Monday, May 02, 2005


The UK’s fifth terrestrial TV channel, mocked for years as an archetype of ‘dumbing down’, is to run a major new series on big ideas that have changed the world – including Christianity, presented by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

The retired Archbishop, who played a major role in the struggle to overthrow apartheid in South Africa, has been chosen to represent the global significance and reach of Christian faith. Tutu is a household name to millions, and he is popular with many people who are otherwise turned off by what is seen as an 'institutional religion'.

Christianity is often depicted as yesterday’s thing or as a victim of secularisation in the West. But it is still the world’s largest religion with 2.2 billions adherents, and in many parts of the globe it is growing fast.

The Archbishop will present the Gospel of Jesus as a message of radical change for people and for societies. He will emphasise justice, peace and forgiveness at its core. But he will not hide from Christianity's betrayals and problems.

The six 45-minute Channel Five programmes adopt an ‘essay’ format, and feature key public figures talking about major issues. In addition to Archbishop Tutu, these include former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who will explore the rise and fall of communism.

Other presenters include ex-Labour minister Tony Benn on democracy, academic and cultural commentator Germaine Greer on feminism, economist and critic of neo-liberalism Joseph Stiglitz on capitalism, and controversial scientist Bjorn Lomborg on environmentalism.

Channel 5, better known for programmes like ‘Celebrity Detox’ and ‘Cosmetic Surgery Live’, say that the ‘Big Ideas That Changed the World’ series offers a chance to hear people talk about important world views in a way not usually allowed by our sound-bite culture.

“Throughout the history of television there has been a noble tradition of authored documentaries, but this type of series seems to have fallen out of fashion in recent years,” a Channel 5 spokesperson told the Observer newspaper at the weekend.

The programmes are a challenge to the BBC, which has been criticised for pushing many of its more thought-laden programmes off its terrestrial service. The series will start at 19:15 on 31 May 2005. [via Ekklesia]

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