BBC One's The Big Questions is broadcast live from Samworth Enterprise Academy, Leicester, this morning. I've said before that I'm no fan of this kind of show and have turned down several invitations to appear on them over the years. While I’m all in favour of honest open discussion, I favour more the statement attributed to 'Abdu'l-Bahá, that “if two people quarrel over some religious subjects, both of them are wrong.” I make an exception for today’s broadcast and watch it for the sake of the blog. I wrote about a previous edition of the programme broadcast from the same venue. There's a change in the format this time in that there's no panel of experts out front (which I think is an improvement). Nicky Campbell hosts the programme, on which three "big questions" are discussed:
- "Is it time for the police to favour black candidates?"
- "Is criticism of Israel anti-Semitic?"
- "Should gay couples be allowed to marry?"
I recognise several members of the audience. Leicestershire Sikh Alliance was well represented by Raj Mann (who spoke on the first topic), Harjit Singh (who spoke on the second topic), Kartar Singh (who raises his hand to speak several times, but to no avail) and Jasdeep Singh Lamaar. Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra, Assiatant Secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain, spoke on the second and third topics. Revd Canon Dr David Jennings, Vicar of Burbage, spoke on all three topics. Also in the audience is Resham Singh Sandhu, former High Sheriff of Leicestershire and former Chair of Leicester Council of Faiths. Last time I watched this show, there were several members of Leicester Secular Society in the audience. This time round, though, I don't see anyone I recognise from the Secular Society.
I don't like how shouty and bad tempered these programmes can become. That's not the best way to address religious, ethical and moral issues in the public eye. A big part of the reason why I have generally negative feelings about The Big Questions is the fact that, while it is undoubtedly worthwhile for it to travel the country and come from a different locality each week, the people who make the major contributions to the discussion and the groups they represent are not from the area. That might be considered fair enough, since the topics discussed are national or international in nature. For instance, while discussing the first question, Nicky Campbell refers to the 2011 Census results for Leicester (admittedly, in a rather "off the cuff" manner) backing up the conventional and historical argument that it's important for the police force to be representative of the community they are policing. I would say it’s not right that there's no one in the studio from Leicestershire Police, nor any statement from them or any description of the nature of diversity within Leicestershire Police (figures for which are readily available; I've got them and so has just about everyone else in Leicester and Leicestershire who is interested). There’s no one from the Jewish communities of Leicester (nor anyone from Leicester involved in the Palestinian issue) to engage with the second question. A similar argument goes for the third topic. I can say that because I know the local scene well enough to be able to spot the “well kent faces” (or those conspicuous by their absence). But the casual viewer inside or outside Leicester might be led to the conclusion that they’re getting a sense or flavour of how these issues play in Leicester, when that’s not the case.