Bishops say BBC treats faith like a ‘freak show’

The Church of England will challenge the BBC this week over claims that the corporation is treating Christianity like a ‘freak show’.

Concerns have been raised about the appointment of Aaqil Ahmed, a Muslim, as the BBC’s new Head of Religious Programming.

Mr Ahmed has been accused of producing programmes “that have tended to look at the fringes of Christianity where it can be brought into disrepute”.

Senior bishops have lent their support to a Church document outlining concerns, which will be debated by the General Synod next month.

Earlier this month the BBC Trust rejected complaints against a TV drama showing a fanatical British Christian beheading a moderate Muslim, a storyline described by one reviewer as the “BBC’s paint-by-numbers version of political correctness”.

Last year the corporation’s Director General stated publicly that Christianity should be treated with less sensitivity than other religions.

And in 2006 executives admitted that while they would show a scene where a Bible was thrown away, they would never do the same with a copy of the Koran.

The Church’s new document says: “The regular BBC Television coverage of religion consists of just two programmes.

“BBC 3 tackles religion rarely but does so from the angle of the freak show, and 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.

“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.”

Nigel Holmes, a member of the Synod and former BBC producer, wrote the paper.

He said: “There is an element of uncertainty at the BBC with all of the changes there, and the appointment of Aaqil Ahmed gives rise to an element of concern.

“He has been involved with programmes that have tended to look at the fringes of Christianity where it can be brought into disrepute.

“Religion is higher on the political agenda than ever before and we are crying out for programmes that give a moral view.”

The BBC’s religious coverage has fallen by nearly 15 per cent in the last 20 years, from 177 hours in 1988 to 155 in 2008, even though its total television output has doubled.

The Rev Jonathan Alderton-Ford, a General Synod member who has advised the Church on media issues, said the new document “gives voice to the concerns many of us have about the drift of the BBC over the last decade”.

He continued: “The BBC’s bias permeates its programme-making, so that the Christians get criticised while the minority faiths escape the same treatment. It’s necessary that we debate this.”

A spokesman for the BBC said: “The BBC’s commitment to religion and ethics broadcasting is 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.”

Earlier this year, The Daily Telegraph’s religion correspondent Jonathan Wynne-Jones highlighted the way in which Christians are usually presented as “nutters” in television programmes.

He cited examples such as Hollyoaks, where the show’s ‘Christian’ character claimed to have found an image of Jesus in a potato.

Mr Wynne-Jones said: “Outspoken criticism of Christian beliefs should be expected, but the stealthy attempts to make believers look absurd is much more damaging.

“Once faith has been made to look ridiculous, the attempts of believers to rebut the criticism will be met with deaf ears. And then the line between ridicule and persecution becomes even thinner.”

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