Muslim head of religion at the BBC
May 12, 2009
The BBC made its widely expected announcement yesterday that Channel 4 commissioner Aaqil Ahmed had been appointed its new head of religion.
He will become the corporation’s first Muslim to occupy the post, and the second appointee ever from a non-Christian background.
The decision is also likely to trigger a crisis at Channel 4, where he was recently appointed head of multicultural programming. There he had a ringfenced budget of £2 million to commission prime-time programming aimed at a diverse audience.
Aaqil Ahmed’s full title at the BBC will be ‘Head of Religion & Ethics and Commissioning Editor for Religion TV’, combining two previously separate roles at the BBC. The change is significant because it makes him commissioner of programming as well as head of department.
That is more in line with his previous work at Channel 4 and reason why he was considered a front-runner for the position.
News of the appointment is likely to come under heavy fire from right-wing media papers such as the Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail, both of which had run articles implying he was unfit for the position because of his background.
Ahmed had also come under heavy fire from the controversial Christian lobby group Christian Concern For Our Nation. It had urged its member to write to the BBC objecting to his appointment on grounds that he was Muslim.
A particularly vociferous campaign against him was also mounted by the Telegraph’s religion editor George Pitcher.
In an article two weeks ago, AIM magazine editor Sunny Hundal criticised much of the controversy that surrounded Aaqil Ahmed’s potential appointment.
In the press coverage Sikh executive producer Tommy Nagra also came under fire for being a non-Christian responsible for the key Christian programme Songs of Praise.
He previously told AIM magazine: “For many years I worked in and headed up multicultural programmes and hired the best people to do the job – it is like me saying that you have to be black or Asian to produce programmes about black or Asian subject matter, which is utter nonsense and frankly an outdated argument and line of reasoning.”
A BBC spokesman said the corporation appointed individuals “on the basis of talent and suitability to the role, regardless of their faith or background”.
Yesterday, Christina Rees, a member of the Archbishops’ Council, said: “Aaqil Ahmed is a respected professional who has an established record of producing programmes on religion and ethics.”
She added: “It is important that the Christian faith continues to receive coverage that accurately reflects its significance in the lives of most people who live in Britain, the overwhelming majority of whom regard themselves as Christian.”
The Telegraph only reported the second half of her comments yesterday night.