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The Crosses Newscasters Bear

Should there be a separation between church and fourth estate?

That's the question they're asking in Britain, where the BBC is debating whether or not news personalities should be wearing religious imagery on the air. The debate started two weeks ago, when the Daily Mail reported that "in yet another example of PC gone mad, a necklace worn by TV newsreader Fiona Bruce sparked a row among BBC bosses." Bruce wears a necklace with a small cross on it.

The issue came up in a discussion about whether or not a female Muslim newscaster would be permitted to wear a headscarf on the air. Bruce, to be clear, has not been banned from wearing the cross, and the BBC has not banned any other religious clothing on air. But the debate, as Peter Horrocks, head of TV News, wrote in a blog post, "puts in opposition some principles the BBC stands for. The BBC is a supporter of freedom of expression. Equally we want our newsreaders to be seen as entirely impartial. Any religious clothing or insignia they wear could make some viewers question their impartiality."

Horrocks asked viewers for their thoughts, and while some said that no religious imagery of any kind should be worn on the air, most argued that on-air newscasters should be able to wear any religious symbols they want.

I agree with the majority here, and I don't think that a cross, or a headscarf, in any way compromises one's ability to accurately present the news. But I do think that some viewers might look more skeptically at news because of the religious symbols worn by a newscaster. Horrocks argues, rightly I think, that some religious clothing could be problematic for reasons having more to do with traditional TV production issues than religious beliefs. "The wearing of a full veil, for instance, would hinder communication with the audience," he writes. "A large shiny cross would be too distracting."

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