Pope slot should prompt ‘Thought for the Day’ re-think

LONDON, December 22, 2010: The decision by the BBC to hand its flagship Radio 4 'Thought for The Day' slot to Pope Benedict on Christmas Eve shows the need to re-think the feature, says the Christian think-tank Ekklesia.

Ekklesia has published two detailed, independent reports on the much-discussed 'Thought', the second of which, ‘Beyond the god-of-the-slots’ (July 2010), says it should be opened up to a wider range of contributors – both religious and non-religious.

At present the short national radio feature, which offers a moral or spiritual take on current news or life today, is dominated by Christian contributors and explicitly excludes non-religious viewpoints.

“The BBC’s reluctance to countenance a broader and more imaginative approach to this important primetime broadcast slot is set into relief by the decision to hand it over to the Pope on Christmas Eve,” says Ekklesia co-director Simon Barrow.

“The pontiff used his recent UK visit to attack ‘aggressive secularism’. But Britain is a mixed belief society, and if we are ever going to get beyond insecure defensiveness towards our own convictions and antipathy towards others’ beliefs, we need features like 'Thought for the Day' to build bridges not barriers,” he added.

“Established religious leaders already have a strong voice in the media. But ethical non-believers and those from ‘alternative’ religious backgrounds equally deserve to be heard,” said Barrow. “An exclusive approach is unhelpful and counter-productive, setting people against each other rather than bringing them together in conversation.”

The continuing dispute over 'Thought for the Day' is a significant one, Ekklesia says, because it embodies wider questions about the place of religious broadcasting and of religious speech in an increasingly diverse society.

Ekklesia argues that Christians, in particular, need to learn to share media space with others rather than to hog it.

The thinktank points out that local and regional ‘Thought’ slots have been more diverse for some time, and says the 4Thought.TV sequence after Channel 4’s evening news shows how a more varied approach can be rich and creative.

ENDS

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Notes to Editors

1. Founded in 2001, Ekklesia examines politics, values and beliefs in a changing world, from a Christian perspective. It has been listed by The Independent newspaper among 20 influential UK think-tanks. According to Alexa/Amazon, it has one of the most-visited religion and politics / current affairs websites in Britain. More: http://ekklesia.co.uk/content/about/about.shtml

2. Further comment on this issue is available from Ekklesia co-director Simon Barrow (simonDOTbarrowATekklesiaDOTcoDOTuk)

3. Ekklesia's two reports, authored by researcher Lizzie Clifford, are: (1) ‘Thought for the Day’: Beyond the god-of-the-slots (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/thought_for_the_day/main_report), July 2010, and (2) Introduction to the 'Thought for the Day' debate (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/research/thought_for_the_day), November 2009.

4. This year's Ekklesia report on 'Thought for the Day' finds that:
* The majority of contributors at present are male Christians, and a significant number Oxbridge educated.
* 22% of Thoughts from theistic believers do not mention God in any form.
* Secular ideas are treated respectfully, but non-religious voices are puzzlingly excluded from 'Thought for the Day'.
* Explicit theological content is often absent, attenuated or consciously pragmatic.
* The concluding ‘message’ is invariably couched in terms that can be put into practice by the listener regardless of their creed, or lack of one.
* The potential for ethical and cultural bridge-building between belief communities is ingrained within many 'Thought for the Day' scripts and could be developed further.

5. Ekklesia's news, comment and analysis of 'Thought for the Day', going back to 2007, can be found here: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/tags/2185

6. Ekklesia co-director Jonathan Bartley was a past contributor to 'Thought for the Day' (http://tinyurl.com/39ot9au), but was removed from the slot after he publicly said that, as a Christian, he was in favour of opening it up to non-believers and minority religions as well as the major faiths.