Unchristian comments about BBC’s new head of religion?

June 23, 2009

The BBC is coming in for flak about its religious coverage, much of it centring on its incoming head of religious broadcasting.

The publicly funded broadcaster has appointed Aaqil Ahmed from Channel 4,  a move that has dismayed a Church of England member who is proposing to discuss the matter at the church’s General Synod, the church’s parliament.

Nigel Holmes, a former BBC employee and lay member of the synod, has tabled a private members’ motion for the upcoming meeting in July.

In a document to go with the motion, which has to attract 100 signatures to be discussed, he accused Ahmed of heading up a Channel 4 religious department that was sensationalist and biased against Christianity.

“Many of the Channel 4 programmes concerned with Christianity, in contrast to those featuring other faiths, seem to be of a sensationalist or unduly critical nature,” he wrote.

“From this point of view it is worrying that the Channel 4 religion and multicultural commissioning editor, Aaqil Ahmed, who is a Muslim is soon to be responsible for all the religious output from the BBC.”

He also said BBC coverage of religious affairs had been falling over the years, and the BBC 3 output covered religion “from the angle of the freak show”.

“We have lost so much and there is now hardly any religion on television in peak time and no programmes with a moral dimension aimed at young people either on radio or television,” he wrote.

The motion calls on the BBC and its regulator to explain why religious and ethical issues had become so “marginalised”.

In a separate criticism, a former Radio 2 religious presenter said the corporation only focused on gay clergy stories about the Anglican church, and paedophile stories in connection with the Catholic church, the Daily Mail newspaper reported.

Don Maclean, 66, who hosted “Good Morning Sunday” for 16 years before being replaced by Aled Jones, said programming chiefs were keen to take a ‘negative angle at every opportunity’ in a way they do not with other faiths like Islam, the paper added.

“They seem to take the negative angle every time,” he was quoted as saying. “They don’t do that if they’re doing programmes on Islam.  Programmes on Islam are always supportive.”

The BBC said in a statement that Ahmed was appointed because he was “the best qualified candidate”.

It said its commitment to religious and ethics broadcasting was “unequivocal”.

“As the majority faith of the UK, Christians are and will remain a central audience for the BBC’s religious and ethics television and other output. We regularly exceed our formal commitments to religious programming on both BBC One and BBC Two,” it added.

“On radio our commitment to quality Christian programming is as strong as it’s ever been with over 450 hours of content broadcast each year.”


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

Obviously the BBC made the appointment precisely because Mt Ahmed is a muslim. No doubt this is a Christian country, but informal disestablishment continues to change the status of Christianity in our culture and of the Church of England in our system – and few people seem to see much real problem about “multiculturalism”, of which this appointment is surely the latest symptom. Perhaps other General Synod members could be more enlightened about this job for a believer in one of the other religions “of the book”, if they knew what kind of muslim he was. After all, we might not be so pleased if the BBC were to act like an overtly “Christian” radio station. And recent attempts to discover the variety of beliefs held by even clergy in the CofE have revealed that quite a few are happy to interpret many aspects of the traditional narrative of the faith stories rather than regard them as literal truths. Of course it may be questionable whether some devout muslims are permitted by their beliefs to treat other religions as if they were valid. But that surely cannot be the case with Mr Ahmed. And the tradition of Islam in the remoter past was of course far more tolerant of other faiths, or at least some other5 faiths, than the tradition of Christianity. In the end the merits of Christianity will speak for themselves, helped by the example that Christians set of tolerance and love for their neighbours, or not speak at all.

Posted by Tom Sutcliffe | Report as abusive

If Mr Ahmed fitted the Job Description, was the most highly qualified, and had the best experience of those applying, then wouldn’t it be illegal to refuse him the position?

