Shock as BBC axes its religious supremo
Just weeks after Aaqil Ahmed, the BBC’s Head of Religion and Ethics, called for more religious content to satisfy Muslims and those holding other minority faiths, his job has been axed.
In what is described here as a “night of the long knives”, Ahmed and three other senior commissioners were axed.
The factual team was briefed about the restructure by factual commissioning controller Emma Swain last week, before Aaqil Ahmed, Sam Bickley, Martin Davidson and Clive Edwards were called in to separate meetings to be told their roles will be closing.
Said one source:
Most people thought it would be a straightforward restructure, not the night of the long knives. It was a massive shock. There was no sense that the changes would be on this scale.
Astonishly, superstition will now come under the aegis of a new Head of Science, Business, History and Religion, who is yet to be chosen.
Earlier, in December, Ahmed complained of a “lack of religious literacy” in modern society and said viewers from minority faiths were unhappy that television often failed to understand their beliefs and reflect them in its output. He said:
We have got to do better.
Ahmed noted that census statistics showed that 2.7 million people in Britain and about one tenth of babies are “born into the faith”.
What [Muslim viewers] want is more programmes that explain what they believe in and more programmes where they see themselves.
Highlighting the lack of religious diversity at senior levels of the industry, he said:
I’m not the first person to commission religious programmes for the BBC or Channel 4 but I’m the first person to have done [programmes on] the Koran and the life of Muhammad.
Noting that the UK is also home to substantial populations of Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jews, Ahmed said religious-based programming was a way for the BBC to connect with minority audiences.
One of the things we have seen in the research is that these hard-to-reach audiences think that religion is important.
But he rejected the idea of programming for atheists, arguing that many Christian-based BBC shows were appropriate for secular audiences. Referring to the annual Christmas concert which the BBC has broadcast on radio or television for 86 years, he said:
I don’t think you have to be a Christian to enjoy Carols from Kings.
The Telegraph reports that the BBC’s now stands accused of “sidelining religion”.
Hat tip: Ivan Bailey