BBC Religion coverage a 'mess' and 'dangerously out of touch', says former presenter

The BBC's religion coverage 'is dangerously out of touch with faith communities', according to a former Sunday programme presenter.

Roger Bolton blasted the BBC in a comment for the Church Times on Friday after it was revealed the Religion and Ethics department in Salford would fold.

BBC Radio 4Roger Bolton was a presenter on the BBC Radio 4's Sunday programme for 12 years

It came after the BBC removed its guarantee to produce Songs of Praise in house and then lost on a three-year contract bid to a joint pitch from Avanti Media and Nine Lives Media.

'With our Songs of Praise team set to [transfer] across to Avanti/Nine Lives in July, we have now decided to close most of the remaining staff roles in the department. It means we will no longer have a permanent Religion and Ethics department in Salford,' Lisa Opie, director of factual at BBC Studios wrote in a leaked email to all staff last Monday.

'Moving forward, we intend to continue to use Salford as a base to make some Religion and Ethics programmes. These will be on a seasonal basis, staffed mostly by freelancers. We'll also make some Religion and Ethics programmes in Glasgow.'

Bolton, who presented Radio 4's Sunday programme on religious affairs from 1998 to January 2010, accused the BBC of being 'not fit for purpose in this vital public-service area'.

Writing for the Church Times he labeled the broadcaster's religious coverage a 'mess' and said: 'Although it is now finally trying to develop such a strategy, it is dangerously late in doing so.

'There are real doubts about whether it has the will or ability to implement an effective response.'

Bolton, a trustee for the Sandford St Martin Trust, was joined by the charity's chair, the Bishop of Leeds in condemning the decision. Nick Baines said the loss 'poses serious questions for the BBC'.