What difference will the BBC’s historic decision to appoint a Muslim as its head of religion actually make? The announcement that Aaqil Ahmed was to become the second ever appointee from a non-Christian background earlier this year upset some members of the Church of England and the rightwing press. An impressive CV—he commissioned an eight-part series on Christianity, a critically acclaimed documentary on the Qur’an and an-award winning programme on African witch children while at Channel 4—failed to impress his critics. Or, as some of us thought, perhaps it worried them because his arrival would finally shatter the gentle, rather anodyne treatment of religion at the BBC, which extends to the occasional series presented by an earnest if harmless cleric, worship programmes or Sunday morning debate shows.[…]
Somewhere, over the years, the BBC has developed an unwritten policy to protect religion and handle it with care. It is a sacred cow. Mark Thompson, the director general, served up some fudge of the finest order when, last year, he warned against “overcautious” coverage of Islam for fear of offending Muslims, only to sidestep a question about whether there would ever be a dramatisation of Muhammad’s life.
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