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Last Updated: Wednesday, 4 February, 2004, 15:04 GMT
Church accuses BBC of 'prejudice'
Archbishop Mario Conti
Archbishop Mario Conti complained of insensitivity
The BBC has been accused of "rudeness and prejudice" in its coverage of the Roman Catholic church.

Mario Conti, Archbishop of Glasgow, claimed in a letter to the Herald newspaper that a "tabloid culture" had been encouraged in the corporation.

His complaints included an accusation of "gross insensitivity" at the time of Pope John Paul II's silver jubilee.

However, the National Secular Society described the claims as "grossly anti-democratic and dangerous".

In his letter, Archbishop Conti welcomed the BBC's decision to conduct "an examination of broadcasting conscience" in the light of the Hutton Inquiry.

He said he had "some sympathy" for journalist Andrew Gilligan, whose report on the Today programme sparked the inquiry.

'Tabloid culture'

"Mr Gilligan's admitted failures have been symptomatic of an increasingly cavalier attitude on the part of some at the BBC," he said.

"I have less sympathy for those in the corporation who have encouraged a tabloid culture which has seen the world's most distinguished broadcasting organisation employ tactics and standards unworthy of it."

Archbishop Conti said the Catholic Church had also had cause to complain about some of the BBC's editorial stances in recent years.

We do not object to probing questions. We do object to rudeness and prejudice
Archbishop Mario Conti
He said that the 25th anniversary of the pontificate of Pope John Paul II and the beatification of Mother Teresa had been marked with a documentary entitled Sex and the Holy City, which looked at the effectiveness of condoms in the fight against Aids.

"Such scheduling showed gross insensitivity to the spiritual and historical significance of these moments," he wrote.

He questioned the plans to broadcast a cartoon called Popetown, which satirised the Pope as a childish pensioner.

The Archbishop of Westminster had been "hounded" by the Today and Newsnight programmes last year, he claimed.

And he accused Newsnight Scotland of conducting a "sneering and aggressive" interview on the church's position on shared campus schools.

"We do not object to probing questions. We do object to rudeness and prejudice," wrote the archbishop.

We are always keen to ensure that all faiths are reflected across our output and are reported accurately
BBC spokesman
David Amess, Conservative MP for Southend West, has tabled a parliamentary motion which "notes with concern the BBC's bias related to anti-religious views, particularly in relation to the Roman Catholic Church".

Labour backbencher Sion Simon has tabled a parliamentary motion calling on the BBC's acting chairman, Lord Ryder, to launch an inquiry into the corporation's journalistic standards following the archbishop's remarks.

However, National Secular Society vice-president Terry Sanderson said the archbishop's criticism was "a blatant attempt to stop the BBC examining the church's activities in a critical manner.

"To try to blackmail the corporation into ceasing any investigation into the church is to directly threaten its journalist integrity.

"It is also a demonstration of disgraceful opportunism, to try to push this demand at a time when the BBC is reeling from the Hutton Report."

And he added: "The BBC must not give in to such tactics."

A spokesman for the BBC said: "We are always keen to ensure that all faiths are reflected across our output and are reported accurately.

"If Archbishop Conti wishes to raise any concerns about our output with us, we will be happy to respond to him directly rather than through the press."

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