Following Aaqil Ahmed’s announcement earlier this month that he was leaving the BBC as Head of Religion and Ethics, the BBC has now announced its decision to abolish the post. Instead, former Labour Minister James Purnell, currently head of radio and education, will take on responsibility for religious programming. Under these plans, therefore, there will no longer be a separate department dedicated to religion; although the Director-General, Lord Hall of Birkenhead, has restated the BBC’s intention to increase coverage of other faiths across the whole spectrum of news, drama and documentary. Plans to broadcast Friday prayers from a mosque and to cover the religious festival of Eid at the end of Ramadan are still under consideration and seem likely to go ahead (http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/purnell-to-head-religion-at-bbc-njll6np8h).
Mr Ahmed’s departure is unexpected but, given his demonstrated bias in favour of Islam, is to be welcomed. However, the new announcement does nothing to allay concerns that Christianity will not continue to be unacceptably marginalized and downgraded in BBC programming policy. James Purnell has an undeniably impressive CV, but he was a former Labour Minister, serving in Gordon Brown’s Cabinet, and up to now has displayed not the slightest interest in religion of any sort, let alone Christianity. Perhaps we will be pleasantly surprised, but at this point there seem no grounds for optimism.
At this time of increasing violent persecution and murder perpetrated against Christians worldwide, and seen even in our own country (e.g. http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/729290/Christian-converted-Islam-forced-flee-Bradford-home-under-armed-police-guard), we ask if it is right to relegate coverage of the nation’s established faith to the position of only one among many, while elevating any faith tradition that is currently engaged in the perpetration of war, and that has demonstrated violent hostility towards Christians abroad?
As we have pointed out before, it is right that all religions receive coverage, but the UK is a Christian country, established as such by statute, which position should be reflected in the media; and especially in the coverage of the British Broadcasting Corporation. In marked contrast to the traditions and values of all other belief systems, our society – founded on the idea of respect for the individual as made in the image of God – is based upon Christian values. These values have in turn given rise to, and shaped, our laws since before Magna Carta, and over time have become the foundation for the whole of Western democracy. It is entirely right, therefore, that Christianity receive due prominence, be treated at all times with respect, and be given more airtime than the beliefs of minority groups: in the hopes indeed that our values of tolerance and respect for all will exercise an influence for good, both in this country and abroad.
We therefore repeat our call to the BBC to respect and protect the UK’s Christian heritage – ideally by restoring a Christian Head of Religion and Ethics. We respectfully remind Lord Hall and the BBC of the Latin dedication posted over the entrance to Broadcasting House, which translates:
This Temple of the Arts and Muses is dedicated to Almighty God by the first Governors of Broadcasting House in the year 1931, Sir John Reith being Director-General. It is their prayer that good seed sown may bring forth a good harvest, that all things hostile to peace or purity may be banished from this house, and that the people, inclining their ear to whatsoever things are beautiful and honest and of good report, may tread the path of wisdom and uprightness.