The BBC is determined to press ahead with plans to increase its coverage of more religions, and could even broadcast the Muslim call to Friday prayers, thanks to concerns from within the corporation that its religious broadcasting is too biased towards Christianity.
Lord Hall of Birkenhead, director-general of the corporation, will invite religious leaders to take part in discussions on increasing multi-faith coverage, following the publication of a BBC report which claimed that there was currently a disproportionate amount of Christian coverage, compared with other faiths.
Lord Hall is also set to appoint a senior executive to the board of governors with a remit to draw up new programme ideas to complement the corporation’s current Christian output, The Times has reported. A BBC insider said that Lord Hall was determined to do more to more represent others.
“Faith is remarkably important. The BBC can and must do more to ensure that the important role faith plays is recognised and reflected in our programming,” a source said.
For years the BBC has come under fire for being biased against Christians and towards members of other faiths, Islam in particular.
A 2012 report by the New Culture Forum entitled ‘A Question of Attitude – the BBC and Bias Beyond News’ found that, while Christians were portrayed as laughable at best, violent extremists at worst by BBC programme-makers, the corporation went out of its way to paint Muslims, including Muslim extremists, in a moderate light.
In one example cited, a BBC drama depicted a peaceable Muslim being beheaded at the hands of Christian extremists.
The report noted: “It sometimes feels as if someone in the BBC has sent round a memo instructing programme makers to compensate for the negative publicity that inevitably attends the exposure of terrorist plots to murder large numbers of people by force-feeding the public whitewashed or positive images of Islam.
“Though no doubt well-meant, and carried out in the furtherance of community cohesion, this approach does not help moderate Muslims who have to contend with extremists, and risks nurturing suspicions of institutional bias.”
Religious leaders expected to be invited to the BBC’s discussions include Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, Archbishop of Westminster Cardinal Vincent Nichols, and Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis.
Harun Khan, the head of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), is also expected to attend as are Hindu and Sikh leaders.
Ibrahim Mogra of the MCB has suggested that the BBC could televise Friday prayers from a mosque, cover Eid, which marks the end of Ramadan, or show children attending Koranic lessons.
The move comes months after Aaqil Ahmed, former head of religion and ethics at the BBC, told a Commons committee that he had prepared a report for Lord Hall on the BBC’s religious output across TV and radio, which he claimed was biased toward Christianity.
“Christianity remains the cornerstone of our output and there are more hours dedicated to it than there are to other faiths,” he said.
In response, Christian group A Voice for Justice launched a petition calling for Aaqil Amhed “to be removed from office on the grounds of Islamic bias and clear disrespect for Christian belief”.
The petition text reasoned: “He has regularly commissioned documentaries displaying clear pro-Islamic bias, while calling into question fundamental tenets and teachings of Christianity, in such a way as to trivialise and undermine Christian faith.
“The UK is a Christian country […] our society [is] based upon Christian values.
“It is entirely right therefore that Christianity be given more airtime than the beliefs of minority groups, and that it should be treated with respect. In particular, Islam should not be singled out for special interest and presented as impliedly superior to Christianity.
“We therefore call on Lord Hall as Director General of the BBC to reject this misguided and overtly anti-Christian proposal, and for Aaqil Ahmed’s immediate removal from office.”
The petition has been signed by more than 13,000 people to date.