Protest to the BBC over coverage of the Williams row

As the furore over Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams’ remarks about religious and civil law subsides into a more considered debate beyond the headlines, the Anglican leader is receiving backing from what might be considered some unexpected quarters.

Well-known media commentator Sunny Hundal, who is from a Sikh background but is not religious, has written a letter of protest to the BBC about its coverage of Dr Williams’ speech on Islam and the law – and in particular his Radio 4 World at One interview.

Hundal, a left-of-centre journalist who was voted the Guardian newspaper’s blogger of the year in 2007, runs Asians in Media, and has launched two of the most successful UK-based group current affairs blogs, Pickled Politics and Liberal Conspiracy, finds himself in the same camp of concern as right-of-centre commentator Matt Wardman, of The Wardman Wire.

Mr Hundal’s letter to the BBC says: “[My] complaint refers principally to coverage on BBC News 24 and news bulletins on BBC television and radio on Friday 8 February and the weekend of 9 & 10th February 2008. I found BBC News coverage sensationalist and biased against the Archbishop, muddying the waters over what he said in the speech and with no attempt at giving it context – that is, who it was aimed at, what the current law is on civil arbitration, etc.”

Hundal stresses: “[T]his does not mean I endorse sharia or want it to be fully introduced in the UK. I believe in one civil law for all citizens. However, BBC News bulletins did not make any attempts to offer any context to its own coverage.”

Commentator Matt Wardman goes further, accusing the BBC of instigating the political firestorm with a misleading headline trailing its interview with him. Of the headline, “The Archbishop of Canterbury has said that the adoption of Sharia Law in some parts of Britain is inevitable”, Wardman remarks: “No he didn’t, or not in the way that your headline was inevitably going to make people think.”

Ekklesia, 19 February 2008