An internal review within the BBC has concluded that the network is too Christian in terms of its religious output and should diversify in order to fit ‘the religious make-up’ of British society, in which the number of Muslims has doubled in the past decade.
Aaqil Ahmed, head of BBC’s religion and ethics department, has filed a report with the company’s director general, Lord Hall, describing the imbalance in the BBC’s religious output, The Sunday Times reports.
“Christianity remains the cornerstone of our output and there are more hours dedicated to it than there are to other faiths,” Ahmed told the daily, adding that the output in this area is not static and that Muslim, Hindu and Sikh programming should be increased.
“We do look at the number of hours we produce, and measure that against the religious make-up of society. We also carry out checks to give us a better understanding of how we represent the different faiths across the various BBC channels and services.”
The religious makeup he mentions has changed substantially in the past decade, with the number of Muslims, for instance, hitting the three million milestone for the first time in January this year. The religious minority represents one in 20 people across the country, according to an analysis by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which also found that in some parts of London nearly half the population is now Muslim.
Taking these figures into account, it should not have come as a surprise that the newly elected mayor of the UK capital is also Muslim. Sadiq Khan, a Labour MP of British-Pakistani origin gained 57 percent of the vote on May 6, becoming the first Muslim mayor of a major Western city.
The BBC’s religion department head is also Muslim. Ahmed moved to the corporation from Channel Four, where he apparently impressed his current employers with his series’ on Christianity and Islam. Controversies, however, surrounded his appointment due to allegations that he had displayed pro-Islam bias and had been “trivializing religion” in his previous position, the Telegraph reported at the time.
Ahmed’s report is now being considered by Lord Hall, who is to decide how to deal with the apparently problematic findings.
Some religious figures have already commented on the possible changes to BBC content, with Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, saying the prospect of increased coverage of other faiths might be considered insulting for Britain’s historic religion.
“I don’t think our liberal establishment appreciates what Christianity has done for the nation, and how much of a bedrock it is for democracy and the values we believe in.
There is a real feeling by Christians of being let down by the Establishment. Christianity is fighting for its life in Western countries,” Lord Carey has said, as quoted by The Sunday Times.
Ibrahim Mogra, of the Muslim Council of Britain, was more enthusiastic, suggesting the broadcaster might televise Friday prayers from mosques and cover Eid, a holiday similar to Christian Easter, as it does with Christian holidays. He noted, however, that “we [Muslims] would not wish Christians to have any less exposure.”
Meanwhile, asked about the impact the findings could have on the amount of Christian programs, a BBC spokesman said it was too early to tell.
“We […] are actually intending to do more programming around Christianity and more on other faiths as well, so there is absolutely no question of an ‘either or’ on our output,” he stressed.
BBC’s televised religion obviously amounts to mostly Christian content, including the flagship Songs of Praise, Sunday Morning Live and Thought for the Day on Radio Four’s Today program. An edition of Songs of Praise was even filmed at The Jungle, a migrant camp in the French port-town of Calais, where thousands of asylum seekers, mostly Muslim, wait for a chance to find a permanent home in the UK.