THE APPOINTMENT of Aaqil Ahmed, a Muslim, as head of religious programming at the BBC, was announced on Monday. Mr Ahmed, who is currently Commissioning Editor for Religion and Multicultural at Channel 4, will take on a new joint post at the BBC, as Head of Religion and Ethics, and Commissioning Editor for Religion TV.
He succeeds the Methodist lay preacher Michael Wakelin, who was Head of Religion and Ethics. The new position is part of a shake-up of religious programming (News, 20 February).
Recent highlights on Mr Ahmed’s CV at Channel 4 include Christianity: A history, The Qur’an, and the BAFTA-winning Saving Africa’s Witch Children.
Andrew Graystone, the general secretary of the Churches’ Media Council, who has criticised the decline in religious programming on television in recent years, said that Mr Ahmed should be judged on his output. “The BBC says this is a marker of their commitment to religious programming, and they’re going to build their quality and volume of religious output.
“I remain concerned about how seriously broadcasters, including the BBC, take religion, and if this is a sign of improvement, that’s great, but time will tell.”
Mr Graystone said that the fact that Mr Ahmed is only the second non-Christian in 87 years to hold the post should not be an issue. “Aaqil’s got a great track record as a programme-maker. The head of religion needs to be someone with a good understanding of faith, and should be a good team-leader and a creative person. I’ve no reason to believe he hasn’t got these skills.”
The Bishop of Manchester, the Rt Revd Nigel McCulloch, the senior Church of England spokesman on broadcasting, said he had been assured by the BBC that the changes would strengthen religious programming. “We will be monitoring the situation closely.
“The Church of England takes a close interest in the way Christianity and other faiths are portrayed by the BBC across all its programming. We are also interested in its specifically religious output, in light of this country’s Judaeo-Christian heritage. It is the quality and quantity of that output that matters.”
In March, the Archbishop of Canterbury met the BBC’s director-general, Mark Thompson, to discuss religious broadcasting. It is not known how much influence Mr Thompson had in the new appointment.
Mr Ahmed’s appointment has been criticised by some groups. The conservative body the Church Society, said it was not “very encouraging”; it believes that the BBC is “antagonistic to Christianity”.
Christian Concern for Our Nation said the change “could be seen as another sign that our country is in danger of becoming Islamised”.
In a separate move, which was described by the corporation as a strengthening of the BBC’s religious programmes, Christine Morgan has been appointed Executive Editor and Head of Religion Radio. She has been Executive Producer for BBC Religion and Ethics (Radio) since 2004, and will continue to be responsible for all religious programmes on Radio 2, 3 and 4, including Thought for the Day.
Blair to address media conference. The former Prime Minister Tony Blair is to send a recorded video speech to the annual Churches’ Media Conference next month, held at the Hayes Conference Centre in Swanwick, Derbyshire.
The Attorney General, Baroness Scotland, will ask whether there is still room for faith in the public arena; and Philip Graf, who chairs the OFCOM content board, will discuss the future of public-service broadcasting with the BBC media correspondent Torin Douglas.