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Uthman
05-15-2009, 04:55 PM
Channel 4's Aaqil Ahmed will be only second non-Christian to hold head of religion role in BBC's history.

The BBC is to have its first Muslim head of religious programming, after confirming that the Channel 4 executive Aaqil Ahmed is to take over the role.

Ahmed's appointment marks only the second time in the BBC's 87-year history that a non-Christian has been appointed to the position, following the agnostic Alan Bookbinder in 2001.

The move is likely to be controversial with some – the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, was reported to have raised concerns with the BBC director general Mark Thompson that the "Christian voice is being sidelined" after Ahmed was first connected to the role last month.

A spokeswoman for the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is currently in Jamaica, declined to comment. However, the Bishop of Manchester, the Rt Revd Nigel McCulloch, said last night: "Aaqil Ahmed comes to the post with a good reputation. At a time when the BBC's coverage of religion caused some disquiet, the Church of England will be watching how the future of religion and ethics develops."

Ahmed, commissioning editor for religion and multicultural programmes at Channel 4, will take up a new joint role at the BBC: head of religion and ethics and commissioning editor for TV religion.

While at Channel 4, he commissioned a range of programming including Christianity: A History, The Qur'an and the Bafta-winning Saving Africa's Witch Children. Before joining Channel 4 in 2003, he was deputy head of documentaries in the BBC's religion department.

The BBC has also appointed Christine Morgan as a new separate head of religion radio. A BBC spokesman declined to comment on her religion.

The BBC said the appointment of Morgan, who has been executive producer of BBC radio religion and ethics since 2004, responsible for all religious programmes on Radio 2, Radio 3 and Radio 4, was "another measure to strengthen the BBC's religious programmes".

A BBC spokesman said the corporation appointed individuals "on the basis of talent and suitability to the role, regardless of their faith or background".

The two new appointments – part of a new management structure for the BBC Knowledge department – replace the previous combined head of religion and ethics role overseeing output on both TV and radio, which was held by the Methodist preacher Michael Wakelin.

As part of the new BBC Knowledge structure, four other commissioners have been appointed. Mark Bell, currently commissioning editor for non-in house specialist factual, will become commissioning editor for arts.

Charlotte Moore has been confirmed as commissioning editor for documentaries after acting in the role. Kim Shillinglaw, currently creative executive producer for BBC London factual, becomes commissioning editor for science and natural history; while Harry Lansdown, former executive producer of factual independents, has been appointed commissioning editor for BBC3 features, formats and specialist factual.

The new appointments join the previously confirmed Martin Davidson as commissioning editor for history and business; and Jo Ball, commissioning editor for BBC1 and BBC2 features.

This commissioning team will report to Emma Swain, BBC head of knowledge commissioning, who was also appointed earlier this year.

George Entwistle, controller of BBC knowledge commissioning, said: "We now have a really strong team boasting some of the best talent and expertise in the business. Their vision, creative energy and knowledge of programme makers in the BBC and the independent community will enable them to commission the very best factual programmes. "

Jana Bennett, director of BBC Vision, added that the areas the jobs commission "go to the very heart of the BBC's public purposes".

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Uthman
05-15-2009, 04:59 PM
Muslim BBC religion job 'insult'

The BBC's appointment of a Muslim as head of religion and ethics is insulting to Christians, an Ulster Unionist assembly member has said.

Retired Presbyterian minister Dr Robert Coulter said the appointment of Aaqil Ahmed was "a juvenile gimmick".

"According to the Church of England 70% of the UK are Christian, 3% are Muslim yet the BBC for its head of religious broadcast appoints a Muslim," he said.

Religious commentator Clifford Longley said the complaints were "spurious".

"The purpose of the BBC's religious broadcasting department is not to propagandise on behalf of any particular religion - the implication of this complaint is that it is," he said.

"It seems to me that no denomination or faith can claim to own a position like that, which must be filled on its merits."

Dr Coulter said he believed many Muslims would agree with his criticism.

"I am sure moderate Muslim leaders will be deeply concerned about this as well, because it will make many UK citizens feel that they are gaining too much influence - for a faith that represents such a small percentage of the whole community.

"It could well lead to many people developing a more hostile attitude to Muslims."

