Agnostic to Oversee BBC´s Programming on Religion

Predecessor Accused Media Outlet of «Dancing to a Secular Tune»

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LONDON, JULY 12, 2001 ( British Broadcasting Corporation has appointed a self-proclaimed agnostic to oversee its programming on religion and ethics, the Times reported.

Alan Bookbinder describes himself as “an open-hearted, open-minded agnostic” and is the son of a Jewish father and a Catholic mother. He is the first nonbeliever in the post. The last holder, the Reverend Ernest Rea, quit last December, accusing BBC of sidelining religion and “dancing to a secular tune.”

Bookbinder, a program-maker responsible for award-winning series such as «The Human Body and Brain Story,» acknowledged that he was not an active member of any faith.

“I don’t rule it out happening one day, but I have not had personal experience of God, of an absolute or a sublime being,” he said, according to the Times.

Bookbinder, 45, said he was looking forward to meeting religious leaders to discuss their worries that BBC’s commitment to religious broadcasting had slipped: «It does seem that there is a perception, which I would challenge, that the BBC has somehow wavered in its commitment. I don’t see that.»

Some senior Anglicans expressed doubts.

John Barton, archdeacon of Aston, said the implications of an agnostic being appointed to the post were «quite extraordinary.» He said: «To be committed to that job you need to believe not only in the validity of the subject but also in its supreme importance. God cannot be treated as one manager among many at the executive board table.»

But a spokesman for the Anglican Church, the Reverend Jonathan Jennings, said the church was keeping an open mind and was «moderately relaxed» about Bookbinder’s appointment. He would be judged on his output and «whether adventurous religious programming would be properly scheduled rather than going to the 11 p.m. slot.»

Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said: “We welcome the fact that the BBC has chosen someone who is actively engaged in a spiritual search and may well give religious broadcasting a place in the mainstream of public debate. An unconventional choice may be precisely what religion needs if it to regain its force in a secular age.»

Jim McDonnell, head of the Catholic Communications Center, said he would give Bookbinder «the benefit of the doubt at this stage.»

Bookbinder has worked on programs with religious and ethical as well as scientific themes, and dealt with ethical issues as chief adviser in the BBC Editorial Policy Unit.

«I am a passionate believer that spiritual and ethical issues are central to people’s lives,» he said, adding that the marriage of his parents — both of whom had a firm belief in their own religions — meant that “from an early age I had experience of some of the tensions that strong faith throws up.”

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