On the BBC’s Daily Politics programme Jo Coburn is interviewing Jacob Rees-Mogg. The conservative Roman Catholic Rees-Mogg is the programme’s guest of the day and Member of Parliament for Britain’s North East Somerset constituency.
At one uncomfortable juncture, early on during the interview, Coburn interrogates Rees-Mogg’s traditional Christian beliefs. She asks if Mr Rees-Mogg’s conviction that marriage is meant for one man and one woman might be a ‘problem for many people’.
‘I make no criticism of my colleagues. But do you believe in religious tolerance?’ asks the impeccably mannered Rees-Mogg, flipping the stroppy interviewer on her back. ‘I do,’ replies the cornered Coburn. ‘So why do you pick on this view of the Catholic Church and say you can’t hold these views in party politics which is exactly what you implied?’ asks Rees-Mogg.
‘You’re saying that tolerance only goes so far and that you should not be tolerant of the teachings of the Catholic Church, so isn’t this stretching into religious bigotry?’ he adds.
Rees-Mogg has suddenly turned the tables on the interviewer. He has red-flagged Coburn in her implied dogma, i.e. holding traditional Christian values is an impediment to assuming high political office.
BBC dogma: holding traditional Christian values is an impediment to assuming high political office.
In the same interview, Coburn obliquely alleges that Rees-Mogg’s traditional Roman Catholic values ipso facto signify contempt for Ruth Davidson’s lesbian marriage and pregnancy. Davidson is leader of the Scottish Conservatives.
This public vilification of traditional Christian values - because that’s what it is - only features on Daily Politics after pundits laud Rees-Mogg for his leadership qualities as both a possible future Prime Minister and the head of the European Research Group of Conservative MPs supporting Brexit. Rees-Mogg is also a hit on social media because he comes across as authentic – he believes in something and clearly says what he believes in without recourse to a party line.
However, it is these traditional Christian values, and not just Rees-Mogg’s sartorially conservative persona, that in Coburn’s interview becomes grist for the BBC mill to trash and tarnish. This opens the BBC to allegations of bias and offence from licence fee-payers rightly suspicious of the values underlying this genre of opportunistic doorstep journalism.
The BBC’s bias is brazenly evident. Did a BBC interviewer, for example, ever ask Sadiq Khan during the London mayoral election if his religious values (‘Ramadan-observant’, ‘Islamic’, ‘bikini-loathing’) were in conflict with those of his fellow politicians like Coburn did with Rees-Mogg?
Of course, the answer is an emphatic ‘No’. To confirm this suspicion, I made a complaint to the BBC and asked for details of such an interview. In responding to my complaint about Coburn’s interview, the BBC failed to identify any similarly occurring interview with Khan, a practising Muslim and a ‘high-profile’ politician. Nevertheless, in double-speak the BBC also asserted that it ‘would apply the same line of questioning to any high-profile politician, from any faith, who espoused views which some parts of society would find contentious’.
Did a BBC interviewer ever ask Sadiq Khan if his religious values were in conflict with those of his fellow politicians?
But can one imagine an interview like Coburn’s occurring with a Muslim politician like Sadiq Khan or Baroness Sayeeda Warsi? Given the orthodoxy of multiculturalism in today’s Britain, such an interview would be followed by a torrent of complaint crying ‘Islamophobia!’
By slandering and tarnishing Christian values, Coburn and the BBC truly offend many Christians. Why is it that the national broadcaster can smear Christianity with near impunity and there is no public outcry of ‘Christianophobia’? Why not? Because traditional Christian values are now ipso facto suspect, and as such, are fair game for BBC vilification at public expense.
Only the British Roman Catholic bishops publicly protested at the offending Coburn interview. There was no outcry whatsoever from the established Church of England, whose leader in 2008 approvingly said that Shariah law was inevitable in Britain. The BBC will no doubt pillory any Christian response to Coburn’s explicit religious bigotry as being parti pris.
This typifies the post-Charlie Hebdo era where Islam in whatever form must never be mocked yet it is open season on Christianity. Clearly, one law for all does not prevail. Increasingly, one sees Christian religious affiliations being judged in parts of the media as shadowy and suspect, as in some of the recent coverage during the tragic case of Alfie Evans. Coburn’s interview with Rees-Mogg is part of this worrisome picture.
Such toxic journalism is an insidious form of Christian-baiting, a televised merry-go-round of publicly smearing those whose values are presumed to be at odds with multicultural values.
Why is it that the national broadcaster can smear Christianity with near impunity and there is no public outcry of ‘Christianophobia’?
The BBC obviously thinks that those daring to publicly espouse traditional Christian values deserve to be publicly shamed for their mortal sin against multiculturalism, as Coburn clearly did. Using the code of the weasel, the Beeb responds to my complaint with the following reasoning for ‘shaming’ and ‘humiliating’ Rees-Mogg:
‘Mr Rees-Mogg is viewed by many as a future leader of his party and a future prime minister. With this in mind, we dedicated a section of the programme to exploring his appeal . . . Jo Coburn . . . used the interview to explore whether his views on gay marriage and abortion were out of step with the mainstream of his colleagues at Westminster . . . Jo also referred directly to several Conservative MPs who have said they believe Mr Rees Mogg’s views on the issues of gay marriage and abortion to be incompatible with leading the party, and it was not unreasonable to ask him to respond to those claims.’
Perhaps the BBC will explore if it is ‘not unreasonable to ask’ Muslim politicians whether their views on female genital mutilation, arranged marriage, homosexuality and Shariah law (fault-lines akin to Coburn’s baiting of Rees-Mogg) are ‘out of step with the mainstream of their colleagues at Westminster’. Remind me to stand well back when and if that particular firework goes up.
The next time the BBC engages in opportunistic doorstepping, like Coburn’s vilification of Rees-Mogg, perhaps a trigger warning should appear, ticker tape-like, along the bottom of our television screens. In that way, any BBC viewers daring to espouse traditional Christian values could switch channels, or even, dare one say, switch the television off.
What we can do, of course, is choose not to pay the government-levied licence fee that funds the BBC.
(Kevin Corbett is an independent researcher)