Secular Thought for the Day decision expected

The BBC Trust is expected to announce within weeks a decision on whether to allow secular and humanist views on its Radio 4 slot, Thought for the Day.

Secularists argue that their views should feature during the three-minute religious slot but critics say that the Today Programme, which it features in, is already dominated by a secular viewpoint for 177 minutes.

Radio 4’s controller Mark Damazer revealed on a listeners’ forum in July that there could be a “strong argument for including secularists and humanists” on the slot.

Mr Damazer’s comments sparked criticism of the BBC’s attitude to religious broadcasting.

Thought for the Day is a regular three minute religious slot on Radio 4’s Today Programme. Contributors represent a wide spectrum of faiths.

But secularists are claiming that the BBC could be in breach of equality law if they refuse to allow a secular voice on the show.

Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society said: “Thought for the Day is a rebuke to the BBC guidelines that promise balance and a fair hearing for everyone”.

He said: “It is the only contentious programme on radio where the speakers face no challenge”, and suggested, “If it can’t be opened to a wider range of voices, it should be taken off the air.”

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.”

The Revd Giles Fraser, canon chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral, believes the slot’s survival is all the more remarkable given that it has been under constant attack.

Esther Rantzen, the broadcaster, said: “I think the clattering conveyor-belt of news threatens to deafen us all. Life is so pressured these days that just to stop for a moment should be a gift.”

In July a cross-party group of MPs said the Radio 4 programme should remain a religious slot, and not 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 BBC has been frequently accused of a bias against Christians and Christian values.

In September the Conservative spokesman for culture, Jeremy Hunt, called for the BBC to actively seek to redress its “innate liberal bias”.

Earlier this year BBC presenter Jeremy Vine said he believed that Christ is who he said he was, but didn’t think he would be allowed to say so on air.

He told Reform Magazine that it has become “almost socially unacceptable to say you believe in God”.

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