By Hilary White

LONDON, May 27, 2010 ( – Religion is regarded as a “tiresome” subject to BBC executives, says a veteran BBC television broadcaster who has called for the publicly funded corporation to overhaul its presentation of religious issues.

Roger Bolton, a long-time editor of news programming and currently the presenter of Radio 4's Feedback, said, “BBC, television (unlike BBC radio) seems to be in the hands of the secular and sceptical, who view religious coverage as a rather tiresome obligation to be minimised rather than a rich and promising area to explore.”

Bolton, speaking at the Sandford St Martin Trust Awards, which recognize excellence in religious broadcasting, said the BBC needs to hire a knowledgeable religion editor and bring a more spiritual perspective to general news stories.

The job of such a religion editor, he said, would be to “bring a religious perspective to the vast range of areas such as foreign affairs and medical dilemmas where that perspective is so often, and so bafflingly, absent, both on air and behind the scenes in internal editorial discussions.”

Bolton praised the BBC’s new commissioning editor of religion, Aaqil Ahmed, a Muslim, for his “proven record of success in his previous job at Channel 4,” but said his scope for religious programming is limited.

A BBC spokesman responded to Bolton’s remarks, calling the corporation’s commitment to religious broadcasting “unequivocal.”

“There is no downward trend in our religion and ethics television output, with over 164 hours broadcast last year, and this year our investment in festival programming on BBC1 – which marks major religious festivals – has increased,” she said.

But British media’s anti-Christian and anti-conservative bias has been increasingly commented upon in recent years. Last year, BBC radio presenter Jeremy Vine, a practicing Anglican, told Reform Magazine that it has become “almost socially unacceptable to say you believe in God.”

“You can’t express views that were common currency 30 or 40 years ago,” he said, adding that he is unable to discuss his faith on air. “One of the things that I think, which may sound bizarre, is that Christ is who he said he was,” he said. “I don’t think I’d put that out on my show; I suppose there’s a bit of a firewall between thinking that and doing the job I do.”

The appointment of Ahmed as head of religious broadcasting at the BBC last year raised criticism from some religious leaders, who have said that the BBC, the dominant broadcaster in a majority Christian country, has a systemic bias against Christianity.

Don Maclean, one of Radio 2's most popular religious presenters, said that BBC executive programming chiefs routinely take a “negative angle at every opportunity” for Christianity, focusing only on homosexual clergy and clerical sexual abuse, a treatment that does not extend to other faiths like Islam.

He called Ahmend’s appointment “worrying” and said the corporation treats religion like a 'freak show.” Maclean said, “They’re keen on Islam, they’re keen on programmes that attack the Christian church.”

“I think there’s a secularist movement in this country to get rid of Christianity.  Something must be done,” he added.  

Peter Hitchens, an author and columnist for the Daily Mail on religious and social issues and regarded by the British media to be a “conservative,” last week wrote on anti-conservative bias in the British publishing industry. Hitchens, the brother of radical atheist campaigner Christopher Hitchens, related the story of being told by a senior BBC executive “to abandon any hope of getting any more than occasional appearances as a tolerated right-winger.”

“I am most unlikely to be asked to present a BBC programme again… I was at one stage considered as a possible regular panellist for ‘The Moral Maze’ on Radio 4, but this was vetoed at quite a high level. The people who make these decisions are not accountable to anyone for them, as far as I know,” he said.