Non-Christian festivals such as Rosh Hashanah and Passover are to get more primetime coverage on the BBC in a bid to reflect wider British society, it has been announced.
Jewish, Hindu, Muslim and Sikh holy days will be given attention on popular programmes such as The One Show and Chris Evans’ Radio 2 breakfast show, the corporation has said. Characters in popular drama programmes on both television and radio will also confront faith-based dilemmas.
The move comes after a year-long review by the BBC, published today, that states that people of minority faiths are currently “often absent, poorly presented or satirised” in its output.
The review heard complaints that BBC programmes “don’t reflect the everyday role of faith or [the] diversity of communities in mainstream drama and comedy”.
Celebrity hosts and guests will now feature on primetime documentaries tackling religious and ethical issues. Meanwhile, BBC news plans to expand its religious affairs team, taking in reports from a broader range of contributors.
The report made special reference to some recent faith-based documentaries that it considered "outstanding", including one about a Chasidic community seeking a new home in Canvey Island.
It also highlighted a forthcoming major series on morality in the 21st century, planned for Radio 4, that will be presented by Emeritus Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks.
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis was one of more than 150 faith leaders who were consulted on the matter by the BBC Religion and Ethics Review. Members of the Board of Deputies were also consulted.
Rabbi Mirvis was actually one of a smaller number of people who were invited in to the BBC for private meetings with both Lord Hall of Birkenhead, director-general of the BBC, and James Purnell, director of radio, education and religious programming.
The Chief Rabbi welcomed the outcome of the review.
The BBC review said: “Our audience research shows that there is an opportunity to increase impact with a more mainstream audience and that this will require new talent, formats and approaches.
“We will create specific features and content for major festivals such as Diwali, Passover, Rosh Hashanah, Ramadan, Eid and Vaisakhi [Sikh new year].”
Lord Hall of Birkenhead, director-general of the BBC, said the new approach would “ensure the BBC better reflects the UK, the world and the role that religion plays in everyday life”. He added that programmes would “also raise understanding of the impact religion has on decisions made at home and abroad”.
Gillian Merron, chief executive of the Board welcomed the move.
“The BBC has a vital role to play in dispelling myths and prejudices. We are encouraged that the corporation has undertaken a wide-ranging review, consulting the Board of Deputies and a wide of stakeholders.
"We are glad that the BBC has committed itself to expanding its coverage around religious festivals and we would also like to see BBC coverage take into account the full diversity of the Jewish community in the UK and also for that coverage to strive to be both rigorous and accurate.”