The BBC would change if we had Veronica’s courage

Thursday, 17 November 2011

This column originally appeared in The Catholic Herald

Horrific though the revelations are about Christians being persecuted abroad, and frustrating though it is that David Cameron seems focused on denying aid to countries intolerant of homosexuality, as opposed to those in which believers are being murdered, there are just as many reasons to be depressed about what Christians – and Catholics in particular – are suffering at home.

We recently reported on the case of Veronica Connelly, the Catholic grandmother who refused to pay her licence fee because she was so appalled at the output from our state broadcaster, the BBC. Her principled stand should be applauded. Though she is likely to lose her final appeal in the European Court of Human Rights, Mrs Connelly’s brave actions reflect a growing consensus among the silent majority of Britons concerned about the secularisation of our culture and the increasingly debauched values of this taxpayer-funded media organisation.

On these pages, I have often praised popular culture, while drawing attention to its occasionally pernicious influence. But for the BBC to broadcast Jerry Springer: The Opera, a worthless and blasphemous epic of smut and disrespectfulness, showed – as long ago as 2002 – that its values are now entirely at odds with those of the British people, and that it no longer takes its commitment to public service broadcasting seriously, preferring to sneer at religion and trample over the boundaries of decency. And there was me, thinking that’s why we have Channel 4.

 

Adrian Smith is a role model for modern Britain’s persecuted Christians

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Originally published at The Catholic Herald.

Thank the Lord that Adrian Smith, the man shamefully demoted and humiliated in one of the most outrageous assaults on private Christian conscience in recent memory, has plucked up the fortitude to sue his employers.

Quite right too. Smith, a housing working in Manchester, was sacked from his job and shunted down into a much more junior – and less well paid – job, because he had the temerity to suggest that marriage perhaps ought to be between a man and a woman.

He did so privately, and on his own Facebook page, but was disciplined by Trafford Housing Trust for breaching its “code of conduct”. I dread to think of the endless, politically correct garbage that “code of conduct” must consist of. No doubt if he had tweeted, “I’m not entirely sure that the Trust needs all these Diversity Support Officers,” he’d have found himself in similarly hot water.

 

Yousef Nadarkhani: why the media blackout?

Thursday, 6 October 2011

This column originally appeared in The Catholic Herald.

The contrast between what we might call “deserving” and “undeserving” Death Row-ers has been thrown into sharp relief with the news that Iranian Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani is to be put to death on trumped-up charges. His gravest offence, in the eyes of the Iranian authorities, was to have Muslim ancestry yet be a practising Christian. The pastor has, in an astonishing act of bravery, refused to renounce Christ three times, on pain of death, before the Iranian supreme court.

Of course, his supposed apostasy is not the reason given for Nadarkhani’s sentence by Gholomali Rezvani, the deputy governor of Iran’s Gilan province, who accused him of being a “Zionist” and committing “security-related crimes” when it became clear that international opinion was against the grounds of the original conviction.

“This is how justice works in Iran,” explains the blogger known as Archbishop Cranmer. “If they can’t get you one way, they fabricate, manipulate and manoeuvre to ensure their pre-ordained sentence is effected.”

The Nadarkhani case is horrifying, not least because it has underscored how woefully under-reported on such cases of persecution against Christians are. Despite official statements from the British and American governments, it has received a fraction of the attention given to Troy Davis, the American man executed for the murder of a police officer last month. No such condemnatory official statements were forthcoming from major governments in Davis’s case, yet liberal outlets like the Guardian and the BBC lovingly documented the attention-seeking protesters and their “I am Troy Davis” T-shirts wherever in the world they popped up.

 

Covering the Pope: a guide for journalists

Monday, 26 September 2011

This post originally appeared at The Catholic Herald.

Imagine you’re a newly minted BBC News intern. You bound into the office on your first day, your 2:1 in Media Studies and Digital Production from the University of Salford burning a hole in your pocket.

You’ve made it! You’ve reached the dizzying heights of the state broadcaster’s newsroom. You’re ready to take over the world.