'Diversity'


Later a UUP spokesman clarified that Dr Coulter's view were not party policy.

"The UUP is a party open to people of all faiths and none. We are party that firmly believes in equality of opportunity and a party which celebrates the diversity of the modern United Kingdom," he said.

"In a free and open society, there cannot be religious tests to hold position in public bodies. This includes the BBC. Staff should be recruited solely on merit."

A BBC spokeswoman said Mr Ahmed was selected for the new joint role of Head of Religion and Ethics and Commissioning Editor for Religion TV because he was "simply the best candidate".

"It is BBC policy to recruit on experience and suitability to the post, not on the basis of faith," she said.

"Aaqil has almost 10 years experience in religious broadcasting - first at the BBC where he was deputy editor for documentaries at BBC Religion and more recently as head of religion and multicultural at Channel 4, where he was responsible for commissioning (amongst many other programmes) Christianity: A History and the BAFTA-winning Saving Africa's Witch Children."

In March, the Archbishop of Canterbury urged the BBC not to neglect Christians in its religious programming.

Dr Rowan Williams voiced his concern to the corporation's director general Mark Thompson in a private meeting at Lambeth Palace.

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czgibson
05-15-2009, 05:08 PM
Greetings,

Good luck to Aaqil Ahmed - we'll have to wait and see if he does a good job.

One quote from Mr. Ulster Unionist made me laugh:

"According to the Church of England 70% of the UK are Christian..."

Richly comic. :D

Peace
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Uthman
05-15-2009, 05:25 PM
Greetings
Originally Posted by czgibson
Good luck to Aaqil Ahmed - we'll have to wait and see if he does a good job.
I certainly hope he does do a good job. He appears to have a good track record behind him anyway.
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Zafran
05-15-2009, 05:33 PM
Salaam

Intresting - thanks for the article by the way.

peace
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Uthman
11-02-2009, 09:56 AM
BBC’s Muslim head of religion reveals a Protestant work ethic

Christianity is still the schedule’s cornerstone, says Aaqil Ahmed

Aaqil Ahmed is friendly when we meet, but a little nervous. Understandably so. When last May the BBC announced that he would become the first Muslim head of religious programming (and the second non-Christian after the 2001 appointment of Alan Bookbinder, an avowed agnostic), it received 115 complaints.

Most, the BBC admitted, centred on the fact that Ahmed was not a Christian. A member of the Ulster Unionist Assembly called his appointment “insulting to Christians”. On hearing the news, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, reportedly complained to Mark Thompson, the Director-General of the BBC and a Roman Catholic, that the “Christian voice” was being sidelined”.

Was he surprised? “It would be naive to think that there would not be any kind of reaction,” Ahmed replies in a light northern accent. “I’m not going to lie. I found some of it bizarre and personally distasteful, but I truly believe that people are entitled to hold whatever opinion they like.”

Ahmed, 40, who is accompanied throughout the interview by a BBC press officer, does not wish to be drawn on his personal faith: “Of course I’m a believer but I don’t want it to be the story,” he says. “It really isn’t relevant to the job. I don’t think for one second that being a Muslim makes my job any easier or harder.”

He expands: “I’ve worked in television for 17 years. I’m a professional. I cannot stress enough that my priority is to successfully navigate religion through the BBC.”

Six years ago Ahmed, then deputy documentaries editor at BBC Religion and Ethics, was appointed Commissioner for religion and head of multicultural programming at Channel 4. While there, he commissioned The Qur’an, Inside the Mind of a Suicide Bomber, and more recently Christianity: A History, an “edgy” eight-part series whose guest presenters included Howard Jacobson and Cherie Blair.

Nearly three months after his move from Channel 4 to the BBC, Ahmed will not reveal details of future programming, other than mentioning the seasonal staple broadcasts that mark Christmas, Easter, Lent, Advent, Rosh Hashanah, Diwali and Ramadan. And announcing a new six-part television series, A History of Christianity, which starts next Thursday and is presented by the Oxford historian Diarmuid McCulloch, on BBC Four (a channel which, he says, tends to have a more upmarket, male audience than the more mainstream viewers on BBC One and Two).

