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The BBC Trust's Thought for the Day ruling

Wednesday 18 November 2009, 10:46

Mark Damazer Mark Damazer

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The Thought for The Day ruling by the BBC Trust was never going to be greeted with universal applause - or anything like it.

In a nutshell the Trust says that restricting Thought for the Day to speakers who espouse a faith does not breach the BBC's obligation to impartiality - but the Trustees say that it is up to the management to decide whether to include non-believers.

As I have said before I think it's a very finely balanced argument. I know humanists, agnostics and atheists are frustrated. They tell me so - loudly. (And mostly politely). But the slot has its merits. It is distinctive and even if you sometimes scream at the radio when it's on - and I have done this myself - it nevertheless often gives a sharply different perspective on the news - and thus can be stimulating. Maybe infuriating - but different.

One more thing before I duck for cover. We do many programmes and items on religious and ethical issues. There are many perspectives on offer - and many of them are not rooted in faith at all.

I discussed the state of play on Thought for the Day on yesterday's PM. Here it is:

Mark Damazer is Controller of BBC Radio 4


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    Comment number 21.

    lighten up bbc- open up - you have nothing to lose and much to gain

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    Comment number 22.

    My parents always had the radio tuned to Radio 4 at breakfast time. I was therefore effectively forced to listen to TFTD every weekday morning until I left home to go to university.

    This deeply uncomfortable experience completely coloured my opinion of what Radio 4 was about and, after leaving home, I never even considered listening to Radio 4.

    It wasn't until many years later, when I started going out with my (now) husband, that I realised what I'd been missing.

    I wonder how many other children are being potentially lost to Radio 4 as adult listeners because of a similar experience.

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    Comment number 23.

    One of the things that worries me is the title, 'thought for the day'. Are you saying that this should be the only thought that I have today? Well frankly I have lots of thoughts and if you are telling me that I should have only one is a bit much. In fact, a lot of my thoughts are quite interesting and would be quite good for broadcast, but quite a few of them would in fact be quite inappropriate. When I think about it they would be very inappropriate for broadcast on Radio4 at 8 in the morning.
    Are these people (your contributors) claiming that these are the only thoughts they are having....ALL DAY? Because I know one of your regular guys and I reckon he sometimes has other thoughts just like me.In fact I had an interesting conversation with him the other day about Bob Dylan. I reckon Rabbi Blue has a few interesting thoughts ....especially if his biography is taken as evidence. But you don't broadcast them do you. Still, when all the pro and cons are weighed up...the show does seem to wind up some quite pompous , humorless atheists who take themselves and life very seriously and I think any show that does that is definately worth broadcasting.

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    Comment number 24.

    On RHJMB's view that "this is a quality issue," I would rather the Today programme started addressing this aspect by editing out items on concrete cows and winners of the Eurovision Song Contest than by cutting TFTD. On the use of the snooze button, that's the one I always use for the sports report, but I wouldn't try to impose my sports censorship on everyone else. And as for offering slots to atheists, if "atheists" actually stood for anything positive that would be fine, but the fact is that they don't have a coherent and unified theory of ethics, aesthetics, politics, metaphysics and other Aristotelian categories the way that the major religions do, which makes them less representative and therefore less interesting

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    Comment number 25.

    I don't think that the BBC Trust has sufficient teeth, Mark, which is one good reason why you should overrule its decisions.

    'Thought for the Day' is distinctive, although its contributors should, in my view, face more scrutiny.

    Why not make them contribute their thought to the Radio 4 Blog, for example, so that we can comment on their analysis.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    Briantist complains that most who pay the license fee do not believe. And so, the less than five minutes out of every twenty four that contains a religious comment should be scrapped or turned over to those who share a humanist faith. I should point out that as a Christian I find a lot of what is said on TFTD is unbiblical and even offensive to me personally.
    But come on, we have to put up with hours of atheistic/humanist brainwashing, so stop complaining about a few minutes a day. After all, you don't have to listen to it.

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    Comment number 27.

    I would be happy if TFTD EITHER had no primary religious or spiritual focus but merely presented thoughtful and speculative insights from a wide variety of appropriate individuals of any faith or none, OR if it included atheists, humanists and others amongst those of various faiths presenting their views explicitly from their own theistic or non-theistic perspective. The current situation, which is farcically unacceptable, follows the latter model but specifically excludes non-theists. If religious contributors are permitted to foist their uncensored views on us in this slot, then so should atheists be, i.e. they should be encouraged to make comments that specifically illustrate how an atheist stance can enlighten current events. When I have complained to the BBC in the past about TFTD I have been told that the BBC provides many other slots for secular viewpoints (in the sense of being not concerned with religion) but where are the slots for atheist propagandists? I would rather not see any propaganda slots on the BBC outside of official party political broadcasts, but TFTD is clearly a slot for theistic propagandists.

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    Comment number 28.

    I should perhaps confess, Mark, that I rarely listen to Thought For The Day (or Today) live, although if there is an item on Radio 4 that is recommended or does particularly interest me, I shall listen again. I was thinking about the TFTD inspired Free Thoughts on Radio 3's Breakfast Programme, associated with its Free Thinking Festival, and whether this could offer you a way forward on Radio 4.


    I should perhaps note that the reaction on the Radio 3 message boards to the spoken word, rather than classical music, over breakfast, was unenthusiastic. Nevertheless, I do not feel that Radio 3 should surrender the intellectual high ground, completely, to Radio 4, and a free thought, with its non-religious connotations, could provide an inspiration for Thought for the Day.

    You could consider offering a 'Free' Thought for the Day as a contrast to a 'Religious' Thought for the Day, although there is not necessarily any difference between the two. Nevertheless, you could consider some kind of dialectic between religious and secular approaches.


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    Comment number 29.

    Is this religious enough to get on thought for the day? Imagine that you are on the top of a cliff over-looking a vast desert. All across the horizon and at least a mile high is a blur of colour. Suddenly you have left the cliff top and you are standing in front of this mass of colour which turns out to be an immensly detailed tapestry, stretching as far as you can see. All around you are people, in the clothes of their various ministries, catholic, protestant, sikh, shia, orthodox jew and so on, with the white coats of scientists interspersed, all with an A4 sized wire rectangle they have pinned to the tapestry, intently studying the pattern inside, oblivious to all the rest.

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    Comment number 30.

    Captain Cynic - you didn't tell us what the assorted priests were doing. Probably coming to blows over whose god was responsible for the tapestry if history is anything to go by. Or maybe telling their disciples that despite its great mystery and beauty, the tapestry is evil and that it is a sin to look at it. Or did you mean that the priests were using the quadrats too? A strict interpretation of your grammar would contradict what I intuit your intended meaning to be.


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