It would be hard to imagine the BBC mocking a Muslim MP for keeping Ramadan. Yet last week the actions of a Christian MP were questioned and even mocked on television because she came straight to parliament from a Church service marking the start of the Christian fasting period of Lent.
Carol Monaghan the SNP MP for Glasgow North West came straight from an Ash Wednesday service, where traditionally a small ash cross is marked on the forehead, to a parliamentary committee. When a colleague asked what was on her forehead her explanation was met with the protest “but this is going to be broadcast”. As The Spectator put it:
“To her credit, she kept her ashes intact, explaining: ‘I think they just thought I didn’t want to be embarrassed – but I was not going to rub it off. Many religions have visible symbols and Christians should not feel any embarrassment in either practising their religion or in the public display of religious symbols.’
Had the matter ended there, we might lament the discourtesy shown to the Glasgow MP and move on. Instead, the BBC ran a story about Monaghan’s forehead on its website under the breathless headline: ‘MP Carol Monaghan “not embarrassed” about display of Christian faith’. The BBC Politics Facebook page posted a picture of Monaghan wearing her ashes and asked its followers: ‘Was it appropriate for this MP to go to work with a cross on her forehead?’”
In fact, the BBC article even questioned whether it was legal for Mrs Monaghan to publicly display a cross on her forehead in her workplace i.e. parliament.
What the lamentable conduct of the BBC illustrates is not simply unkindness or even bad manners, but a whole redefinition of language. The BBC prides itself on its commitment to “equality and diversity”. However, as these events illustrate “equality” and “diversity” have been redefined. The argument goes that as some groups have been subject to discrimination and oppression in the past, members of those groups need to be given a little bit of an extra “positive action” if they are to achieve “equality” and that frequently includes being exempted from any form of criticism. However, members of other groups – including Christians - which are deemed to have oppressed the first group in past generations are subject to more rigorous criticism. In other words only certain types of diversity are celebrated – and as far as the newly redefined terms of “equality” and “diversity” are concerned Christians generally aren’t part of it.
This is not the first time the BBC has been shown to have double standards towards Christians. In 2006 the BBC persuaded one of its leading presenters Fiona Bruce that it wasn’t appropriate for her wear a small cross on her necklace while reading the news. After two weeks the BBC was forced to back down in response to protests from viewers. It then put out a statement saying it wasn’t a “ban” as such just a “debate” and claimed:
“The BBC is a supporter of freedom of expression. Equally we want our newsreaders to be seen as entirely impartial. Any religious clothing or insignia they wear could make some viewers question their impartiality. We were asked the hypothetical question of what we would do in the event that a Muslim newsreader wanted to wear a head scarf or veil.”
However, far from being hypothetical it has subsequently emerged that at the same time that Fiona Bruce was “persuaded” not to wear a small cross on TV in order to be seen as “entirely impartial”, a female Muslim journalist was allowed to continue wearing the hijab while reporting BBC TV news.
The BBC’s lamentable treatment of Carol Monaghan MP should cause it to reflect on its own double standards which appear to suggest an unacceptable level of institutional discrimination against Christians.