BBC rejects complaints that Radio 4's Thought For the Day should include non-religious voices

The BBC will preserve Thought for the Day as a space for religious voices

The BBC will preserve Thought for the Day as a space for religious voices

The BBC's governing body has rejected calls for new rules to permit non-religious voices to be heard on Radio 4's Thought For The Day.

Complaints had been made earlier this year that banning secularists, atheists or humanists from the slot broke the BBC's impartiality guidelines.

But yesterday the BBC Trust ruled that limiting the slot to religious views did not represent a breach of its rules.

Trustees said that decision on whether to broadcast the slot from a faith perspective was down to the 'editorial discretion' of the BBC's management.

Critics had appealed to the governing body after failing to get the BBC bosses to agree to change the format of the show.

The 11 appeals included claims that the slot should be 'abandoned', 'rescheduled' or opened up to non-religious viewpoints for the first time.

They also included accusations that Thought For The Day of Being was 'partisan' and 'prejudiced' and one said it was 'religious force feeding'.

Complainants claimed it had been wrong to give religious contributors an 'unchallenged platform' to comment on news and current affairs.

They also claimed that a religious slot, which airs as part of the flagship news and current affairs show the Today programme, should not be 'positioned' within this type of programme

But the corporation's Editorial Standards Committee (ESC) rejected the claims in a statement yesterday.

It said the 'stand alone strand' was not subject to the same impartiality rules as news and current affairs programmes like the Today programme.

The Trust found that limiting the show to religious contributors did not represent a breach of its rules or the duty to reflect religious and other beliefs.

It also added that Thought For The Day had been properly signposted, was well known for what it did, and was neither misleading or inaccurate.

The long-running Radio 4 slot, which airs during the Today programme at 7.45am, is one of the few features devoted entirely to religion and ethics.

Among the contributors are Rabbi Lionel Blue, novelist Anne Atkins, Muslim academic Mona Siddiqui and Sikh broadcasters Inderjit Singh.

Richard Tait, chairman of the BBC Trust editorial standards committee (ESC), said: 'We understand that some people feel strongly about this issue and have
given it careful consideration.

'However, we have concluded that the current arrangements do not breach BBC editorial guidelines and specifically requirements of due impartiality in content.

'We recognise that there may be cases in the future where concerns are raised about content on Thought For The Day, however, these should be dealt with as and when they arise in line with other editorial matters and procedures.'

In January this year a non-religious version of the slot  called Thought For The Afternoon was aired on Saturday programme iPM.

Reacting to yesterday's decision Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said he was 'very disappointed'.

Mr Sanderson said: '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 "thoughts" are not worth hearing and that somehow religious opinions are more worthy of a special, unchallengeable platform.

'This is so blatant an abuse of religious privilege that we cannot simply let it pass. We will be looking at other ways of challenging this unjustifiable slot.'

The ESC did uphold three complaints about the way their concerns had been dealt with. The Trust had written to the three people apologising for the way their objections were handled.

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