The former Head of Religious Broadcasting at the BBC, Colin Morris, has talked about a "revolutionary take-over of society accomplished without a shot being fired." And the local agent of the revolution, he says, "sits demurely in your sitting-room, staring at you glassy-eyed – your television set."
No understanding of society in Britain would be complete without reference to broadcasting; and there is no way we can talk about moral-cultural values and the place of Christianity in the Public Square without talking about how Christians and churches should relate and respond to the electronic media.
The revolution has undoubtedly been subtle. For it is not always the outrageous, the blasphemous or the overtly biased Radio and TV programmes that bring about cultural change and dislodge tried and tested values. But as David Winter, another Head of Religious Programmes BBC Radio, said: "The main impact of television is not through single programmes, however controversial or newsworthy, but through the steady trickle of attitudes, views and opinions." It is undoubtedly the case that programmes like Woman's Hour or The World at One or any of the other "safe" magazine programmes have enormous influence in legitimizing attitudes and views and thus effecting cultural change. So the electronic media have become a basic constituent in the formation of a public consciousness. Radio and TV have extended the frontiers of the Public Square or Public Forum. Currently in the United Kingdom, however, the Christian community experiences a certain exclusion, if not opposition, from the existing broadcasting establishments. But how on earth has that happened? In part it is "tale of two men" – John Reith and Hugh Greene.
It is not readily admitted that humanism is the creed of many in broadcasting, while Christianity is passé. One senior BBC drama producer said rather cynically that in broadcasting today you can be committed to anything except Christianity. Colin Morris seemed to agree with the proposition that "humanism in one form or another is probably the unacknowledged faith of the vast majority of broadcasters." David Windter said, "Secular humanists virtually ran TV drama in the sixties and early seventies." And add to that the fact that some with enormous programme or editorial control in religious programming need have little or no Christian allegiance. Yet when some of these same people (with views other than Christian) visit or work in Broadcasting House in London, as they walk in, they see the dedicatory inscription (in Latin). When it is translated it is found to be full of biblical and Christian allusions:
"This temple of the arts and muses is dedicated to Almighty God by the first Governors of Broadcasting in the year 1931, Sir John Reith being Director General. It is their prayer that good seed sown may bring forth a good harvest; that all things hostile to peace and purity may be banished from this house and that the people inclining their ear to whatsoever things are beautiful and honest and of good report may tread the path to wisdom and uprightness."
Here were obviously Christian ideals. But at a certain point in time the values of the BBC changed.
The founding father of British broadcasting was John Reith. An engineer and brought up in a Scottish manse, he believed in God and he believed in guidance. In October 1922 he heard a sermon at Regent Square Church on the text in Ezekiel, "Thus saith, the Lord, 'I sought a man to stand in the gap…'" That night he wrote in his diary, "I still believe there is some great work for me to do in the world." He then saw in the papers an advertisement for the job of "general manager" for a company involved in what was called "broadcasting". He applied, realized the significance of the task, was offered the job, and again wrote in his diary, "I had kept my faith alive: night and morning had comforted and encouraged myself with the words, 'Commit thy way unto the Lord, trust also in Him and He shall bring it to pass'." Here was a man who believed he had a divine destiny.
Morris summarizes the avowed aim of the British Broadcasting Company under Reith as "the attempt to bring the best of everything into the greatest possible number of homes." Unashamedly he gave the Christian religion prominence. "Christianity," Reith said, "happens to be the stated and official religion of the country; it is recognized by the Crown. This is a fact which those who have criticized our right to broadcast the Christian religion would do well to bear in mind…" But it was not only Reith who saw that the values of the BBC were to be Christian values. Twenty-five years later in 1948 the then Director-General, Sir William Haley, could still say this to the British Council of Churches:
"There are many demands of impartiality laid on the Corporation, but this [about Christian values] is not one of them. We are citizens of a Christian country and the BBC – an institution set up by the State – bases its policy upon a positive attitude towards the Christian values. It seeks to safeguard those values and to foster acceptance of them. The whole preponderant weight of its programmes is directed towards that end."
But as early as 1965 "humanism" had taken over! The Director-General of the day, Sir Hugh Charlton Greene, also knew there could be no neutrality in broadcasting. But he seemed to be saying (subtly) the values were only going to be those of liberal humanism. He would not be impartial where "there are clashes for and against the basic moral values - truthfulness, justice, freedom, compassion and tolerance. Nor do I believe we should be impartial about certain things like racialism or extreme forms of political belief."
However, freedom (subtly) became "freedom from positive Christian values." And freedom from positive Christian values may look like benign tolerance; but it is not neutral. It can be the suppression of these religious values and the denial of their clear statement; often it is the positive assertion of the religion of humanism. Of course, in themselves these humanistic values cited are excellent and necessary. So is oxygen. But when you are dying of thirst it has got to combined with hydrogen. The point is this: values do not work like "half a loaf". They are more like a chemical compound. Certain combinations are necessary for them to be viable in society. But who decided that a positive attitude towards full Christian values should be replaced by a reductionist set of moral values? Hugh Greene himself, it seems.
Undoubtedly Greene, a very able, very shrewd, but biased man, contributed hugely to the "sixties revolution", as it is now called. He was an expert in the psychological manipulation of the media. He had masterminded the BBC's broadcasts to Nazi Germany during World War II and headed up the Psychological Warfare Department in Malaya during the post-war emergency. He was a professional. Whether you want men like that at a time when "winning back the viewers" is a priority [for ITV – independently funded – had started in 1956], is questionable. Not every method is legitimate. But Greene understood what made people tick. Some of the BBC creations of the Greene era were huge successes. They gave huge offence, too! Greene was the very opposite of Reith. Reith himself said so (in his diary): "Hugh and I were fundamentally in complete opposition of outlook and attitude. I lead; and he follows the crowd in all the disgusting manifestations of the age … Without any reservation he gives the public what it wants; I would not, did not, and said I wouldn't." But Reith had misjudged Greene. For Greene was trying to be ahead of public opinion. He generated permissiveness. He was a leader in the new ways. In Rome in 1965 he said this:
"In its search for truth, indeed in whatever it undertakes, a broadcasting organization must recognize an obligation towards tolerance and towards the maximum liberty of expression … I believe that broadcasters have a duty not to be diverted by arguments in favour of what is, in fact, disguised censorship. I believe we have a duty to take account of the changes in society, to be ahead of public opinion rather than always wait upon it … relevance is the key – relevance to the audience and to the tide of opinion in society. Outrage is impermissible. Shock is not always so. Provocation may be healthy and indeed socially imperative" [italics mine].
All the above is an excerpt, lightly edited, from a book I wrote in 1986 entitled, A Nation under God. I have quoted that because broadcasting issues and in particular, the BBC, are very important. Too few realize this. We need, as Christians, not only to understand but also to respond. Can I suggest one way to start? That is by buying, for your holiday reading, a book recently published, entitled, The Noble Liar - with the sub-title, "How and Why the BBC distorts the News to promote a liberal agenda." It is by Robin Aitken, who we are told, "himself spent twenty-five years working for the BBC as a reporter and executive … From where his feet are planted, the BBC's own coverage of events often looks decidedly peculiar, peppered with distortions, omissions and amplifications tailored to its own liberal agenda." And it is well written and an easy read and brings you bang up-to-date.
While I was reading this book when on a few days holiday this past July, my wife was reading The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, subtitled, "an English professor's journey into Christian faith." Formerly immersed in the lesbian world, she now lives with her husband, a pastor of a Reformed Presbyterian church and three of her four children. From what I have read of the book, she seems a remarkable woman.