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A century of religion on the BBC

28 November 2022

An old BBC microphone.
The early BBC placed enormous importance on the radio as a means of disseminating Christianity.

Old Broadcasting House, London” by David Jones 大卫 琼斯 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Media expert Dr Caitriona Noonan has contributed to BBC Cymru/Wales’ All Things Considered programme to discuss the creation of the BBC’s very first religious radio broadcasts.

Marking a century of religious broadcasting on the BBC, Dr Noonan joined host Roy Jenkins and other guests to discuss the context, people and rationale behind the BBC’s religious output.

“I think in the very early days it was very much about protecting and promoting the Christian religion.” said Dr Noonan.

“There wasn’t a model for the BBC to follow, they were creating religious broadcasting and so effectively they had to make up the rules of religious broadcasting.

“They did that with the Christian church and it’s worth remembering that the Christian church wasn’t entirely comfortable with radio, and later with television.

“There were some very senior members of the church that were skeptical and felt a little bit threatened perhaps by the power of television and radio.

“But generally, they also saw that the need to engage a new audience and radio and then television would be that medium.”

With a motto inspired by a Biblical source, the early BBC was avowedly Christian and Sir John Reith who played a pivotal part in shaping the BBC’s early output placed enormous importance on the radio as a means of disseminating the Christian message.

“[Sir John] Reith very much saw the BBC as an institution which was something for everybody and everything for somebody. The problem we have today and this isn’t just for religion but for all programming is, where does it sit in an online world?”

The full All Things Considered programme is available on BBC Sounds until 19 December 2022.

Dr Caitriona Noonan is Senior Lecturer in Media and Communication in the School of Journalism, Media and Culture. She is an active researcher in the areas of television production, public service broadcasting, creative labour and cultural policy.

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