any way biased against the Catholic faith."

The BBC said it plans to cover the Pope's silver jubilee and the beatification of Mother Theresa. It said its investigative shows will be balanced and will include the church's perspective.

"There are ... times when it is in the public interest for us to question and scrutinise issues that are the subject of legitimate debate. We believe 'Kenyon Confronts' covers such an issue," the BBC said.

"The 'Panorama' documentary investigates how women around the world have been affected by the Catholic Church's teachings on contraception, abortion and promiscuity."

"This is clearly a matter of legitimate public interest and, far from being designed to offend, the programme will fairly reflect the views of the nuns, priests, bishops, archbishops, cardinals and Catholic lay people who have been interviewed," the BBC said.

See previous stories:
BBC Journalists Excluded From Press Conference After Bias Allegations (7/15/03)
Israel Accuses BBC of Unethical Journalistic Practices (7/3/2003)
BBC Accused of Pro-EU Bias (11/29/02)

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