But disaster strikes: your editor hands you the first assignment, and it’s a report on the Catholic Church. Pope Benewhatsit has gone to some place to give some speech about God and stuff.

You’re eager to impress, but totally out of your depth. What are you to do? Who do you turn to?

Well, here at the The Catholic Herald, we understand how peculiar and arcane the world of Catholicism must appear to reporters new to the beat. That’s why we’ve trawled the archives of the major broadcasters and newspapers to bring you the lessons learned by your senior colleagues.

 

Pope Benedict XVI has youth on his side

Thursday, 1 September 2011

This column originally appeared in The Catholic Herald.

The sight of more than a million young people turning out to welcome Pope Benedict XVI to Madrid for World Youth Day was extraordinary – which is why it was so annoying of the BBC to focus its coverage so narrowly on the minuscule band of extremists who turned out to protest the night before. Because there is evidently something about this Pope that young people really relate to.

Now, it’s true that young Catholics were pretty keen on John Paul II as well. But I sense a peculiar sort of affection for Benedict XVI from young people; something that goes beyond the enthusiasm for John Paul II. For one thing, the present Pope is easily as charismatic as his predecessor. But while John Paul II was a skilful media operator who revelled in his frequent “photo ops” with the likes of Princess Di, there was always a feeling that JPII the man wasn’t quite the same individual as JPII the Pope. You might even go as far as to say that his personal charisma and his office were in tension with one another.

John Paul II’s Masses were sometimes uncomfortable marriages of prescribed ritual and modern culture, but there’s a particular genius about the way the present Pope interprets his role. And observe how, acting through his master of ceremonies, Mgr Guido Marini, he stamped his authority – and, at the same time, his personality – on the papal visit to Britain. That authority came across as authentic and compelling. And young people have natural desire to attach themselves to such charismatic figures.

In Benedict XVI, the public and private seem to be in much closer harmony. His ability to blend his own personality with the grandeur of his office seems to be leading young people to feel a personal connection with him that they don’t with a faceless diocesan bureaucracy.

 

The BBC’s coverage of World Youth Day has been a disgrace

Friday, 19 August 2011

This post originally appeared in The Catholic Herald.

It comes to something when I when I find myself agreeing with the Guardian‘s Andrew Brown, and yet here we are. His blog post yesterday drew attention to something many Catholics will be feeling this weekend. “If I were a Catholic,” he writes, “I would be feeling rather p—–d off with the BBC.” Well, quite.

Why on earth the BBC has chosen to focus its coverage on the comparatively tiny number of protesters in Madrid is a mystery. I mean, it’s not as if they’re the most sympathetic types. We need only turn to the esteemed Deutsche Welle to recognise the usual suspects:

5,000 people turned out on Madrid’s streets late Wednesday to protest the pope’s arrival for the six-day youth festival. The demonstrators included members of secularist, feminist, gay and lesbian, alternative Christian and leftist groups.

Over a hundred of these fringe protest groups coalesced, as they so often do, into a confused mêlée of conflicting special interests. They were united, however, in the sheer nastiness with which they expressed their views. To give but one example: As pilgrims sang “Hallelujah”, “Long Live the Pope!” and Benedicto!”, demonstrators responded with shrieks of “Nazis!” and “Paedophiles, watch out children!”

And, inevitably, there were violent thugs in their number who got physical, prompting eleven arrests.

So much for the inclusive tolerance trumpeted by the Left. Here in Madrid was its real face: a sneering, violent mob of self-righteous bullies who thought it appropriate to hurl abuse at children for the crime of having pride in their faith and being excited about by a visit from the Holy Father.

Even the putative grounds for this protest were bogus. Protesters squealed about the outrage of part-funding the Pope’s visit at a time of economic crisis (prompting me to wonder: how many of these goons were luxuriating under the largesse of the state themselves? I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that the museum official bleating to AFP about being “intimidated” by police came from a public museum). Yet the organisers had already said that World Youth Day is likely to cover its own costs.

