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Wednesday, 11 July, 2001, 15:40 GMT 16:40 UK
BBC appoints 'agnostic' head of religion
Alan Bookbinder
Alan Bookbinder is an award-winning television producer
Alan Bookbinder has been appointed the BBC's new Head of Religion and Ethics, the first non-Christian to take the role.

The son of a Jewish father and a Catholic mother, the 45-year-old award-winning programme maker describes himself as an "open-heart agnostic".

He says he feels he is on a spiritual journey upon which he has not yet found God, but does not rule it out.

In his new role he will commission, and be responsible for, religious material across all types of BBC media from television and radio to online.


I share religion's profound concern with the big questions

Alan Bookbinder
Mr Bookbinder is currently an executive producer in the BBC's Science department, where his credits include the multi award-winning series The Human Body and Brain Story.

He says he feels privileged to have been given "one of the most exciting jobs in the BBC and in public service broadcasting".

"Although my own journey through life has not so far brought me to embrace a personal faith, I have a deep appreciation of the way in which faith offers a sense of purpose, identity and meaning to so many people.

Reassurance

"I share religion's profound concern with the big questions: how to combat human frailty, how to deal with suffering, how to face death, how to bind as a community, and how to find self-knowledge."

But the appointment of Mr Bookbinder has attracted scepticism from some religious quarters.

Joel Edwards, of the Evangelical Alliance, said he was seeking a meeting with Mr Bookbinder to express his concerns.


Would the BBC appoint a head of sport who knows nothing about football?

Joel Edwards, Evangelical Alliance
"Would the BBC appoint a head of sport who knows nothing about football?" he asked.

"Or would it take on a business correspondent with no experience of how the City works? I think not.

"This appointment will not reassure us that religion remains at the heart of the BBC's future mainstream programming output."

But the Bishop of Wakefield, the Right Reverend Nigel McCulloch, who speaks for bishops on communications matters, said he wished Mr Bookbinder well.

"We note that Mr Bookbinder is not a member of any church and the test of this interesting appointment will be whether the BBC is able to deliver its commitment to stronger religious programmes, better scheduled and with improved resourcing," he said.

Mr Bookbinder will work across the entire BBC to develop an editorial strategy for religion, faith and ethics programming, reflecting spiritual life in the UK today.

Experienced broadcaster

He has been with the BBC throughout his broadcasting career.

Joining as a trainee assistant producer in 1980, he worked on programmes such as Newsnight before moving on to current affairs programmes and documentaries.

Many of the programmes have covered religious themes, including Missionaries, The People's Pope, and the international documentary series Under the Sun.

Mark Thompson, director of television, commented: "Religious, spiritual and ethical issues have a central place at the very heart of our culture.

"I am sure that he will bring intelligence, integrity and creativity to this important task."

Mr Bookbinder will take up his new role on 30 July, taking over from the Reverend Ernest Rea who retired in January after 22 years at the BBC.

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