Saturday 27 December 2014

"Muslim viewers want more programmes... where they see themselves"

When the BBC appointed a Muslim to be its Head of Religion in 2009, concerned voices (at blogs like Biased BBC) wondered whether he might start advancing his own Muslim faith. 

Bearing that in mind, Ian Burrell of the Independent has a scoop:
BBC’s head of religion Aaqil Ahmed calls for more ‘literacy’ at the top 
"Muslim viewers want more programmes... where they see themselves"
IAN BURRELL   MEDIA EDITOR  Friday 26 December 2014 
The head of religious programmes at the BBC has complained that a lack of diversity and religious literacy at the top of British public service television is letting down modern audiences.
Aaqil Ahmed, the BBC’s head of religion and ethics, complained of a “lack of religious literacy” in modern society and said viewers from minority faiths complained that television often failed to understand their beliefs and reflect them in its output. “We have got to do better,” he said.
Mr Ahmed noted that census statistics showed that 2.7 million people in Britain and about one tenth of babies are born into the faith. “What [Muslim viewers] want is more programmes that explain what they believe in and more programmes where they see themselves,” he said.
Highlighting the lack of religious diversity at senior levels of the industry, he said: “I’m not the first person to commission religious programmes for the BBC or Channel 4 but I’m the first person to have done [programmes on] the Koran and the life of Muhammad.”
Noting that the UK is also home to substantial populations of Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jews, Mr Ahmed said religious-based programming was a way for the BBC to connect with minority audiences. “One of the things we have seen in the research is that these hard-to-reach audiences think that religion is important,” he said.
Though (being charitable) it may partly be down to the way Ian Burrell structured and worded that passage, it does seem nonetheless, doesn't it, that Aaqil Ahmed's concern for the feelings of minority faiths is overwhelmingly focused on just one of those faiths - his own Muslim faith? The others (Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jews) seem like afterthoughts. 

And for any of you who might be thinking that Muslim voices are presently over-represented on the BBC's religious affairs output, Aaqil clearly disagrees: 
“What [Muslim viewers] want is more programmes that explain what they believe in and more programmes where they see themselves”.
So it's probably safe to assume that we can expect to hear much more about Muslims and Islam on the BBC under Aaqil Ahmed's continuing watch.


  1. There has been no TV programme on any UK channel about "the life of Mohammed". There have only been Karen Armstrong-style cover up jobs.

  2. Oh, yeah, this'll go down well. I can't wait for the reaction from the first programme about how Islam is a religion of peace and social justice. There won't be any other interpretation allowed, of course, and we'll be expected to believe that this is how everyone should view Islam because it's how all Mohammedans "see themselves". Ahmed is obviously focusing on Islam because it's the largest minority religion in the UK. It's why the BBC had to make a Mohammedan their next head of religious programming. Remember when defenders of the indefensible shrieked and insulted anyone who predicted this would happen with a Muslim in charge?

    Which Mohammedan beliefs have the BBC "failed to understand" or portray properly in their programming? It's a lie. What he means is they want more programming showing Islam in the most positive light possible. This will not end well.

    1. He means he wants more Sharia-prep which involves bamboozling the more naive infidels and intimidating the less naive.

  3. Until the early 90s (I think), Radio 4 would do a programme marking the start of the Jewish New Year (usually sometime in September), featuring an interview the the Chief Rabbi, etc., though they dropped that long ago.

    And while it's true that for many years the then Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, and now the current one, Ephraim Mirvis, have had a Thought for the Day slot, otherwise Jews don't get much of look in, unless in the context of "lobby", or the Palestinian-bashing Israel/Israelis. (And I'm not forgetting Simon Schama's recent, excellent series on the history of the Jews, but that was a perfect example of the BBC's approach to Judaism - they just love historical &/or dead Jews, it's just the present-day ones they don't like very much.)

    On the other hand, Sikhs, Buddhists, Hindus, Zoroastrians, Baha'is, and how may you don't get a look in at all - I can't remember the last time I heard or watched a programme examining their respective faiths or philosophies.

    And it's also true that there's the awful Beyond Belief on R4, which does sometimes have a nod towards those religions, but I've usually found it unremittingly lightweight and insufferably PC.

    Islam, on the other hand, does seem consistently over-represented - on the BBC, at least - and rarely critically, so I'm not really sure what Ahmed's problem is.

    1. I think the Chief Rabbi gets a free ride as well. The previous one was caught out writing a bigoted letter about a less than orthodox co-religionist. Had it been anyone else, that would have been the end of their association with the BBC.

      Actually I don't think I've ever heard or seen anything at all critical about orthodox Judaism on the BBC.

      Generally issues like the ban on outmarriage are completely ignored, despite it being such a clearly discrminatory policy.

    2. There's no actual religious ban on "marrying out" as such, but the miscreant would probably be excommunicated, or whatever - sometimes, in such cases, the immediate family go into mourning; the Religion of Peace does have a specific ban, but at least a Jew marrying out wouldn't need to fear being summarily slaughtered by co-religionists.

      The other case concerned the funeral of the widely-respected Hugo Gryn, rabbi of the West London synagogue. Chief Rabbi Sacks refused to go to the funeral as Gryn was merely a Reform Jew, for which he was widely (and, I think, rightly) criticized across the whole spectrum of the Jewish community.

  4. Agreed about Drama Schama's documentary about the Jews. He wasn't far wrong, but there was so much whining, so much playing the petulant victim and mugging for the camera, I was turned off completely. Not an attractive pose for Jews at all.

    As for Ahmed's problem, he's saying that there needs to be more programming promoting the idea that the vast majority are Thoroughly Modern Mohammedans, peace and social justice their creed, and reinforcing the Tiny Minority™ narrative.

    1. I think that part of the BBC belief system is that, just as there is an uncontroversial "Muslim identity" at ease with the modern world, so there is a Jewish one, whereas of course the reality is there is essentially a huge divide between the Jewish tradition that long ago made its peace with the modern world and the Torah-literalists of traditional Judaism.

      The idea that people who refuse to let their children marry out of their religion have any connection with civilised values in a modern society seems to me absurd. That is a basic requirement of all people in our society, whatever their belief system, that they should allow their children to make free choices about their futures.

    2. There is, of course, a significant percentage of ultra-orthodox Jews who keep their children from having much contact with civilization. But they don't teach their children the same kind of hatred. Also, while there is significant pressure on children - particularly women - to stay within the fold and not leave the closed community, there is never a fear of being killed over it. They may disown their children, rend their garments, and never speak to them, but Jews don't have the same barbaric "honor" culture.

      Of course, Jews haven't lived as barbaric tribal cavemen for millennia.


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