A Church of England fifth column in the BBC?

A guest post by LPG.

It’s not what one looks for in an ‘impartial’ news organization: the uncritical passing on, in item after item after item, of the ‘finding’ that ‘selfish’ and ‘independent’ [read: in paid employment and/or single] mothers are responsible for the ‘poor conceptual development’ and ‘behavioural problems’ in our nations youth. The report rolls out over the coming week, so expect to see more of this double-standards blah blah. The BBC has been developing a taste for it. Look at the question asked in this BBC vox pop from last year, once again in connection with a dubious study. Now fantasize about them asking whether fathers (as opposed to mothers) should return to their jobs after having children.

Is the latest onslaught just sloppy journalism? Perhaps not. The ‘largest survey into childhood ever to be conducted in the UK’ is being presented as ‘independent’. Few of the broadcasted reports I’ve seen so far mention that the Church of England commissioned the report (through the Children’s Society or The Church of England’s Children Society as it refers to itself). Even a BBC journalist should know that this information really needs to be foregrounded, if only so that viewers can relax and go and make themselves a cup of tea. Some of the online pieces mention the Anglican connection but insist on the independence of this ‘evidence-based’ report, including the recommendation that we institute ‘civil birth ceremonies’. (Not baptisms, oh no.) The BBC even participated in the survey by providing children to talk to – one Established institution scratching another Established institution’s back, or a covert Anglican vanguard? Maybe an independent, evidence-based study of the BBC’s back catalogue would show up more indicators of its disguised but creeping influence. (Thanks to cmdshiftesc.)

14 thoughts on “A Church of England fifth column in the BBC?

  1. I agree that it’s sloppy journalism and hateful social analysis – and so many BBC articles seem to use pseudo-sociology and pseudo-science to make women feel bad – but I don’t think that there’s a religious connection. The CofE is no more anti-working-mums than any other middle-class, white male dominated institution (e.g. the BBC). After all, many of the CofE’s’s priests (and bishops, soon) are working mothers themselves – and it’s a pretty demanding job that doesn’t pay all too well. And no, I’m not an Anglican.

  2. It is odd that cohabitating is less good for children than being married, if the reporting is to be believed. And a step parent is really worse than a single parent. All this points to the agressive pursuit of success as a major cause of a supposed decline?

    A critique of this, especially given the academic involvement that is reported, might make for a very interesting feminist project.

  3. Speaking as one who is an Anglican and from a single-parent family and a youth worker to boot, it just seems… a whole lot of ‘well, duh’ mixed with ‘uh…no’. That children are more anxious nowadays, I can’t disagree with.

    Selfish and individualistic culture…can’t really fault that one either. Then again, people have always been selfish. But I take issue with the whole ‘now! NOW! Everything must bow to my own personal will NOW!!11one!’ kind of attitude. Everything is geared to personal satisfaction over common good. Because balance is obviously far too difficult to achieve. (rolls eyes)

    That it’s caused by working mums? Give me a freakin’ break! Women have gone out to work since…forever. It’s just that in Days of Yore(TM) they worked at, say, farming. It’s a really middle class thing to have a ‘woman at home’, it’s a sign of prosperity that she didn’t have to work, that her husband could support them both. (I wish my salary was that good).

    That having two loving parents is good is also a bit of a no-brainer. But that doesn’t mean that having one loving parent is bad, if that’s all you have. More likely to have trouble doesn’t mean must have trouble and behavioural difficulties.

    I wonder if it occurred to anyone writing the report to think about whether stay-at-home-mums had a higher level of income/standard of living/whatever. Or indeed if a huge amount of prearranged activities/video games instead of being able to play outside was detrimental to children’s health.

    Sigh. Making working mothers feel bad again.

    Then again, if you stay at home, people assume that you are stupid, grasping, needy, smothering…

    Just can’t win, huh?

  4. It was indeed more the BBC that got my goat, Anna. The C of E is a large and diverse institution, with both conservative and liberal elements, viz. Exegesis Fairy’s comment. It has played an important role in keeping Britain (whence I type) relatively free of religious conservatism of the kind more prevalent in the US but not only there. Having an established but essentially non-vituperative religion draws the sting and protects secularity. It’s not a bad model. (British Catholics in particular may demur, for reasons that are now, thankfully, mostly historical.) But a deal is a deal: an established church gets to proselytize on prime-time state media every now and again, but only while ‘in uniform’. The troubling aspect of the BBC broadcasts I’ve seen/heard is the way the sponsor’s role has been downplayed, creating an aura of objectivity – especially with that trumpeted academic involvement, which as comments above note, brings cred but not credibility.

    I’m sensible of committing the genetic fallacy, here – focusing on the report’s origin instead of its content. Thanks, JJ and Exegesis Fairy, for doing the latter.

  5. i’ve seen interviews with various c of e representatives about this report, and even tho they’ve been pressed on the issue, i’ve yet to hear a one of them come out *against* the claim that mothers working is damaging. so, i don’t know how comfortable i am with saying ‘the church isn’t the problem’. and the fact that many of their priests are mothers doesn’t settle anything, to my mind. as we’ve discussed elsewhere on this blog, women themselves are often a party to the sort of woman/mother-unfriendly practices that go on in various fields. if the church itself isn’t a conservative and anti-feminist institution, then where are the church representatives of the dissenting view?

    lpg, re your existence-of-CofE-protects-secularism thought: a benign dictatorial regime will protect against abuses of power…so long as they remain benign. that is, i think the protection is merely apparent. (you’ll reply that in the case of CofE, there’s a government to check its power if it goes wacky. but i’m not so sure about this.)

  6. LPG, I dearly hope the post I just put up doesn’t distract from yours. In fact, the NY Times article is implicit support for your claims.

  7. I am less concerned, in an odd way, that this is ‘hateful’ social analysis than that it is terribly incompetent social analyis. I’m not a social scientist, but I know enough to smell a skunk at ‘data’ collected by asking children (or others who are contacted) to volunteer their impressions of their lives.
    Good grief.

  8. do you miss your mummy terribly when she’s away? does it make you sad? do you think that’s why you’re naughty?

    cstars: i totally agree. …tho, incompetent analysis is often the root of hateful social analysis, no? (i’m thinking of eugenics research, among other things, when i say this.)

  9. lp writes: “incompetent analysis is often the root of hateful social analysis, no?”

    Chicken and egg, rather than just root and tree.

    Chicken from egg: Our unreflective susceptibility to certain reasoning fallacies (egg) can, in an almost autonomous way, give rise to hateful social theories (chicken). As an instance of this I’m thinking of the common statistical fallacy that, in its very nature, seems to generate potentially harmful stereotypes. A relatively benign example: most corner stores are run by immigrants, therefore most immigrants run corner stores.

    Egg from chicken: It is no accident that the incompetence ends up supporting the theory that the researcher is, in her or his own mind, putting up before the bar of experience. With incompetence it should be 50/50, not 100%. In other words, poor analysis often permits even though it does not create nasty theory.

  10. BBC Radio 4 is doing another terrible job of wandering the ‘Moral Maze’, this time about parenthood. If you’ve never encountered this programme before, prepare to be profoundly irritated… you can listen online, should you wish to, until Weds 11 Feb at http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/religion/moralmaze.shtml (apologies – as far as I know there are no transcripts).

  11. Hm – at least the last of the guests (whose name I didn’t catch, a professor of psychology at Essex University, I think) called the report ‘vicarish’ and pointed out that that’s what you would expect from a Church of England backed project.

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