Select Committee on BBC Charter Review Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40 - 45)


Bishop of Southwark, Dr Chakravarthi Ram-Prasad, Dr Mona Siddiqui, Dr Indarjit Singh OBE JP and Reverend Joel Edwards

  Q40  Lord King of Bridgwater: Lord Maxton is a technological wizard and if there is one man who knows how to download programmes of all the scheduling, he is the one who can do it, whereas a lot of the elderly people who might want religious broadcasting are the least able to use DVDs and other things. So it seems a very sensible arrangement that those who are not able to do that should have their programmes.

  Bishop of Southwark: I imagine the same argument goes across the menu. In a sense the BBC put out a balanced menu that they think is going to be of interest to the general public. Not all of it will be of interest to every person but that does not mean to say you say that bit can be supplied in a different way.

  Dr Siddiqui: I just want to tie up a couple of things you said earlier about Thought for the Day. I have to say this because earlier this year there was an attempted move by BBC Scotland to shift Thought for the Day from 7.27 BBC Scotland, to 10 to seven and there was a huge outcry and they had to move it back to 7.27.

  Q41  Lord King of Bridgwater: What were the figures?

  Dr Siddiqui: There was enough of an outcry for the people in charge at the BBC to stop that move. The reason was that between quarter past seven and eight o'clock is officially the peak listening time for people who listen to the radio and they wanted to make sure that the privileged position, and I accept it is a very privileged position, of both Thoughts for the Day, Radio Four and BBC Scotland, were within that peak time. This is going to be something that will be an ongoing debate. Just going back to the Thought for the Day slot, the Bishop has said we are not the producers, but even when I have personally said to the producers that I do not want to put god in my thought today, I just want to leave it as a thought, they have always insisted that there be theological reflection because that is the premise for Thought for the Day: if you do not have a theological reflection, it will no longer be Thought for the Day.

  Q42  Chairman: Let me ask this question, because we have been skirting around it. You say that you are not producers of the Today programme which we obviously accept. We have actually also talked about Thought for the Day. If the producers of the Today programme were, for example, to make slots on Thought for the Day regularly available, for example, to the humanists, would you support that or would you think that was a retrograde step?

  Dr Siddiqui: The producers themselves always argue that it would not be Thought for the Day. That is the premise, that is the function of Thought for the Day, that it is two and a half minutes of theological reflection which is topical, which is short, which is current.

  Bishop of Southwark: It would have a different nature. We all must have the same experience, because you relate to your producer the night before and agree on a theme and try to spot what is going to be the major news item. You try to have a theological or spiritual view on that. If you were not going to try to do a theological or spiritual view on it, all of us might come up with something different, but it would be a different slot. At the moment it is the fact that it is a religious or a spiritual view which gives it its identity.

  Q43  Chairman: It is a religious and spiritual spot, as you put it and therefore it would exclude the humanists.

  Bishop of Southwark: It would be something else. Twenty-five past seven is always the sports programme and it is like asking why it is always about sports. Why can they not have somebody on there who is going to be talking about some other hobby such as bird watching? They could, but it would no longer be the sporting slot.

  Q44  Lord Maxton: So it is Religious Thought for the Day, not Thought for the Day.

  Reverend Edwards: That is a very important underlying question because at the heart of this challenge—should secular humanists be a part of Thought for the Day or not?—is a very important debate about assumptions, about what religion is and therefore what are sacred spaces and how you differentiate between Thought for the Day as a kind of neutral zone for erudite ideas about current affairs, as opposed to what is a zone for theological reflections and there may be a deeper debate here which is beyond our particular remit. On the earlier questions about the space for religious broadcasting based again on numbers, it is important that 70 per cent of the population at some conscious level says they would even vaguely officially describe themselves in this way. We cannot just bypass the fact that the BBC's own research suggests that a very high percentage of people out there actually want to hear some kind of reflection from Christian faith, religion. I go back to the Annan report, which I was vaguely familiar with when I was on CRAC. Some time ago, I think it was 1977, he suggested that while the churches may be weak, concern about religion is strong and that we do not belong to a country where all the springs of religious life have dried up. He suggested that a large public still speculates about myths, ritual, death and the meaning of life, holiness and evil and broadcasting has responded to these changes. I think that is still current. I think that if the death of a pope can displace the marriage of a prince, then we ought not to marginalise religious broadcasting too swiftly.

  Q45  Chairman: That sounded to me like a very, very good concluding part. I am going to bring this to an end otherwise I am going to be accused, as they are going to accuse Thought for the Day, of excluding the humanists who are on next.

  Bishop of Southwark: Before you do, you probably have access to this but if you do not, we are very happy for you to have it. Ofcom did a survey in May this year of public attitudes to religious programmes. That is certainly in the public domain

  Chairman: That would be very interesting, thank you very much indeed. Thank you all very much; you have given your evidence excellently and succinctly and we are very grateful. Perhaps if we have any other questions, we could come back to you. Thank you very much for coming today.

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