BBC News needs a religion editor, says Roger Bolton

Bolton spoke at the Sandford St Martin Trust Awards.

Roger Bolton, veteran presenter of BBC Radio 4's Feedback show, has called on the BBC to appoint a religion editor to reverse a "key weakness" in the corporation's output.

Delivering the opening address last night at the Sandford St Martin Trust Awards, which recognise religious broadcasting, Bolton expressed dismay at the lack of entries for the main awards from ITV, Sky or Channel 5.

Bolton said it was tempting to lay blame for this on the on virtual elimination of public service regulation in the commercial sector.

However, he also rounded on BBC television for its lack of religious programming, saying it seemed to be in the hands of "the secular and sceptical, who view religious coverage as a rather tiresome obligation to be minimised rather than a rich and promising area to explore".

While praising the recent appointment of commissioning editor of religion, Aaqil Ahmed, Bolton was doubtful of the impact he could have.

"His playing field is more the size of a fives court than a football pitch," he told the ceremony at Lambeth Palace, in London, last night.

He said BBC News needed to appoint a religious affairs editor to explain stories to the public in a similar way to business editor Robert Peston.

"When the much maligned John Birt - I never thought I would utter those words - set about restructuring BBC news and current affairs in a somewhat blunt and perhaps unnecessarily bloody way, he correctly identified a real weakness in the coverage of finance and business," Bolton said.

"His solution was to create BBC editors with real budgets and power at the heart of the news machine and with guaranteed access to the airwaves. Hence Jeff Randall and now Robert Preston, who have transformed the coverage.

"I believe BBC news similarly requires a religion editor, able to appear on the networks to interpret the latest religious story at home and abroad, but more importantly to bring a religious perspective to the vast range of areas such as foreign affairs and medical dilemmas where that perspective is so often, and so bafflingly, absent, both on air and behind the scenes in internal editorial discussions."

Oliver Luft writes for the Press Gazette.