Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40
WEDNESDAY 2 NOVEMBER 2005
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
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
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.
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 challengeshould 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.
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.