BBC Trust blocks atheists on Thought for the Day

Thought for the Day will remain closed to atheists and humanists, after the BBC Trust rejected accusations that the Radio 4 programme is in breach of editorial guidelines.

The regulator said it was a ???matter of discretion??? for director general Mark Thompson and the BBC executive to decide whether to keep the religious slot as it is, or to change it to include non-religious perspectives.

The ruling follows complaints from lobby groups, who said the policy of only allowing speakers from mainstream faiths amounted to discrimination, and that it was inappropriate for a religious programme to air as part of the Today programme, which is focused on news and current affairs.

Richard Tait, chairman of the Trust???s editorial standards committee, noted that ???some people strongly about this issue??? but argued that the status quo is not in breach of the guidelines and that any future complaints should be dealt with on a case by case basis rather than with a blanket ruling.

???We recognise that there may be cases in the future where concerns are raised about content on Thought for the Day, however, these should be dealt with as and when they arise in line with other editorial matters and procedures,??? he said.

Many BBC staff feel an exclusively religious Thought for the Day is anachronistic and that it should host non-religious speakers such as humanists ??? but fear such a move would open the floodgates to other, more marginal faiths such Scientologists.

However, the ruling is likely to anger lobby groups, who have already suggested that the BBC may be in breach of equality law and not just its own editorial guidelines.

The National Secular Society, which lodged one of the original complaints to the Trust, immediately rejected the decision as a ???blatant an abuse of religious privilege??? and vowed to pursue new ways of forcing the BBC to invite secular speakers onto the two-minute programme.

Terry Sanderson, president of the organisation, said: ???This decision says to [non-religious people] that their ???thoughts??? are not worth hearing and that somehow religious opinions are more worthy of a special, unchallengeable platform.

???Whether it???s euthanasia or gay rights, abortion or foreign aid, the religious speakers have a platform on the flagship news programme to put a biased point of view that no-one can question them about. Nobody else on the Today programme can get away with that.???

???We will be looking at other ways of challenging this unjustifiable slot.???

Readers’ comments


  • Anonymous | 17-Nov-2009 12:31 pm

    Some of the greatest thoughts in history have come from humanists and atheists…

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  • Anonymous | 17-Nov-2009 12:41 pm

    Good, I’m glad the athiests and the humanists have been blocked from this tiny section of the Today programme. If I wanted to hear what a person with no spiritual compass thought about a recent global event I’d hold a conversation with myself.

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  • Simon Scott | 17-Nov-2009 2:18 pm

    I’m not sure how they can suggest that having atheists on would open the floodgates for marginal faiths. The last census found that 7.7% of people were “of no religion”. This compares with 3.1% Muslim; 1.1& Hindu; .7% sikh and .5% Jewish and .3% Buddhist. If Tait wants his position taken seriously, he should set a bar and live by it, like they do with Question Time.

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I’ve always said that if I want to hear secular views I can listen to acres of output on most broadcast programmes. It does no harm to hear from someone who can “lift our eyes above the mundane to the transcendent” – to quote a former Head Religious Broadcasting at the BBC – Colin Morris.

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