Muslim to head BBC religious broadcasting
The BBC has appointed its first Muslim head of religious programming, following the agnostic Alan Bookbinder who was appointed in 2001
Channel Four’s Aaqil Ahmed has been selected to run the BBC’s religion and ethics department as part of the second round of Knowledge appointments – in which four of the key commissioning jobs have been handed to existing BBC staff.
Mr Ahmed’s previous commissions for Channel Four included the Emmy short listed two part series ‘The Cult of the Suicide Bomber’, the two hour documentary ‘The Qur’an’ and the genre breaking series ‘Priest Idol’ and ‘Make me a Muslim’. He was moved to the BBC after Roman Catholic priests raised the issue that his Channel Four documentaries appeared to contain a pro-Islam bias and failed to give enough attention and respect to Christianity.
The move is likely to be controversial with some – the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, was reported to have raised concerns with the BBC Director General Mark Thompson that the ‘Christian voice is being sidelined’ after Mr Ahmed was first connected to the role last month.
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Leading church figures suspect that the BBC is giving preferential treatment to minority faiths, with a Muslim now in charge of its programming on television and a Sikh producing Songs of Praise, its flagship Christian show.
According to the Christian Institute coverage Mr Ahmed has taken part in campaigns for greater Muslim presence in the media and he is a trustee of the Runnymede Trust, an organisation promoting multiculturalism.
Church leaders question the BBC’s decision to take Mr Ahmed from Channel 4, accusing the corporation of preferential treatment for minority faiths.
Last year the BBC’s Director General, Mark Thompson, said that Islam should be treated more sensitively by the media than Christianity.
He said: “There’s no reason why any religion should be immune from discussion, but I don’t want to say that all religions are the same,” he said.
“To be a minority I think puts a slightly different outlook on it.”
The BBC attracted criticism last year when they appointed a Sikh, Tommy Nagra, as the producer of its flagship religious programme, Songs of Praise.
There have been accusations that the show contains less and less religious content as a result.
As a public service broadcaster the BBC has a duty to provide religious programmes. But critics are concerned that the corporation is continually cutting the length of shows and moving religious programming out of prime time slots.
Atheist groups welcomed the BBC’s announcement in April of a new religion board which included Andrew Copson, a member of the British Humanist Association.