Thursday, May 24th, 2012

Conversations with journalists often involves challenging the suggestion that the Church of England spends all its time in conflict over sex and women. If 5% of what we talk about forms 95% of media coverage about us and this shapes 100% of popular perception about the church’s preoccupation, no wonder we have a problem.

Well, despite my protestations that the bulk of our preoccupations have nothing to do with sex or conflict, the House of Bishops spent 95% of its meeting this week doing sex and women (bishops). One colleague at the two-day meeting in York, having wondered after months of bad weather what the big yellow thing in the sky was, asked why we couldn’t leave the stuffy room and meet outside – or as he put it, “Can’t we do sex outside?” Er…

Anyway, dispute now rages about women bishops, marriage and associated matters. More anon. Although my meetings this week about the media and the conflict in Sudan won’t hit the headlines…

What has made me laugh today, though, is the prospect of Saturday’s Eurovision Song Contest in Baku. The human rights questions there raise enough questions, but surely the biggest challenge this year is how to lose the contest while appearing to try to win it. The country that wins the contest has to stage the event next year. And who wants to do that in the middle of a massive financial crisis?

It will be interesting to see how Greece, Spain and Portugal perform. A win might cheer them up during hard times – music can do that sort of thing – but a noble defeat will prove cheaper. And Ireland has chosen Jedward again…

(I met Engelbert Humperdinck in a BBC Radio 2 studio a couple of weeks ago. I only heard his song yesterday. Apparently they have chosen him because he is very popular in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Nice song, though…)


This evening saw the 2012 Sandford St Martin Trust awards ceremony at Lambeth Palace. It was a good gig, but air conditioning might have helped cool the place down. Yet, there is something really powerful about all the great portraits of dead Archbishops of Canterbury staring down unamused by the hi-tech stuff going on in the Guard Room. Why powerful? Because it gives a sense of perspective to the immediate when the continuity of the past keeps looking at you.

Anyway, these annual awards, attended by programme makers, independent production companies and broadcast executives from around the UK, highlight the cream of mainstream religious broadcasting in the UK over the preceding 12 months. They attract entries from all the major broadcast channels as well as BBC and commercial local stations, and – more recentlynew media productions. Prizes are awarded in radio and television categories.

This year’s top prizes went to a BBC TWO production – “The Life of Muhammad” made by the independent company “Crescent Films” – and a BBC Radio Scotland production Resurrection Storiespresented by Anna Magnusson, reflecting on her experience of loss and hope after the death of her brother, Sigi.

The editor of the Radio Times, Ben Preston, announced the winner of the Radio Times Readers Award taken from a poll to choose the readers’ favourite religious production of the year. Their award went to Songs of Praise 50th Anniversary a trilogy of programmes, culminating in a spectacular show from Alexandra Palace featuring singers Catherine Jenkins, Beverley Knight and Leanne Rimes.

Announcing the TV winner, the Journalist and Catholic commentator Paul Donovan praised the way “The Life of Muhammad” had tackled a very difficult subject with great sensitivity.

The Radio Prize winner – Anna Magnusson (daughter of the late Magnus, and sister to Sally Magnusson) based much of her winning programme on reflections around the death of her brother Sigi when she was just 13. Now 38 years on, faced with questions raised by the description of Jesus’ resurrection – she explored how contemporary Christians could respond to the Gospel account.

In awarding the prize to Anna and her BBC Scotland producer Mo McCullogh, the chair of the radio judges Priscilla Chadwick – said “This was a most impressive programme…a very reflective, highly personal and deeply theological exploration of the issues which allowed space for ‘questioning hopefully’ that one day Anna would be reunited with her much loved brother.

As Chairman of the Sandford St Martin Trust, I chaired the event and presented the awards. I was able to praise the imaginative programming that had been entered for the awards. I also noted that religion is no longer a niche commission, even appearing on entertainment channels such as Sky Atlantic who’ve just ordered a 6 part series featuring a gang of Jewish bikers from North London who will be talking about their beliefs and how faith affects them.

My comment was simple: “Religion is not primarily about mere ideas; it is about people, communities and the stuff of human existence. It is rich, ripe and fertile soil for stories that expand and enrich our understanding of life and its biggest questions.”

2012 Television winners

Premier Award:

The Life of Muhammad: Ep 1 – The Seeker

(Crescent Films for BBC2)

Runner Up:

The King James Bible: The Book that Changed the World

(BBC Religion for BBC2)

Merit Award 1:

Ian Hislop: When Bankers Were Good

(Wingspan productions for BBC2)

Merit Award 2:

Wonderland: A Hasidic Guide to Love, Marriage and Finding a Bride

(BBC Factual for BBC2)

2012 Radio Winners

Premier Prize:

Resurrection Stories

BBC Radio Scotland

Runner Up:

Faith and 9/11

TBI media for BBC Radio2

Merit Award 1:

Something Understood: Abraham

Unique: the Production Company for BBC Radio 4

Merit Award 2:

Good Friday Reflection

Central FM