Talk by Revd Tim Daykin, Presenter on BBC Radio Solent at Al Mahdi Centre

Address to Wessex Jamaat Mosque

Thursday 15 June 2017

It is a huge privilege and an honour to be invited by Sheikh Fazle Abbas to give this address, and I am both deeply honoured and grateful. Thank you for your welcome.

It is a measure of your generosity and openness to invite someone who is both a priest in the Church of England and a representative of the media – in my case the BBC. This is a very eloquent gesture.

I thought it would help to give some context to what I will say in a few moments if I told you a little about myself.

Brought up largely in Surrey I studied in London and Durham, first chemistry and then theology. It will be 39 years a week on Sunday that I was ordained in Guildford Cathedral to work in Farnham; then as Chaplain of King Alfred's College, now the University of Winchester; at Chandler's Ford, before becoming vicar of Fordingbridge and then the city centre Church in Southampton – a post I stood back from a little over three years ago.

In the mid 90s I met the then Editor of BBC South Today over a dinner table and we had a robust conversation about what news is and who should make the decisions about what news is reported. Little did I know where this conversation would lead – though the immediate consequence was receiving a rebuke from my wife for departing from the tradition of small talk at table !!!

The BBC invited me to take up an advisory role regularly meeting senior figures in BBC South and also the then Board of Governors.

It became increasingly clear to me that journalists and programme makers are nervous of faith communities. The reasons for this were and remain complex. For some it was because they regarded faith as a waste of time, for others it was an acknowledged ignorance of the content of faith and the issues people of faith might be concerned about.

At the same time many ministers and representatives of faith communities could be distant, stand-offish, unwilling to engage, or simply frightened of the media.

As a familiar figure around the BBC I found myself increasingly contributing to programmes and my advice sought on how stories with a faith perspective might be covered. This culminated in 2001 – some two years after I had stepped down from an advisory role, with an invitation to present the Sunday Breakfast faith programme on BBC Radio Solent. In February 2003 I became the regular presenter and 14 years later I am still there.

In the last couple of years I have become involved in coordinating religious output across all 39 local radio stations and working with colleagues at BBC Radio 2 producing material for their annual Faith in the World Week.

Of course the media, is in a constant state of flux and evolution. It is also important to take account of the plurality of the media. In the case of print media there are both general
publications, like daily and weekly newspapers, and more specialist journals. There is huge diversity from the tabloids devoting a few hundred words to a complicated story, often looking for a sensational angle to draw readers in, to more thoughtful publications seeking to explain subtleties. Newspapers are not charities and proprietors will have one eye on circulation, advertisers, shareholders and profits. It is also important to note that different papers will attract different readerships, and whilst we might be tempted to only take the heavier papers seriously, the simple fact is that many millions of people will get their digest of news and opinion from papers we brand as tabloid.

In terms of broadcast media there are public service broadcasters like the BBC and Channel Four and then purely commercial providers like ITV, Sky, Netflix and so on. Since the advent of satellite and digital technology we have also seen the arrival of specialist stations particularly those seeking to attract a faith audience – not least Christian and Muslim stations. For the BBC there is a requirement in its Charter to be impartial, and for all television, regulation provides safeguards.

The new 'kid on the block' is, of course, the internet and the so called social media sites (personally I regard the term 'social media' as a bit of a misnomer as anyone with teenage children organically attached to their phones would probably agree 'anti-social media' might be a better term). Here we enter the world of Facebook, Twitter and Youtube to mention the best known. You will know there is a good deal of discussion at present about the responsibility those running these platforms have for their content.

At BBC Radio Solent we broadcast to Hampshire, Dorset and the Isle of Wight, though we know we have many listeners further afield who can either pick up our signal or listen on-line around the world.

A few moments ago I hinted at what can sometimes be a difficult relationship between the media and the faith communities. I know what many within the Muslim community especially feel that they are misrepresented in the media and that 'we' are 'out to get them'.

I will be quite honest with you and say that my heart sinks when I hear broadcast, or read in the papers, careless phrases such as Islamic terrorist, and whilst I know there is discussion about the use of the term Islamist, it is clearly important that we get this sort of thing right.

It matters what pictures the media use when talking about Muslims, not least Muslim women, or buildings and activities. It matters that we understand the diversity of Islam. My guess is that most people working in the media would have some idea what the difference is between a catholic and a protestant Christian, or perhaps even an orthodox and a liberal Jew. Should they not also have the most basic understanding of the difference between an Sunni and a Shia Muslim?

So what are we aiming to do on a Sunday morning at BBC Radio Solent – that I hope makes a real difference to faith here in the south of England?

  1. We celebrate what the faith communities are doing.

    Faith communities are busy places; they raise millions of pounds each year. Something like a quarter of all charitable work in the country is carried out by faith communities. No one faith has corned the market and you have you own community and charitable projects within the Muslim community. Our job is to showcase what is happening and how it benefits the community.

  2. We aim to explain faith and to share peoples' passion for faith.

    The universal experience of people of faith is that religion is at the root of their being. It really matters. There are also many people who claim to have no interest in religion and yet they still care passionately about questions of meaning and purpose. I was struck recently by a short film on the One Show on BBC One. A comedian declares himself not to be religious but then goes on to explain how important Liverpool Cathedral has been to him and how his visits there, at different times of his life, have provided the space he needed to reflect. If that isn't religious then I'm not sure what is. Religious broadcasting is not just for the self-confessed faithful. Never before has it been more important to educate people about the different faiths that make up our nation and our world. None of us lives in a bubble. We cannot understand the world unless we understand faith. Of course its not the sole job of the media to educate but it is an important aspect of what we do.

  3. We provide commentary and reflection from a faith perspective.
    People of faith have a particular perspective to bring to events in our world. So for instance on last Sunday's programme on BBC Radio Solent our listeners heard from a former faith advisor to the Communities Secretary about what the hung Parliament and the links between the Conservatives and the DUP might mean for faith communities

  4. We model how people of faith can engage in dialogue with people of a different faith to their own.
    The experience of people of faith is that far from threatening their own faith, getting to know people of other faiths enriches it. If we are confident in our own faith then it is hardly likely to be diminished by speaking to someone of another faith.

  5. Finally, we have a role in 'Calling to Account'.

    The simple fact is that in every community, including faith communities things can and do go wrong. It is properly the job of the media not to brush these things under the carpet but to expose them to the light of day and to provide an opportunity for faith leaders to respond.

To make all this work we rely on strong relationships of confidence and trust.

The morning after the horrific attack in Borough Market Takki Jaffa texted me at a quarter past four in the morning to offer to speak on the programme about the attack and a little later I received a text from Arshad Shariff of the Muslim Council of Southampton. I was thrilled they had the confidence to do this, and enable us to bring real diversity to the programme.
Now there is so much more that I could say but I am in danger of abusing your hospitality – not least as the day's fast is ending and its time for Iftar meal.

I do hope I have said enough to strengthen the bonds between the BBC here in the south and your community. I am very grateful indeed for the opportunity to be here and I hope there are ways in which we can build on this visit and continue the conversation.

Tim Daykin
15 June 2017

Al Mahdi Centre
Fontley Road
Titchfield, Fareham
Hampshire, PO15 6QR

The World Federation of KSIMC

The Council of European Jamaats