Sunday Morning Live on BBC1 replaced The Big Question as the religious and moral debate programme for Sunday mornings. Although heavily loaded to religious and establishment values in its selection of panel members and control of agenda, The Big Question did make room for real alternative arguments, and had some stimulating and interesting debates, especially under Nicky Campbell's chairmanship.
Sunday Morning Live is a pale shadow of its predecessor and has emasculated real debate, both in its choice of panel members and in its format, which seeks to create an illusion of open debate by allowing pre-selected members of the public to contribute on webcam, and by live telephone phone-in.
Today's (Sunday 1st August 2010) programme exemplified this approach, especially on answering the loaded question "Are we too critical of Israel?".
The panel for the Israel debate included Edwina Currie, not exactly a heavyweight political commentator, who because of family and religious ties is at least partly sympathetic to Israel (although she did make some good, objective points against the pro-Israel spokesman), Deborah Hollamby, a former nun, now married and a religious broadcaster. Whatever Deborah's merits as a broadcaster, what little she had to say in this debate was flattened by the other panel member, Douglas Murray, writer and Director of the Centre for Social Cohesion, which describes itself on its website as "a non-partisan think-tank that studies issues related to community cohesion in the UK".
Anyone wants to evaluate its non-partisan claim may judge for themselves by inspecting the composition of its board, the causes it espouses and the publications it recommends, but especially by listening to the ubiquitous Douglas Murray on his many media outings, including Question Time.
Wikipaedia describes the Centre for Social Cohesion as 'centre-right' - I would put it a helluva a lot further right than that.
Douglas Murray's debating style may be described simmering with pent-up opinions, which after a brief period of smiling calmness, explode into passionate, polarised views which are the very reverse of non-partisan, coupled with a low tolerance for any counter opinion expressed in his presence.
While tolerating no interruption to his incandescent flow when he has the floor, he displays a fine repertoire of contempt for any opposing views expressed by others, which he often describes as "ill-informed" - only Douglas is well-informed - and he does not shrink from repeatedly interrupting others when they have the floor, and is not easily restrained by chairpersons when in this hectoring mode.
David Cameron's description of Gaza as "a prison camp" has roused his ire - in Douglas's view, Gaza is a prosperous, happy community, full of shopping malls and expensive consumer goods, the shoppers only taking time out to launch tens of thousands of rockets against an unprotected and vulnerable Israel.
It would probably be a fruitless exercise to invite the Director of the Centre for Social Cohesion to consider that while Israel is a popular tourist destination, Gaza is not.
Sunday Morning Live, like its predecessor The Big Question tries to address political issues in a moral and religious context. Given its loaded agenda, and its obliviousness to the fact that the conflicts it addresses are usually fuelled by rampant religious bigotry and fundamentalism, it fails.
Dump this programme, BBC, or radically revise its agenda and format.