Page last updated at 09:31 GMT, Wednesday, 13 May 2009 10:31 UK

Muslim BBC religion job 'insult'

Aaqil Ahmed
Aaqil Ahmed was appointed in a senior role in the BBC's religious broadcasting

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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