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Christianity Marginalised Again: BBC Set to Choose Muslim or Sikh to Head Religious Programming

Printer-friendly version The Archbishop of Canterbury has challenged the Director General of the BBC not to turn his back on Christianity.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has challenged the Director General of the BBC not to turn his back on Christianity. In a private meeting at Lambeth Palace Dr Rowan Williams confronted Mark Thompson, BBC Director General, about the decline in religious programming on the BBC World Service. Talks follow a reorganisation of management posts within the corporation that look set to replace former head of religious programmes, Methodist preacher Michael Wakelin, with Aaqil Ahmed, a Muslim who is commissioning editor for religion at Channel 4.

Wakelin, 47, is the fourth out of seven executives in the corporation’s religion department to be made redundant in the past year. He produced Songs of Praise for five years subsequent to his appointment as Head of Religion and Ethics at the BBC in August 2006. He is also responsible for establishing Radio 2’s Faith in the World week, which is now in its 17th year.

Ahmed is the favourite to succeed Wakelin in the renamed job of Commissioning Editor, Religion and Head of Religion and Ethics. Ahmed has campaigned in favour of a greater Muslim presence in the media, as well as being a trustee of the Runnymede Trust, a pressure group that fight for multiculturalism.

Senior members of the Church of England have voiced concerns that the BBC is downgrading its religious output to give preferential treatment to minority religions. Indeed, Mark Thompson caused outrage last year by advocating a more sensitive approach to Islam over Christianity. This attitude, along with the recent appointment of a Sikh, Tommy Nagra, to produce Songs of Praise, has raised alarm within the Church that the Christian voice is being muted. Tommy Nagra is also said to be a candidate for the post. The Times reports that last year Mark Thompson said that Christianity should be central to the BBC’s religion coverage.

As a public broadcaster, the BBC is required to provide religious programmes. Since 2001, however, the programming on the BBC World Service has been reduced from one hour 45 minutes a week to half an hour in 2009. Williams has declared that this is a significant loss. In all the censuses a very large proportion of the British population identifies itself as Christian. Under new management, nevertheless, the future of religious broadcasting is threatened.

The Churches' Media Council, an umbrella organisation, states that it is concerned that no senior member of the religious programming department has an academic qualification in religion. The BBC disputes this. The Churches’ Media Council believes that Christians are now significantly under-represented at the BBC.

Christina Rees, a member of the Church of England's executive body, the Archbishops' Council, said: "The established Church has a special role in the country. We actually have a remit for everyone in the whole country. The BBC is a public service corporation. It is funded by licence payers and part of the broadcaster's duty is to represent the population. If it ignored Christians and the church it would be negligent."

Please pray that the Church continues to use its media influence wisely. Pray for the Rt Rev Graham James, the Bishop of Norwich, who will be meeting senior BBC and Church figures next month to discuss faith issues. Christians are now significantly under-represented at the corporation and there is an increasing tendency for bias in favour of Islam and minority faiths that could shake the bedrock of our country’s core values. Media outlets, particularly corporations such as the BBC, hold a powerful influence over national values.

Please write to your MP and the BBC on this pressing issue. For information on writing to MPs please see:

Please write to the BBC at:

Your letter or e-mail could make a few of the following points, in your own words:

  • I am concerned that a Muslim or a Sikh may soon be appointed as head of religious programming at the BBC.

  • Christianity should not be marginalised by the BBC and the BBC has a duty to uphold the public interest within the BBC and to serve the public interest, particularly the interests of licence fee payers, many of whom hold Christian beliefs. The BBC should not make such an unrepresentative appointment.

  • Given that we are a Christian Nation, it is appropriate that the post of Commissioning Editor, Religion and Head of Religion and Ethics at the BBC should continue to be a Christian.

  • I strongly object to the appointment of a person who does not belong to the Christian faith, as this appointment is not representative of the beliefs of the majority of licence holders.

  • According to an article in the Daily Telegraph dated 29th March 2009 and entitled “Archbishop confronts BBC Director General over its treatment of religion”, the BBC could soon appoint a Muslim, Aaqil Ahmed, or a Sikh, Tommy Nagra, to the position of Commissioning Editor, Religion and Head of Religion and Ethics. Mr. Ahmed is currently Commissioning Editor for Religion at Channel 4. He is a trustee of the Runnymede Trust, a pressure group that has promoted multiculturalism and has taken part in campaigns in favour of a greater Muslim presence in the media. Mr. Nagra currently produces “Songs of Praise”.

  • As at least 70% of the population consider themselves to be Christian (according to the last census), it would seem logical to appoint a Christian to the role. Presumably the proportion of Christians who own a TV licence is also around 70%.

  • The BBC’s Charter is granted by Her Majesty the Queen, who is head of the Church of England and swore to be defender of the faith in her coronation oath. It exists to serve the public interest. It has a duty to represent the interests of licence fee payers and the public interest. As a public service broadcaster, the BBC has a duty to provide religious programmes that meet the public’s expectations.

  • The BBC’s comment that its 'religious programming covers a variety of faiths reflecting its audiences, with the majority of the programming being Christian as the major faith of the UK' does not explain why a Muslim is thought to be a suitable choice to direct programming on that faith. How can a non-Christian accurately reflect the Christian faith to a BBC audience? Surely the nature of the role requires the holder to be a practising Christian?

  • Appointing a Muslim to head religious programming for a still-largely-Christian country ignores the public responsibility of the BBC. Already Channel 4 programmes show an Islam influence. Are we now to expect the same from the BBC?

If you are writing to an MP as opposed to the BBC, consider asking your MP to table or support an appropriate Early Day Motion to register concern about the marginalisation of Christianity in this Christian Nation that has allowed the possibility of this inappropriate appointment.

For further articles on this issue please see the following:

Sunday Telegraph:

Sunday Times:

BBC News:

Daily Mail: