Retired MP and Strictly star says BBC religion coverage has 'improved vastly' since Aquil Ahmed took over two years ago

The BBC has become less anti-Catholic under a Muslim head of religious programming, according to former Conservative Minister Ann Widdecombe.

Miss Widdecombe said that since Aquil Ahmed was appointed two years ago the BBC’s religious coverage had “improved vastly”.

Speaking to the Irish Catholic, she said: “He isn’t a Christian but he understands faith, he understands religion.

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“I’ve recently done a few programmes for the BBC, which I’ve been allowed to do absolutely straight – no agenda at all, … not slanted or sarcastic or anything. I think it’s helpful we’ve got somebody there who understands what faith is about.”

But she said it was “undeniable” that the BBC had a Leftwing bias.

“Yes, it caters for Christians – and that is undeniable – it’s got its religious programming, it’s got ‘Songs of Praise’ … but in commentary and debate it is weighted the other way,” she said.

Miss Widdecombe said that over the last decade or so Britain’s attitude towards Christianity had changed “from indifference to active marginalisation” – and that persecution was not too strong a word to describe the way Christians were being treated.

“When you’ve got an airline which can seriously say that a Muslim can wear a hijab, a Sikh can wear a friendship bangle or indeed a turban (in the case of men) but a Christian may not wear a cross, then you have got something that is very difficult to say is not persecution,” she said.

“These days [a doctor or nurse] can’t even say to a patient, ‘I’ll pray for you.’ There was a time when the response would have been ‘thank you,’ because that is the polite response. Now, it’s to put in a complaint and get the worker sacked.”

Miss Widdecombe retired from politics last year and spent 10 weeks as a contestant in the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing. She turned down the chance to become Britain’s ambassador to the Holy See because she had to have emergency surgery to her eye.

In her interview, Miss Widdecombe also praised the Catholic Voices initiative during the papal visit, and said the Church was “useless” at PR. During the abuse crisis, she said, the Church “never stood up for itself”.

“It didn’t point out that the biggest abuse actually happens within families; it happens in scout groups, choirs, anywhere you care to look – the teaching profession – there is nothing unique about it to the Catholic Church,” she said.

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