Dan Walker, a regular presenter on Football Focus and Match of the Day, has been appointed to present BBC Breakfast following the departure of Bill Turnbull. What would otherwise generate almost no discussion whatsoever appears to have led to quite a reaction. Usually the appointment of a presenter to almost any programme garners little more than a few paragraphs but you can see how much time and space have been given to it by The Independent, The Guardian, Daily Mail and in the most ridiculous piece The Telegraph.
The cause of the commotion has to do with Dan Walker’s faith. That is, he is a Christian who actually believes in God. Certainly enough to brand him a clod on the periphery of sane thought in some quarters already. But it gets worse because not only does he believe in God but he is also a creationist. Well what further evidence do we need? Get him his one way ticket to loonsville! In response to some of this nonsense, David Robertson has written a measured piece in Premier Christianity that is well worth reading.
Now, cards on the table. I know Dan. For a brief time, I used to go to church with him. In fact, he used to pick me up regularly from my halls of residence as a student and take me to various student-based activities the church were running. I always liked him and his wife and, I think, he always liked me (I always took his nickname “beardy-weirdy” in the affectionate way I presume it was intended!) I tell you this not to name drop and become associated with someone in the limelight; frankly, I haven’t seen Dan for about 10 years and I wonder whether he would even remember me! I tell you this because, even during my time with him, going to church with him, worshipping with him, sharing meals with him and being in his home with his family (only he and his wife at the time), never once did his views on creation ever come up.
David Robertson rightly points out in his article that there are various types of creationist thought. In fact, any Christian that believes God created the world – even if they hold to theistic evolution – is a creationist. This seems to be a point lost in all the comments and overlooked so as to make the more base insinuation that Dan must be a cretin or conspiracy theorist. The suggestion (and outright claim by Rupert Myers in The Telegraph) is that he cannot possibly believe in science, logic or reason. Then come the inferences that we don’t want such a closed-minded illiterate presenting factual information to us in the morning.
More to the point, Robertson’s article makes clear that views on creation – unless the presenter is being asked to present information about the origins of the universe – are totally irrelevant to how they present the news. There isn’t much outcry that Nick Robinson, erstwhile BBC political editor and current Today Programme presenter, was a member of the Conservative Party and led the student wing at Oxford University. Similarly, little outcry about Andrew Marr – presenter of the Andrew Marr Show and former BBC political editor – who is a Labour man. Are these men any less unbiased and aren’t their particular biases more directly relevant to how they would present the news?
Of course, nobody is unbiased. Everybody is coming to the table with a set of presumptions that will play out in some way or other. Despite the BBC’s best efforts at impartiality, it regularly faces criticism – from left and right, religious and non-religious – that it isn’t impartial. And the BBC have an advantage over any individual in that they, as an organisational body, can appoint presenters with a range of views in the vain hope their respective biases will cancel one another out. But if the BBC as an organisation can’t escape the charge, what hope do individuals have?
And it is this that makes the focus on Dan Walker’s views so illogical. Not only are his views on creation irrelevant to how he will present the news, it is clearly liberal-secular bias that wants to make this the basis for removing him from post. I don’t know of many Christians (though I am prepared to concede there may be some, if someone wants to produce some evidence of this) who were desperate to see Jeremy Paxman removed from Newsnight or John Humphries ousted for holding to secularism and agnosticism/atheism. And it’s not as if those views have no effect whatsoever on how one might present the news, for example how one might interrogate those running faith schools or the line of questioning offered on the role of religion in the public square. But those views do not disbar them from holding that role and it doesn’t change the basic task of the journalist, insofar as they are able, to put their personal views to one side and ask pertinent questions that draw out relevant information.
The alternative, of course, is as David Robertson suggests. We set up a Ministry for Information and we refuse to let anybody who holds any view outside of mainstream opinion anywhere near a microphone or a platform. That way we can make sure everybody is on the same page, nobody will be offended and we will have a nice diet of information with which we can all sagely nod in banal agreement. Others would call such a move propaganda, or at least censorship, but no doubt the British liberal-secular intelligentsia would view it as a common sense anti-extremism measure.
Who wants to only watch people with whom they agree 100% of the time? I suspect for most of us that would rule out watching the vast majority of people on television. It would make for a thoroughly boring diet of information in which none of our views and assumptions are ever challenged at all. Dan Walker’s views about God and creation are not worthy of comment because they are not really relevant to his new role. Unless you want to see everybody removed from television who offers a view on anything that might show their bias, there is no reason to single out Dan Walker. Of course, if that is your idea of utopia I’m sure the Chuckle Brothers would be delighted by the sudden influx of work that demands they present everything on television across all major channels.