Early birds not only get to catch the worm, if they’re up from 6am they can also catch BBC Radio 4’s early morning breakfast show, the Today Programme! From 1957, the Today Programme has been the perfect cornflakes and coffee accompaniment for those looking to catch up with current affairs before joining the morning commute. However, the show’s Thought for the Day slot has come under fire lately for the distinct absence of contributions from non-religious individuals.
Thought for the Day is a tiny two minute and forty-five second slot, which first hit the airwaves back in 1970. At 7.45am each morning, Thought for the Day listeners can tune in to hear the thoughts of a prominent speaker as he or she reflects on the topical issues of the moment from a theological point of view. This reflection is predominantly Christian, although there’s also occasional contributions from individuals of Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist faiths and it’s here where the controversy lies.
With over half of the British population considering themselves non-religious and a quarter aligning themselves with the Humanist philosophy, a growing number of people are questioning the BBC’s stance on who they allow to contribute to Thought for the Day and are pushing for the BBC to lift its ban on Humanists taking part on the show.
Earlier this month, thirty-three patrons of Humanists UK, including Sandi Toksvig, Ed Byrne and Alice Roberts, published an open letter in the Guardian calling for the BBC’s Director General, Tony Hall, to lift the ban on Humanists taking part. The letter states: “To many, the exclusion of Humanists from Thought for the Day sends a very clear message that Humanists do not have as much to contribute as religious people to one of the BBC’s most high-profile ethical slots.” It continues: “By barring Humanists from Thought For The Day, the BBC is blatantly failing its remit to reflect the diversity of beliefs of its audience and wider population, and its legal duty to treat non-religious and religious beliefs equally”.
It can, of course, be argued that because Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life rather than a religion, it has no place on Thought for the Day; however, the Humanist philosophy dates back as far as religion and is based on the shared values of respect, tolerance, goodness, kindness and a concern for each other. It’s about the shared responsibility for the collective future with the rest of humanity. It could, therefore, be argued that with the current worldwide political climate, there has never been a more critical time for Humanist voices to be heard and some feel the BBC are letting their listeners down.
The BBC has consistently stated that the exclusion of non-religious voices including Humanists is justifiable because these views are sufficiently represented across the whole of the BBC’s output; however, with more and more people opting to follow the Humanist philosophy, the BBC’s justification could be considered seriously outdated. The notion of outdatedness was further highlighted last year when Thought for the Day presenters, John Humphrys and Justin Webb, even criticised the slot. Humphrys admitted: “It seems to me inappropriate that Today should broadcast nearly three minutes of uninterrupted religion, given that rather more than half our population have no religion at all” and Webb continued: “If everyone was nicer to everyone else, it would be fine. But from my cursory glance around the world, I think a lot of religious people don’t want to be nice to each other”.
We, at Fuze, sincerely hope that the BBC reconsiders the restrictions they have placed on Thought for the Day and opens up the airwaves to a voice that speaks to and for the majority of their listeners.