BBC rejects secular Thought for the Day

The BBC has rejected demands from atheists that they should muscle in on Radio 4’s three-minute religious slot, Thought for the Day.

“It would be like allowing hockey on Match of the Day, which does not make any sense” said Revd Giles Fraser who welcomed the decision.

Secularists had complained that the religious slot breached BBC guidelines on impartiality.

But critics said Radio 4’s Today Programme, which includes the Thought for the Day slot, is already dominated by secular opinion.

The BBC Trust, the BBC’s governing body, rejected the complaints from secularists.

Instead the Trust said changes to the slot would be a “matter of discretion” for the corporation’s Director General Mark Thompson and his executives to decide.

Richard Tait, chairman of the BBC Trust editorial standards committee (ESC), said: “We understand that some people feel strongly about this issue and have given it careful consideration.

“However, we have concluded that the current arrangements do not breach BBC editorial guidelines and specifically requirements of due impartiality in content.

“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.”

A Radio 4 spokesman said: “We note the trust’s findings with interest”, but added that there “are currently no plans to make any changes to Thought for the Day”.

Religious groups welcomed the BBC Trust’s ruling to reject secular and humanist views on Radio 4′s three-minute ‘God Slot’.

A Church of England spokesman said: “We are glad that the BBC Trust has protected a unique slot in Radio 4′s schedule where religious views from across the faith communities of the UK can be expressed openly.

“Thought for the Day is highly valued by people of all faiths and none as a distinctive slot that, if diluted, would have become nothing more than just another comment slot.”

Revd Giles Fraser, canon chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral, said he was “delighted” and that it was “the right decision to keep the slot distinctive”.

“The minute something loses its distinctiveness, then it dies”, he warned.

The Trust’s decision has angered secular and humanist groups who have been campaigning for the slot to be opened up to their views.

Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society, said he was “very disappointed” by the decision and they would continue to campaign to “open it up” to other groups.

Andrew Copson, Director of Education and Public Affairs at the British Humanist Association, objected to the ruling and said “we can see no good reason whatever why humanists are barred from making their contribution”.

Earlier this month Lord Birt, a former Director General of the BBC, supported secularist complaints calling for the broadcaster to let atheists muscle in on Thought for the Day.

But in July a cross-party group of MPs signed an Early Day Motion urging for Thought for the Day to remain a religious slot.

The motion argued that since “the United Kingdom is founded on Christian principles”, the BBC should maintain the tradition of religious speakers on Thought for the Day.

When the BBC Trust announced in July that it would review the slot and possibly allow secular and humanist speakers, current contributors were quick to reject the idea.

Regular Thought for the Day speaker Christina Rees said she thought the Today Programme was already secular enough.

She said: “Devoting 177 minutes to coverage of world events from a default secular position, it is entirely reasonable to devote three minutes to comments on news which reflect an understanding of humanity and life that includes the spiritual.”

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