BBC Downplays Religion, Says Ex-staffer Says

Calls Former Bosses «Children of the 1960s and ´70s»

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LONDON, APR. 29, 2001 ( The minister who quit as head of religion and ethics at the BBC in December has accused his former employers of sidelining religion and «dancing to a secular agenda,» the Telegraph reported today.

The controllers of British television are «children of the 1960s and ´70s» who think that «the notion of God is a nonsense,» said the Reverend Ernest Rea, in his first public comments since his departure.

BBC officials dislike religious broadcasting because it diverts funds from their favored projects, and they «often mistakenly» believe it will not draw big audiences, Rea added.

He is particularly critical of Jane Root, the controller of BBC2, who he says has failed to commission a single religious program in two years, a «failure that deserves an explanation.» The decision of the 55-year-old Presbyterian minister from Northern Ireland to resign reignited a long-running controversy over the BBC´s commitment to religious broadcasting.

Rea´s comments came in this month´s Reform, the magazine of the United Reform Church. Rea, who oversaw the BBC´s religious output for 12 years, praised the state of religious broadcasting on radio, describing «The Moral Maze» as one of «the jewels in Radio 4´s crown.» He asked: «Why is there not a similar success story to be told in television? Why is ´Songs of Praise´ the one religious program in British television which regularly plays in peak time?»

The Anglican Church´s General Synod has set up a monitoring unit to scrutinize the quantity, quality and scheduling of religious programs. A report will be published in the autumn.

A spokesman for BBC dismissed Rea´s criticism of Jane Root, saying that she had recently commissioned a new series of religion-based programs, the Telegraph said. The spokesman also pointed to recent successes such as «Son of God,» the BBC1 series broadcast over Easter in the prime-time slot of 9 p.m., the newspaper said.

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