Bishop John Keenan, Bishop of Paisley, has today published a letter sent to the Director of BBC Scotland, Donalda MacKinnon, outlining his concerns of the corporation’s treatment of Catholics in a recent short film titled ‘Homophobia in 2018, Time for Love’.
The film, broadcast on the corporation’s digital platform, ‘The Social’, portrays hatred towards gay people and suggests Catholics are the root of the problem, with detailed references to the teachings and liturgy of the Church. With several deeply insulting and offensive representations, the video includes a clip which says the Catholic Sacrament of Holy Communion ‘tastes like cardboard and smells like hate’.
In his correspondence, dated 23 April, Bishop Keenan quotes recent Scottish Government figures which show fifty-seven per cent of religiously aggravated crime is committed against Catholics, who make up only sixteen per cent of the population. Bishop Keenan writes:
“In the current climate of growing hostility to Catholics I would appeal that the BBC guard against adding fuel to the fire. In that regard I would ask that the Corporation now reach out to Catholics to understand their concerns, that they are being portrayed in a prejudicial way.”
Adding: “When it comes to important public debates about the wellbeing of the human person and the truth and meaning of human sexuality Catholics feel their views are becoming increasingly marginalised, almost criminalised”.
He requested a meeting with the Director to express concerns and to try to restore some breadth and fairness of critique, adding: “Catholics ask nothing more from the media than equity of treatment alongside their peers”.
The Director of the Scottish Catholic Media Office, Peter Kearney, has also sent a complaint to the Head of Public Policy and Corporate Affairs at BBC Scotland, regarding concerns the film has breached official Guidelines.
Requesting clarification as to whether the video was approved or assessed by the Head of Editorial Standards and Compliance prior to publication, he writes:
“The Guidelines make it clear that “Programme makers dealing with religious themes should be aware of what may cause offence.” While also stating “Deep offence will also be caused by profane references or disrespect whether verbal or visual, directed at deities, scriptures, holy days and rituals”. He adds: “The gratuitously disrespectful representation of the Mass constitute exactly the type of disrespect which the Guidelines seek to avoid.”
The full text of the correspondence sent to BBC Scotland is copied below.
Letter from Bishop John Keenan to BBC Scotland Director, Donalda MacKinnon
40 Pacific Quay,
23 April 2018
I am writing to draw your attention to an edition of The Social on BBC Scotland’s digital content stream entitled Homophobia in 2018, Time for Love.
As part of its portrayal of the hatred gay people experience in daily life it pointed to Catholics inter alia as at the root of the problem. It went on to aver that Jesus would have wasted His time on these same Catholics who are too ‘small-minded’ to accept that same-sex ‘love is no sin’. While making its case it opined that the Catholic Sacrament of Holy Communion ‘tastes like cardboard and smells like hate’ and depicted a priest holding up a Mini-Cheddar in parody of the Host, received by an ordinary Catholic woman attending Mass.
I was contacted by two young media producers who were upset by content that they considered to have ‘mocked’ their Catholic faith. They appealed to me to raise the issue urgently as a matter of public debate. In the event my Facebook page was inundated with ordinary Catholics expressing hurt and outrage at the content. Unfortunately they had to face counter comments from opponents, whose response seemed to amount to a ‘serves Catholics right’ line of argumentation.
Following the broadcast the archdiocese of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh worried that the BBC had sanctioned the idea that Catholics engender public hated of homosexuals. The sense of shock has not been limited to Scotland. Catholic media outlets have taken up the story across the English speaking world. All have reached the same conclusion: that this content is really quite beyond the pale, and unworthy of the BBC as a public service broadcaster.
I should let you know that a Catholic woman complained and found her correspondence received a ‘completely inadequate’ reply that ‘did not even refer to the correct video’, but talked about ‘giving artists a chance’. To her it just implied ‘contempt for those who complained’ and led her to conclude that the ‘BBC refuses to see … falsehood … and violence in their treatment of our Faith, and the repercussions this has for ordinary Catholics’.
You may be aware of disappointing Scottish Government research released this month, showing fifty-seven percent of religiously aggravated crime in Scotland is now committed against Catholics, a rise of fourteen percent, even though Catholics make up only sixteen percent of the population. It was followed by Sunday Times findings that twenty percent of Catholics in Scotland have personally experienced abuse or prejudice on account of their faith.
As a Catholic bishop in Scotland I feel unable to distance myself from the above complaints. I believe this piece did somehow cross the Rubicon in the BBC’s portrayal of Catholics.
In the current climate of growing hostility to Catholics I would appeal that the BBC guard against adding fuel to the fire. In that regard I would ask that the Corporation now reach out to Catholics to understand their concerns, that they are being portrayed in a prejudicial way. When it comes to important public debates about the wellbeing of the human person and the truth and meaning of human sexuality Catholics feel their views are becoming increasingly marginalised, almost criminalised’ by a narrative in BBC news, comment, arts and elsewhere that amounts to ‘LGBT views good, Catholic views bad’, an assumption which you must know is simplistic and imposed, and which is not strengthened by longitudinal research.
In this context I would like to request a meeting with you, simply to express the concerns of alienation Catholics in Scotland increasingly feel in regard to the BBC’s broadcasting values, and to see if some way cannot be found of reflecting upon editorial policy in the Corporation with a view to restoring some breadth and fairness of critique. My hope is that it might encourage the BBC to examine how it assigns balance to different though reasonably and decently held views as to the common good of society. Catholics ask nothing more from the media than equity of treatment alongside their peers.
The Catholic community has typically trusted, treasured and supported the BBC. Even while the BBC has provided thorough analysis of the admitted failures of the Catholic Church in Scotland in the matter of the abuse of minors in its care, Catholics have generally continued to regard with respect the many BBC journalists and producers et al who work with integrity and balance.
At the same time the Catholic community is now worried that some elements in the Corporation have adopted an agenda that is overtaking the BBC’s unique position as a globally respected public service broadcaster in order to substitute it with something more akin to a mouthpiece for particular agendas on sexuality and gender, not uncommonly directed against Christians in general, and Catholics specifically.
It is not only the just sensibilities of Catholics that are at stake. The high reputation of the BBC itself, among a significant constituency of its licence payers, and more broadly, is being put into question, and can now only benefit from concerted efforts to restate its erstwhile respected and treasured place, not least in Scottish society.
Bishop John Keenan
Letter from Peter Kearney, Director of the Scottish Catholic Media Office to Ian Small.
Head of Public Policy and Corporate Affairs
I’m writing to raise a serious concern held by many within the church about the content of the video produced for the BBC’s digital content stream “The Social” https://www.facebook.com/bbcthesocial/videos/1450722328371519/
While the film deals with attitudes towards homosexuality, it does so with reference, in parts, to the teachings and liturgy of the Catholic Church. Both are represented in a grossly insulting and demeaning way. The depictions appear to contravene the BBC “Producer’s Guidelines” as set out in Section 6 “Taste and Decency”, Part 9 “Religious Sensibilities”.
The Guidelines make it clear that “Programme makers dealing with religious themes should be aware of what may cause offence.” While also stating “Deep offence will also be caused by profane references or disrespect whether verbal or visual, directed at deities, scriptures, holy days and rituals”.
The gratuitously disrespectful representation of the Mass at 2m 40s and 2m 54s constitute exactly the type of disrespect which the Guidelines seek to avoid. With this in mind I am writing to ask if the video concerned was approved or assessed by Alasdair MacLeod as Head of Editorial Standards and Compliance prior to publication?
I look forward to hearing from you.
CC: Donalda MacKinnon, Director, BBC Scotland