Time for the religious to kick the broadcasting habit

Time for the religious to kick the broadcasting habit

REPORT HIGHLIGHTS DECADES LONG OPPOSITION FROM CHURCH LEADERS TO DEVELOPMENT OF BBC RADIO 4's THOUGHT FOR THE DAY

London, UK - NOV 6, 2009 A new paper released today by the religion and society think-tank Ekklesia highlights how, since its origins in the wartime programming of World War Two, the extension of BBC Radio 4's Thought for the Day (TFTD) beyond their own voices has been resisted by Church leaders.

The release of the paper and the accompanying call for fairness comes as the BBC Trust considers a complaint about the exclusion of non-religious voices from the famous two-and-a-half-minute slot, part of the flagship news programme Today.

Both religious and non-religious listeners are urging the BBC to recognise that just as it has been expanded beyond Christian contributors to include other faiths, so it would be entirely appropriate in a mixed-belief society to hear the values, beliefs and moral convictions of humanists and others - including the many who call themselves 'spiritual but not religious'.

Ekklesia co-director Jonathan Bartley was a Christian contributor to Thought for the Day, but was dropped by the producers of the slot after he appeared on the BBC's Today Programme and called for the non- religious to be included.

The new paper traces how the origins of TFTD came in a context of BBC religious broadcasting which was originally viewed as 'evangelistic and missionary'.

TFTD began as Lift Up Your Hearts, an innovation of extending religious programmes beyond Sunday into the working week. The original contributors were overwhelmingly Christian and Anglican. The slot's rebranding in 1965 to the more nominally neutral Ten to Eight was designed to reflect the changing beliefs of the listenership. But it was opposed by some in the Anglican Church as part of a general withdrawal of the BBC from its position as a central broadcaster in a 'Christian country'.

The paper also highlights how a number of other BBC radio stations, in particular regional programmes, have output which is similar to TFTD. But these successfully include contributions from the non- religious, as well as 'minority' religions, raising further questions about why TFTD has not followed suit.

Anglicans or those with direct links to Anglicanism still overwhelmingly dominate amongst those who contribute to TFTD, the paper points out.

Speaking about the release of the paper Ekklesia's Jonathan Bartley said: "While many religious people have opposed the development of Thought for the Day both historically and today, there are also many who have recognised the need for equality of religion and belief, as in other areas of life.

"Religion does itself no favours by seeking maintain a privileged place in broadcasting. For many religions advantaging yourself against others goes against core teachings, which call for fairness and equality.

"There would be outrage if a BBC sports slot omitted to include coverage of several significant sports because they didn't consider them 'sporty' enough. It is absurd that the exclusion of minor religions, humanists and others has continued unchallenged for so long."

ENDS

Notes to Editors
1. Ekklesia's new paper on Thought for the Day by Lizzie Cliford is available at:
http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/research/thought_for_the_day

2. See also: The Politics of Thought for the Day: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/8302

3. Formed in 2001, Ekklesia was listed by The Independent newspaper in 2005 as among 20 influential UK think-tanks. According to Alexa/Amazon, it has one of the most-visited religious current affairs websites in Britain. It runs a news and comment service, examining religion in public life, and raises £250,000 a year for peace & justice causes