Posted by Kevin Dixon | Report as abusive

The letters BBC already stand for Believers Broadcasting Christianity!The Beeb broadcasts far too much religion and superstition. If there are folk that want religion on the box or the radio, let it be provided on dedicated channels so the rest of us are spared. It sickens me that Radio 2 gets interrupted in the mornings so some cleric can spout at us, and don’t get me started on R4’s Thought for the Day.Religion is a private matter, and should be kept that way. Once it comes out of the home or the place of worship into the public square, and starts dictating to the rest of us how we must live our lives, that’s when the trouble starts.The BBC has no business promoting myth and superstition, and instead would better serve its licence-paying public if it replaced all its religious output with programming based on science, reason and rationalism.

Posted by Oldsmithy | Report as abusive

The BBC is simply following its instructions from the government. Religion is a unifying force and Socialist theory sees it as an obstacle to party loyalty which must be undermined. Christianity is the majority religion in the UK, so promoting minority religions is a means of devaluing Christianity and fragmenting the religious community.

Posted by Andrew | Report as abusive

Andrew (if that’s your name), I’m curious. If you believe that religion is a unifying force, then how can you simultaneously believe that promoting any particular religion can fragment a community? The two views are mutually incompatible.

Posted by Ian Kemmish | Report as abusive

If he’s the best qualified candidate, then he should get the job. He probably knows that he won’t last long if his work is biased as the BBC is respected for its objectivity.

Posted by Nikkei 225 | Report as abusive

There’s far too much religion on the BBC. Thought for the day, and prayer for the day are particularly annoying on Radio 4 in the mornings.

Posted by Alexi | Report as abusive

Ian, by unifying you end up fragmenting just like it says in the bib1e

Posted by Andrew | Report as abusive

Well what a surprise … the Government’s favoured mouthpiece – the BBC – has done what it was told! No disrespect to Mr Aaqil Ahmed – he’s probably more than qualified with the relevant experience. What annoys me is WHY the BBC has appointed this chap … namely the vile politically-correct dogma that this Government is intent on ramming down our throats. I agree with other contributors that religion SHOULD be a personal matter and apolitical. But, as usual, this Government wants to control every aspect of our lives. Roll on the next Election!

Posted by Flisspops | Report as abusive

Governments have long “used” religion as a stabilizing force in society as the moral tenets of the 3 major faiths assist followers in developing wholesome and desirable character traits which can promote the common good.When any religion attempts to use government to promote a specific agenda it will cause division.To extol the virtue of religion is expected and useful, to do so at the expense of other faiths is neither wise nor godly. Religion is a personal matter but not a private matter as ones faith typically encounters various belief systems, secular and spiritual on a daily basis, which require a response or a “choice”. The heart of tolerance is in understanding that “choice” is born of God given volition (ie a right)!In the arena of ideas and Ideals there are various voices espousing philosophy. This is a healthy interaction so long as it does not make a target of those who may disagree. To persuade requires trust and trust must be earned. Not every voice has a right to speak into your life.– Pray for Peace –http://allaboutgod.com/

Posted by Folklight | Report as abusive

Do people still take the Bush and Blair Corporation seriously?

Posted by Michael Ham | Report as abusive

As a bekiever in the Christian faith I have no concerns about the appointment of Mr Ahmed, as long as he uses an impartial approach to the scheduling and programming of events.In the services we have multi faith services and i have not experienced any problems, so let us show a bit of common sense and let Mr Ahmed settle intp his job, and then if the guidelines are not impartially applied we can apply for redress.

Posted by Andrew | Report as abusive

The appointment of Ahmed is simply a “visible” means for the BBC to demonstrate that it complies with the law.The 2002 amendments to the Race Relations Act require that all public service organisations will “actively promote diversity”. The amended legislation does not specify how this should be done but places the burden of demonstrating compliance with the law on the persons responsible for those organisations.The way in which they do this varies from (technically illegal but tacitly accepted) positive discrimination in employment to achieve informal quotas of employees from minority groups, to the commonly perceived “loonie” actions of public authorities in banning the display of the national flag, etc on the grounds that such displays are not “inclusive”.Employing Ahmed and similar figures places the BBC firmly in the “compliance zone” of the legislation. Hence the BBC’s diverse collection of TV presenters intended to represent and promote acceptance of all colours, faiths, etc, etc in British society.

Posted by Jason | Report as abusive