C of E is living in the past, says BBC head of religion

The BBC’s head of religion has accused the Church of England of living in the past and also denied that the BBC is marginalising Christianity.

Aaqil Ahmed’s comments come before a Church of England debate at its General Synod on the BBC’s marginalisation of religion and they follow the Church’s accusation that the Corporation is treating religion like a “rare species”.

Figures show that religious programming on the BBC fell to 155 hours in 2007–08 from 177 hours in 1987–88, despite overall programming doubling in the same period.

But Mr Ahmed, who is a Muslim, commented: “I don’t believe that we should be basing the debate on 20-year-old figures, the conversation is far more complicated than that”.

He said: “It’s very easy to live in the past, but we live in the present.”

“In a few years’ time the way we’re going to view television will change radically, so the conversation will become even more redundant.

“We’ll listen to what they say, but we’re clear that we know what we’re doing and we’ll stick to that.”

Speaking to the Sunday Telegraph, he commented: “I think all the faiths should be treated in the same way. I don’t believe in treating any faith differently.”

Mr Ahmed remarked: “If you look at the BBC’s religious output, Christianity is at the cornerstone”.

“Despite what people say the vast majority is Christian-related”, the BBC executive said.

Mr Ahmed also said that in the run up to Easter the BBC will be broadcasting a number of Christian documentaries.

One of these, the Sunday Telegraph reported, will be hosted by BBC Radio presenter Nicky Campbell and will look at the sidelining of Christians in Britain.

The debate at the General Synod on the BBC’s treatment of religion was sparked by former BBC producer Nigel Holmes who launched a private member’s motion in January.

In it he called on the “BBC and Ofcom to explain why British television, which was once exemplary in its coverage of religious and ethical issues, now marginalizes the few such programmes which remain”.

In December the Church of England said the BBC’s Big Questions programme, which airs on a Sunday morning, “makes it difficult to explore subjects in detail”.

It added, in a response to a BBC consultation, that the fact that a “significant part of its potential audience is in church during the transmission time”, was a problem.

Last month BBC radio presenter Simon Mayo said religion is “increasingly driven to the margin” in the Corporation’s output.

In May last year the BBC was criticised for appointing Mr Ahmed to the post of head of religion.

Several commentators said at the time that the BBC was pandering to minority groups at the expense of Christianity.

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