MPs: keep Thought for the Day religious

A cross-party group of MPs say Radio 4’s Thought for the Day should remain a religious slot, and not to be handed over to atheist commentators.

Twelve MPs signed an Early Day Motion submitted by Iris Robinson calling for the slot to retain its religous nature.

The Strangford MP tabled the motion which has also been signed by DUP party leader Peter Robinson, Labour MP Paul Murphy and Conservative MP Nicholas Winterton.

The motion argues 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 earlier this week that it would review the slot, current contributors were quick to reject the idea.

Regular Thought for the Day speaker Christina Rees said she thought the Today Programme is 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.”

“Over 80 per cent of people, if not more, have a faith and many more accept a spiritual dimension to life”, she added.

Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist speakers currently contribute to the broadcast but there are no atheist speakers.

Thought for the Day broadcasts for around three minutes at 7.45am on the Today Programme and has been a fixture for more than 30 years.

Revd Giles Fraser, Vicar of Putney and Thought for the Day contributor, said: “What is at threat here is whether this is a distinctive slot.

“It just seems madness. This could be a way of destroying it through the back door, through political correctness”, he added.

Revd Fraser continued: “I think it is very easy for people to read the BBC as backing away from religious broadcasting.

He said: “One of the main rules about the Thought for the Day slot is that contributors are not allowed to attack other faiths. If we had Richard Dawkins attacking and rubbishing religion, it would change the fundamental nature of it.”

A Church of England spokesman said: “We would strongly resist moves to add non-religious voices to one of the few protected spots in the schedule where religious views on issues of the day can be expressed openly. Thought for the Day is highly valued by people of all faiths and none.”

Leader of the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain, Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, said: “All faiths have been sidelined. Thought for the Day is practically the only place where you can hear religious thoughts and it is sad if this important outlet becomes marginalised.”

Radio 4 controller Mark Damazer had commented that the rules for who can speak on Thought for the Day may change.

“The BBC Trust is currently considering this question,” he told the Radio 4 programme Feedback. “They may well suggest we should take in a wider range of voices.”

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