Examples of the BBC’s skewed attitude abound. This tweet is by no means the only one I’ve seen exasperated by the Today programme, which made little space for the fact that the 5,000 protesters were dwarfed by the incredible 1.5 million people who are expected to attend the various World Youth Day events.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to us by now that the state broadcaster uses any available opportunity to criticise and ridicule the Church, siding with obnoxious minority protest groups at the expense of the majority. But it’s always depressing when it does.

 

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference urgently needs to overhaul its website

Friday, 5 August 2011

This column originally appeared in The Catholic Herald.

One of the most appealing things about Pope Benedict XVI is that he can communicate subtle ideas in simple language. His prose is clear and attractive, his phrasing terse and elegant. He has a highly developed aesthetic sense, which finds expression in his desire to improve the quality of the liturgy. (Not something for which some Church leaders in England and Wales have the most unbridled enthusiasm, or so I’m told.)

My question today is: couldn’t the Church draw inspiration from the Pope’s gift for clarity in putting together their online resources?

I ask because I recently visited the confusing network of websitesoffered by the Catholic Communications Network (CCN), as the Bishops’ Conference’s press office styles itself, and to say they fall a tad short of the simplicity and sharp intelligence we’ve come to expect from the Holy Father is something of an understatement.

 

Review: Paul Carr, The Upgrade: A Cautionary Tale of Life Without Reservations

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

In some circles it’s considered bad form to review books in which you appear. Fortunately for you, I don’t move in those circles. Because as one of this volume’s (admittedly minor) characters, I’m better placed than most to verify what might otherwise appear a wildly implausible series of ludicrous drunken adventures.

The Icelandic rock stars. The near-death experience with Spanish drug dealers. The hairdressers’ convention. The 6,000 mile booty call. In short: yes, it’s all true.

Paul Carr has forged a surprisingly stable career out of his alcohol-fuelled antics, failed relationships, friendship with infamous London entrepreneur, networker and mischief-maker Robert Loch and his opinions about the latest internet technology. But despite weighing in provocatively on privacy, copyright and media issues in his TechCrunch column, his forte has always been writing about himself, which is the singular subject of both of his books to date. Even more surprisingly, he manages to be fresh and entertaining without slipping into limp Hunter S. Thompson burlesque.

 

Oprah: America’s most powerful religious leader

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

This review originally appeared in The Catholic Herald.

Oprah: Gospel of an Icon
By Kathryn Lofton
University of California Press, £15.95

Kathryn Lofton is an assistant professor of American Studies and Religious Studies at Yale and her first book represents a perfect fusion of those two disciplines. The American talk show host Oprah Winfrey, she says, provides a brilliant and telling picture of what religion looks like in 21st century America. Her thesis is simple: Oprah has become a cultural phenomenon because she has fused religious idiom, consumerism and celebrity obsession to forge a terrifyingly potent global brand, one that is as much a religion as it is a corporate entity.

Yes, it’s the sort of thesis that has you reaching for your pistol. And yes, in places the book’s language recalls the worst excesses of pop culture studies. More than once, it reminded me of Slayage, the hilarious – and apparently peer-reviewed – “journal of Buffology” (that’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer Studies to you and me).

But here’s the thing: it’s actually really difficult to know what, in 50 or 100 years, will be considered culturally significant. The history books are full of artists we now consider geniuses who were shunned, ignored or ridiculed in their own time – or not even recognised as artists at all. So we ought to try to judge books like this on their own terms.

Who’s to say whether Oprah will acquire an added resonance due to some future event we can’t yet know? She’s certainly widely admired for the media empire she has erected around herself. And isn’t there something odd about the rabidness of her fans? Something more akin to an evangelical preacher’s flock than a daytime chat show host’s audience? So perhaps we shouldn’t be too quick to mock this new bit of, dare I say it, scholarship about one of America’s greatest cultural figures.

Of course, if Lofton is right – if Oprah and the products of her empire “offer a description of religion in modern society” – we have cause for serious concern. Surely what drives the hysterical suburban moms wild about Oprah is greed, enabled by lack of intelligence and spiritual integrity.