BBC Trust says no to non-religious Thoughts for the Day
The Trust found that the editorial policy of only allowing religious contributors to participate on Thought for the Day does not breach either the BBC Editorial Guideline on impartiality or the BBC’s duty to reflect religious and other beliefs in its programming.
The National Secular Society has issued the following press release:
The BBC Trust has rejected complaints by the National Secular Society that the Thought for the Day slot is discriminatory because it fails to include non-religious voices.
The Trust says the three-minute slot, which features on the Today programme each morning, does not breach impartiality guidelines and is entitled to continue to exclude non-believers.
Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society which launched the appeal to the Trust, said: â€œNaturally we are very disappointed. This is a campaign we have been waging for fifty years, ever since Thought for the Day and its predecessors were first broadcast on the BBC. Every edition of Thought for the Day is a rebuke to those many people in our society who do not have religious beliefs. It says to them that their â€˜thoughtsâ€™ are not worth hearing and that somehow religious opinions are more worthy of a special, unchallengeable platform.â€
Mr Sanderson said that contributors on Thought for the Day often made political points at times when controversial issues are being debated in Parliament. He said: â€œWhether itâ€™s euthanasia or gay rights, abortion or foreign aid, the religious speakers have a platform on the flagship news programme to put a biased point of view that no-one can question them about. Nobody else on the Today programme can get away with that.â€
Mr Sanderson said that the campaign to open up Thought for the Day would continue. â€œThis is so blatant an abuse of religious privilege that we cannot simply let it pass. We have evidence that public opinion is heavily on our side and we will be looking at other ways of challenging this unjustifiable slot.
â€œThe BBC Trust has ruled that previous complaints about this religious bias have been mishandled and that the BBC should apologise. But it has done little better itself and has failed its first major test as the champion of the viewer and the upholder of the BBCâ€™s claims of impartiality and fairness.
Andrew Copson of the BHA issued the following statement:
What a shame that the BBC Trust has not found the exclusively religious slot of Thought for the Day to be in breach of editorial guidelines. This is a real missed opportunity to correct the ongoing injustice of the exclusion of non-religious speakers on the programme. We can see no good reason whatever why humanists are barred from making their contribution.â€™
It is difficult to see how a policy of allowing only religious speakers to contribute, with unquestioned statements and positions, some of which stray very closely to the line of political opinions, does not contravene the BBCâ€™s guidelines for impartiality. It is unlikely that there is elsewhere in BBC output a strand that is devoted to a particular point of view, expressed without interruption and with no right of reply.â€™
That Thought for the Day is, at present, reserved solely for religion clearly goes against both the spirit of the BBC Charter and also contemporary legislation. However, we look forward to continue to work with the BBC Executive and Mark Thompson on this important issue, and on the matter of humanist broadcasting more widely.