Concerns were voiced, perhaps unfairly, when Ahmed was appointed, about the BBC’s commitment to Christian programming. Although he does not give a percentage (“I don’t think I have any percentages as such”) for the number of Christian programmes included in the BBC’s 163 hours of religious television each year, Ahmed says that Christianity, as the “majority faith” in Britain, is the "cornerstone” of the BBC’s religious schedule.

He is the “proud custodian” of Songs of Praise (BBC One)). Growing up in Lancashire — his parents migrated from Lahore to Wigan — he was a big fan of The Message (1976) starring Anthony Quinn. “A lot of my generation learnt about the history of Islam from that film,” says Ahmed, who named his son Hamza after Quinn’s character. Unlike his brothers, he opted not to join the family clothing business, set up by his father after a few years in a Wigan dye factory. The 4am starts to man the market stall put him off, he jokes, although they left him with a “northern Protestant work ethic”. At 16 he wanted to be a graphic designer, but then “Apple Mac and computer graphics came along”. So, after attending art school in Wigan, Ahmed took a degree in film at the University of Westminster, including work experience stints at the BBC. This led to a job as a researcher at BBC Birmingham and eventually as a producer in news and currents affairs, an area that led — and leads him still — to religion.

A self-described religion “geek”, Ahmed says that he could “bore people to death” on subjects such as the Dark Ages, the Lindisfarne Gospels, the Reformation “and what those particular chapters in British history mean today”. Ignorance of religious history, such as the evolution of Christianity, “a Middle Eastern religion that’s becoming westernised”, he finds “frustrating”. Ahmed says he is fascinated by how religion interacts with society and culture. He is the first joint head of Religion and Ethics and Commissioning Editor for BBC TV.

“Personally I don’t know how you can dismantle religion from the world we live in today,” he says.

Does he think religious broadcasts have a responsibility to uphold public morality? “This isn’t a cop-out,” he replies, “but an honest answer. All programming, whether Question Time or The Big Questions (BBC One’s Sunday morning ethical debate programme), has a moral responsibility,” he says. He cites illegal internet downloads as a “clear example” of the kind of ethical dilemma ideal for debate on the BBC.

“People forget that is the electronic version of ‘Thou shalt not steal’. I know, as somebody who has covered copyright theft as a producer in current affairs, that I obsessed with the actual manufacture and distribution of DVDs and didn’t think for one second about the moral issue of ‘this is theft, this is someone’s property’,” Ahmed says.

Would he pull a programme if it offended religious believers, as BBC Three did in 2004, with Popetown , a satirical cartoon about the papacy which drew thousands of complaints? “In the six and a half years I spent at Channel 4 we never pulled anything, simply because we always knew what we were going to do. I don’t think for one second we should need to be in that position,” he replies. “Nothing should come as a surprise.” Really?

Watch this space.

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Supreme
11-02-2009, 11:45 AM
I personally loved 'Christianity: A History', and saw all eight episodes of it, and if this man brings more of the same sort of programming to the BBC, I don't care what religion he is. The BBC has far less religion orientated programmes than Channel 4, and I think that needs to change.
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glo
11-02-2009, 06:12 PM
I am looking forward to this programme:
A History of Christianity, which starts next Thursday and is presented by the Oxford historian Diarmuid McCulloch, on BBC Four.
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glo
11-02-2009, 06:14 PM
Originally Posted by czgibson
Greetings,

Good luck to Aaqil Ahmed - we'll have to wait and see if he does a good job.

One quote from Mr. Ulster Unionist made me laugh:

"According to the Church of England 70% of the UK are Christian..."

Richly comic. :D


Peace
Just by chance I came across this OU survey:
Would you call yourself a Christian? You're not alone. In the 2001 Census, 71.6% of people in the UK described themselves as Christians, but only about 15% of these said they belonged to, or were active members of, a church.

So, what does it mean to be a Christian without a church? What exactly do people mean nowadays when they describe themselves as Christian?
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glo
11-06-2009, 10:11 AM
Originally Posted by glo
I am looking forward to this programme:
A History of Christianity, which starts next Thursday and is presented by the Oxford historian Diarmuid McCulloch, on BBC Four.
I watched the first part yesterday evening, and found it very interesting.
It is fascinating to see how different churches in different parts of the world worship. The Eastern churches were particularly interesting.
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