WHAT would any outside observer think of a company which after a ‘competitive recruitment process’ continually appointed individuals from the same socio/cultural/religious grouping? Is it possible to conclude that the company had an agenda?
The BBC, after a long delay which caused a former World Service religious affairs correspondent to question its commitment to religious broadcasting, has appointed a new Religion Editor, Aleem Maqbool. It announced that ‘following a competitive recruitment process . . . Aleem will take the lead on the BBC’s expert analysis and insight on the major themes and issues affecting different faiths in the UK and around the world’. Currently BBC News North American Correspondent, Maqbool is a journalist of considerable experience having also reported from Pakistan, Gaza/West Bank and Egypt. He is due to take up his post early this spring.
He follows the disgraced Martin Bashir who stepped down last year with serious health issues. Bashir’s decision may also have been influenced by the resurfacing of the controversy surrounding his fabrication of evidence to procure the infamous interview with Princess Diana which made his name internationally known and helped procure lucrative employment in the American media.
During his stay in the USA he was forced to resign from the cable TV channel MSNBC having made ‘ill-judged’ comments about Sarah Palin, governor of Alaska and vice-presidential candidate. When even MSNBC, who are notorious for their one-sided journalism, are forced to take note of your behaviour, you must be out-on-a-limb biased.
Despite the scandals which seemed to follow him, Bashir eventually returned to the UK to work for the BBC once again. Fabricating evidence, which was known by the BBC in 1996, long before Bashir left for America in 1999, and being crudely partial were no obstacles to the BBC top brass thinking you were just the man to be Religion Editor.
Bashir had followed Aaqil Ahmed to the top job in BBC religious broadcasting. In 2009 the BBC had appointed Ahmed to what was then termed Head of Religion and Ethics. His time in charge was dogged by controversy, particularly his outspoken commitment to multicultural broadcasting and his perceived bias against Christianity. Ahmed responded to Church of England complaints about the lack of religious broadcasting by saying the C of E was ‘living in the past’. This was at a time when overall volume of programming had doubled and religious output on BBC television had fallen. A strange case of reverse empire-building.
Although our country was founded on Christian values Ahmed also thought Christianity should not be treated any differently from Islam or other religions. Mark Thompson, then Director General, only slightly disagreed. Thompson thought Islam should be treated more sensitively by the media than Christianity because Muslims are a religious minority in Britain and, as such, their faith should be given different coverage from that of more established faith groups. Ahmed left in 2016 after the BBC axed the role of Head of Religion and Ethics and replaced it with an executive team.
In 2017 the BBC promoted Fatima Salaria and put her in charge of commissioning religious output. Salaria was best known for commissioning Muslims Like Us, a reality-style show, plus a series of programmes about radicalisation. She had already faced a backlash in 2016 after giving Abdul Haqq, a convicted fraudster and former boxing champion, a platform on Muslims Like Us. Haqq, previously known as Anthony Small, was a member of the inner circle of the notorious hate preacher Anjem Choudary. Before going on the programme Haqq had openly expressed support for ISIS.
Professor Anthony Glees, of the Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies, was of the opinion that ‘if a BBC executive makes a programme that is notorious and then the BBC promotes them, it tells me that the BBC has in that area lost its moral compass’. Nevertheless the corporation, never willing to admit a mistake, defended their choice of candidate. A spokesman said: ‘People should be judged by their ability to do the job, not their religious background. Fatima was appointed as she is an extremely talented commissioner.’
There has been an undeniable decline in Christian adherence in recent years and a growth of Islam. This, however, is not as radical as the BBC appears to think. According to the Office for National Statistics, in 2011, the last census for which we have results, 59.3 per cent of the population of England and Wales still self-identified as Christian, with only 4.8 per cent identifying as Muslim, whilst in Scotland only 1.4 per cent identified as Muslim.
The last three people in charge of religious broadcasting and a commissioning editor appointed by the BBC have been British Asians, three of them Muslims and one from a Muslim family. Even in a day when only 59 per cent of the population self-identify as Christians, can we seriously believe that since 2009 there were no suitably qualified Christian candidates for these posts? In the meantime, from a Muslim population of at most 4.8 per cent, suitable candidates seem to abound.
This could be understood as the usual BBC endeavour to celebrate diversity and multiculturalism. However, there are grounds for seeing it as more than merely an attempt to make amends for perceived bias in the past by reverse bias today, mistaken though that would be. It could be seen as a deliberate expression of the scorn which those in the upper echelons of the BBC hold towards Christianity and the British values which come from it, and the promotion and normalisation of Islam.
It would appear that the BBC has a clear agenda to emphasise a small minority of society over the majority, nevertheless expecting that we should gladly continue to pay a licence fee in its support, whether we agree with such policies or not.