Poll finds public backs reform of BBC Radio 4’s 'Thought for the Day'

By agency reporter
July 31, 2018

New research suggests the British public backs reform of Radio 4’s Thought for the Day so it no longer features only religious voices.

The survey, undertaken by Censuswide and commissioned by the National Secular Society, found that fewer than one in five British people think the slot should always feature religious content. 

The findings have prompted calls for reform from figures including the philosopher AC Grayling.

More than half of the British public is ambivalent as to whether the programme should still be broadcast by BBC Radio 4, and only just over a third believe it should be retained. One in 10 think it should be scrapped altogether.

Overall, the poll of 2,003 British adults found that:

  • When asked whether they agreed or disagreed that BBC Radio 4’s Thought for the Day should always feature religious content, only 18 per cent agreed.
  • Thought for the Day is increasingly seen as an irrelevance, with 54 per cent neither agreeing nor disagreeing with the statement: ‘BBC Radio 4 should still broadcast a daily Thought for the Day’. 10 per cent of respondents disagreed with the statement.

The findings illuminate the disconnect between the broadcast in its current form and what the British public would like to see featured in it.

Commenting on the polling, the National Secular Society said it was time for the BBC to take on board their listeners’ views, particularly when it comes to the religious elements of the show.

The chief executive of the NSS, Stephen Evans, has now written to the director of radio and education at the BBC, James Purnell, urging him to consider reform of the show by turning into “an ethical current affairs reflection slot” rather than a programme that “excludes non-religious voices, reinforces prejudice and discrimination and is widely regarded as irrelevant by a majority of the British public.” 

Commenting on the polling, NSS chief executive Stephen Evans said: “Thought for the Day has historically been presented as a way for the British public to reflect on moral issues, but it is clear that the programme in its current form does not resonate with the public. This is particularly true when it comes to religion’s role in the show.

“By explicitly excluding non-religious voices the show is alienating vast swathes of the British public, reinforcing prejudice and blatantly discriminating against non-believers. The BBC should reform the broadcast into a secular current affairs reflection slot, with contributors selected on merit and without reference to their religious outlook. In this way, the BBC could re-engage its listeners on important ethical questions.” 

National Secular Society honorary associate and philosopher AC Grayling said: “In today’s society, it is more important than ever that the British public engages with important ethical questions. Secularists are keen to support this, but it can only be done by exploring these issues through secular and inclusive discussion and debate.”

* The National Secular Society works for the separation of religion and state and equal respect for everyone's human rights, so that no one is either advantaged or disadvantaged on account of their beliefs. https://www.secularism.org.uk/


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