As I’ve written previously on this blog, ever since moving to the Czech Republic in September 2008, I have happily lived without having a television. Even in my latter years of living in the UK, I only tended to watch television in order to keep up-to-date with the News, together with enjoying the occasional major sporting event if it still was on terrestrial television. I refuse point blank to pay for satellite or cable TV, particularly as most of it is controlled by Rupert Murdoch. And we all now know quite clearly what journalists and others in his organisation do!
Therefore now, in order to keep abreast of what is happening in the world, I have become a very regular visitor to the BBC News website. I find its coverage to be fairly comprehensive, regularly updated and that it provides news without any particular political bias.
I do however, have a couple of gripes. As one who used to happily pay his annual licence fee, I am someone who always enjoyed the BBC as it was totally free of advertising. Because I now access the BBC News website from a foreign country, unfortunately advertising also appears.
Secondly, as my first degree is in geography, I get irritated by the complete geographical ignorance of some BBC journalists. A couple of years back, a news article about something that had happened in Pau in south-central France, was accompanied by a map showing Pau as being on the Atlantic coast of France when it is 125 kilometres from the sea! More recently, a news article about Serbia included a map purporting to be of Serbia, which showed Montenegro as being wholly within it’s borders when the two countries had separated several years previously and mutually recognise each other.
But my real frustration comes whenever there is a news item that involves some aspect of the Christian faith. Firstly, the theological and ecclesiastical ignorance of many BBC journalists is even greater than the geographical ignorance that I referred to earlier. But what really annoys me is that, if the Archbishop of Canterbury is quoted, or the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster has made a pronouncement, then you can be sure that the news item will also include the completely opposite view of Terry Sanderson or Keith Porteous Wood of the National Secular Society, or Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association.
The BBC do this because they want to comply with their obligation to be unbiased and balanced in their reporting. But the reality is that, by giving undue prominence to the views of the National Secular Society and the British Humanist Association, and on BBC TV & Radio, giving them airtime, they are actually being highly unbalanced.
On the average Sunday in the UK, there are around one million people worshiping in Anglican Churches, about one million in Roman Catholic Churches, and a further million in a whole variety of Free Churches. This accounts for about 5% of the UK population. At least six million people in the UK attend Church at least once a month which is 10% of the population. I wish these figures were higher but even so, it still is a significant number of people.
Being aware of this, I set out to try and discover the membership numbers for the National Secular Society and the British Humanist Association. In doing so, I discovered two things. The first is that this information is far from being freely available. The second is, I am not the first person to try to do so and to recognise that both organisations are being given absurdly more recognition than they realistically deserve.
The website of the British Humanist Association states that it has ‘over 28,000 members and supporters’. However, it doesn’t state the difference in numbers between ‘members’ – those who have paid an annual membership fee – and ‘supporters’. What is a ‘supporter’? Someone who made a £5.00 donation in the past or who wrote a friendly email five years ago?
The National Secular Society is even less clear. No membership numbers are published and an email I sent many months ago, asking the question, never got a reply. However, this blogger has looked at their financial returns and has come up with a figure of less than 5,500. Another writer has analysed the figures and come to the conclusion of no more than 7000.
These figures speak volumes. As Gavin Drake says, “If, as the (National Secular) Society claim, the Church is irrelevant on the basis of numbers; then on what basis is the National Secular Society relevant?” The answer is quite obvious – neither the National Secular Society nor the British Humanist Association are relevant. If they were, people would be flocking to join and support them in droves. Quite clearly, they aren’t. I rest my case and hope that, in the interest of balanced reporting, the BBC also takes notice.