When the God-Beat-beat goes parliamentary, do the same standards of criticism apply? Do the same subjective questions religion-beat critics use to evaluate religion coverage — questions about the selection or reporting of religion stories, about the reporter’s tone and level of respect or understanding of the subject matter, or just one critic’s personal sense of an article’s aesthetic, intellectual or partisan merits — hold up as measurable quantities when the point of the discussion isn’t greater diversity and understanding but the charter and funding of a publicly-owned media corporation? These seem questions worth thinking about in the midst of the 10-year parliamentary review of the BBC’s Royal Charter — which this year includes special investigations into specific areas of the BBC, including religion — and the testimony today of various clergy and religious representatives and academics, that the BBC has an “anti-religion bias” that permeates its news coverage and entertainment programming. The witnesses, including members of the British Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Sikh, Humanist and Religion Department communities, found proof of the bias in the BBC’s soap operas — which contain verse-spouting Christians and Hindus living in arranged marriages — and the ignorance of some of its correspondents on religion matters, who try to “‘fluff their way through complicated matters,'” and don’t come prepared for interviews, and occasionally exploit the sensationalist aspects of a story. And sometimes, the BBC just doesn’t portray religion as the “fabric of life” stuff that it is to the devout. Well, color us red, ’cause while we’ve made all the same complaints before about lousy religion writing, it’s still a long leap from back-seat reporting to the assumption that such changes in coverage and tone can or should be made through an act of government. Especially a government eager to show itself sympathetic to the angry — and organized — religious viewer coalition that has been butting heads with the BBC all year long over such controversies as the risqué broadcast of Jerry Springer: The Opera. But what’s worse than the banality of their revenge on the BBC is the aim of some of the “faith community representatives” to have the Parliament install an “accountability mechanism” that would compel the BBC to deliver a “fair and accurate reflection of religion in broadcasting” across the spectrum of its content (not just in news and religious programming). To state the obvious, as is apparently needed, the concept of a “fair and accurate” portrayal of religion is as subjective as most of our complaints have ever been, and the notion that one such single and binding standard could be found to apply to such a religiously-mixed country as Britain is as ludicrous as it is offensive. —Kathryn Joyce