And for some this is a huge problem because religious programming forms part of his job of Radio and Education Director, and they are calling for his resignation.
Purnell, who was appointed to the job in 2016, is reportedly now at the centre of a row after he told listeners to Radio 4’s Today programme this week that he was not a religious man.
According to this report, the ex-Labour MP was speaking to presenter Nick Robinson about the BBC’s commitment to setting up a new unit for improving religious coverage, but “stunned” listeners when he declared his atheism.
Robinson asked him, “Are you a religious man?” to which a “flustered” Purnell replied:
I’m not. I’m an atheist but I think the issues around belief are incredibly important to how we live.
Robinson asked him:
Is that not a problem though? You are head of the BBC’s religious programming, you got the job because the BBC decided to abolish the post of head of religious programming as a separate post usually held by a Christian, recently held by a Muslim.
An “increasingly tetchy” Purnell, 47, replied:
The vast majority of people in this country have a range of views – some people have very strong religious views, some people have strong atheistic views. Actually, the people who work at the BBC have a wide range of views. We all have different views, we leave them at the door to make great programmes.
Among outraged listeners who now want him to resign from his role of scheduling religious output was Joan Winter, 50, of Warwick, who said:
How on earth can he devote any care or attention to religious content if he thinks it’s all nonsense? If Mr Purnell had an ounce of integrity he would resign and let someone more suited to the role take over.
The interview came as the BBC pledged to “raise our game” by increasing portrayal of all religions in mainstream shows. According to this report, it plans to increase prime-time coverage of non-Christian festivals including Rosh Hashanah and Passover as well as Eid and Diwali.
The corporation said the move was to address concerns that it does not reflect British society.
The plan includes proposals to inject more religious themes into mainstream TV and radio, with viewers seeing protagonists of popular dramas grappling with dilemmas caused by their faiths.
In addition, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Sikh holy days will be marked on popular, as opposed to specialist, programmes including The One Show and Chris Evans’s Radio 2 breakfast show.
The BBC report followed a year-long review that was told that people of all faiths were:
Often absent, poorly presented or satirised.