BBC to axe head of religion post

The BBC is to axe the post of its head of religion as part of a move to streamline commissioning and cut costs.

The commissioning role of Aaqil Ahmed is one of four jobs that will go under a restructuring that will also see three new jobs created, including the post of head of science, business, history and religion.

Mr Ahmed, who is also head of religion and ethics which includes in-house programmes such as Songs of Praise and which he will continue to do, has been invited to apply for the new commissioning post.

The BBC in-house journal Ariel reported that Ahmed - the man behind The Ottomans - splits his time between commissioning and his role as head of religion and ethics.

Emma Swain, the controller of factual commissioning, said the changes were necessary because of savings targets in television and the fact that there will be fewer hours commissioned overall.

In an email to staff, she said: "I want to shape a factual commissioning team with fewer leaders, clearer distinction between roles, greater alignment with channels and external stakeholders and greater flexibility."

Bishop of Bradford Nick Baines said on his blog that the restructuring is aimed both at saving money and to prepare for the closure of BBC3.

He writes: "This might all make perfect sense and be a rational and productive structural change within the BBC. But, in the absence of more detail, it also raises important questions."

He asks who will take overall responsibility in the BBC for the range, quantity and quality of the religious coverage, and warns it could be left as a sort of "fill in" content. He asks: "Why is there no BBC news religion editor to complement the science, economics, business, political, financial, arts and sports editors?"

Bishop Baines argues that it is impossible to understand politics, economics, military and humanitarian events without understanding religion so it should be prioritised as needing expert interpretation in the public and broadcast sphere.

The cuts are expected to save about £700 million by 2017.

Father Christopher Jamison, former Abbot of Worth who was involved in BBC television's The Monastery, welcomed the move. He told The Tablet that it could mean a wider variety of voices being heard.

Mr Ahmed has been an outspoken critic of religious illiteracy in modern Britain. He believes programmes such as Songs of Praise should remain exclusively Christian and opposes moves for atheists to do Thought For the Day. He has a record of broadening the corporation's coverage to do more on other faiths besides Christianity and recently commissioned a three-part series for BBC4 on the teachings of Buddha, Confucius and Socrates.