Newspaper calls for non-religious voices on radio faith slot

By staff writers
November 23, 2007

The Guardian newspaper has joined a growing list of people calling on the BBC to open its Radio 4 Thought for the Day slot to non-religious as well as religious voices. TFTD is broadcast on the flagship Today programme at 07.50 each day.

The liberal newspaper was supportive of the feature, which has drawn criticism from those who sometimes accuse it of cliche.

"[B]eyond serving as a yardstick for progress through the grey morning, the three-minute soliloquy - described as "reflections from a faith perspective on ... the news" - is a respite from the ping-pong debates elsewhere on Today. Just as the programme is hotting up, Thought calms things down", said the Guardian in a comment slot on 22 November 2007.

It continued: "[T]he slot's value is in dealing with faith as a philosophical inquiry. It is a tricky task: combining philosophical rigour with the demands of addressing a large, revved-up audience. Thought manages that balancing act more than critics allow."

But it adds: "Just one thing: the slot should include non-religious contributors. That would be more representative of society - and it would improve the quality of Thought."

This is a call which has been made by the British Humanist Association and many others in recent years. The religious think tank Ekklesia, whose co-director Jonathan Bartley has appeared on Thought for the Day, has backed an inclusive slot.

Bartley's colleague Simon Barrow re-iterated the call at a lecture meeting on "Does a modern, plural society require a neutral state?" at the RSA earlier this month. Dr Indarjit Singh, another speaker and TFTD contributor, said he would have no objection.

The slot's producers have opposed the idea of non-religious voices on Thought for the Day, saying that it's spiritual and faith-based tenor is essential to its identity.

On one occasion Professor Richard Dawkins gave the Thought, but he deepened concerns that it would simply become a row about religion.

However supporters of the change say that a feature focussing on positive and reflective approaches to living a good life can and should accommodate non-religious as well as religious contributors, while retaining its distinctiveness.

Some believers have argued that most of the rest of the BBC's output is 'secular', but the BHA and others point out that general broadcasting does not necessarily reflect a humanist perspective any more than it does a Christian or other religious one.

Also on Ekklesia: Slotting in religion; Losing our (radio) religion?; Why we need to rid ourselves of the 'god of the slots'; Opening up BBC's Thought for the Day, 27 Apr 2007.

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.