A pledge by the BBC to increase the portrayal of all faiths in its output prompted a mixed reception across Northern Ireland.
The corporation said yesterday it would “enhance” the representation of religion on TV and radio dramas and documentaries and create a new global religious affairs team.
The corporation has just published a review into its coverage of religion and ethics.
Director General Tony Hall said: “They [audiences] recognise that, if we truly want to make sense of the world, we need to understand the systems of belief that underpin it.”
He added that he wants the corporation “to do more about Christianity and other beliefs as well”.
The news was welcomed by Jewish and Catholic commentators but criticised by humanists and a Free Presbyterian.
Retired Free Presbyterian minister Rev David McIlveen said: “Most religiously minded people would normally welcome an increase in the public profile of their belief: but in attempting to raise this profile, the BBC in their report, are in effect, accommodating a plan, that if followed through, could lead to the neutralisation of Bible-believing Christianity.”
He added: “While the BBC provides a convenient platform for debate, for which it should be commended, this report has left it exposed to an agenda that will ultimately weaken the moral and ethical structures of the nation.”
Boyd Sleator, development officer with the Northern Ireland Humanists, said humanists put a lot of work into supporting the BBC review.
“It turns out though that there is going to be more output of religions and what seems to be nothing covering humanism,” he said.
He claimed most people in the UK are “non-religious” and said he would therefore expect “more diversity in the programming”.
Another Northern Ireland humanist, Terry Moseley, broadly agreed. “I think that we already have more than enough ‘religion’ on radio in particular, but if there is to be any at all, I welcome the decision to broaden the coverage,” he said. But Ballymurphy priest Fr Patrick McCafferty warmly welcomed the plans.
“This is a positive development and to be welcomed from the BBC,” he said.
“The human person naturally ponders the great mysteries and questions of life and the human sciences can provide only some and partial answers.
“What is integral to many human hearts, their religious faith, should be approached always with respect. Religion, of course, can be problematic and divisive; but it is – has been – and can be, also, a great force for good in alleviating human suffering.”
Belfast rabbi David Singer agreed. “Explaining diversity of cultures/religion is a good thing,” he said.
“The BBC do not, in my opinion, have a particularly good track record on this. I am aware that here in Northern Ireland they have recently attempted a more consultative approach but so far nothing has come of this.
“I welcome these further attempts and hope that it will prove genuinely fruitful, not condescending and closer to what the various religious groups really want.”