Select Committee on BBC Charter Review Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 680 - 691)


Professor Fabian Monds, Ms Anna Carragher, Mr Pat Loughrey and Reverend Rick Hill

  Q680  Chairman: I just have one small question. We are doing religion as well and religious broadcasting, and one of the acid tests if Thought for the Day on the Today programme and who actually goes on to Thought for the Day. In your Ulster programme, do you have Thought for the Day, or the equivalent of it?

  Ms Carragher: We certainly do have Thought for the Day, yes.

  Q681  Chairman: Do you confine Thought for the Day to what I call the recognised religions or do you go outside that to, for example, humanists and people like that?

  Ms Carragher: We broadly follow the same guidelines as set out by Allan and followed by Thought for the Day and particularly across Radio 4. It would be broadly spiritual. We do have representatives of specifically humanist organisations, but we would not necessarily have people who had a faith label on them. We do not expect Thought for the Day to be anti-religious; it would be broadly spiritual but not necessarily from a spoken faith, as it were.

  Q682  Chairman: So if I came on I would not actually have to say that I was Protestant or Roman Catholic?

  Ms Carragher: Absolutely not.

  Q683  Chairman: I might not actually be anything.

  Ms Carragher: Yes.

  Q684  Chairman: But I would not come on and attack the church.

  Ms Carragher: You would not attack the church but you would not be expected to go on and be from a particular faith.

  Q685  Chairman: Is that acceptable to you, Reverend?

  Reverend Hill: At this point one of the seven values of public life that we as Council members are supposed to follow is probity. I am going to declare the interest. I do Thought for the Day on Radio 4, Radio 2, Radio Ulster, the independent networks and broadcast services. I have experience as a broadcaster as well.

  Q686  Chairman: I am amazed you have any time at all after that!

  Reverend Hill: I am amazed I am here today! There is a diverse range of voices and religious backgrounds and I think that is to be welcomed. It is not just persons from the traditional religious groups that you might expect in Northern Ireland; you will find a range of opinions. Some infuriate listeners, some challenge them and some comfort them. You have all of that. It feels a little like Radio 2 in some ways, the Terry Wogan slot where you have that diversity. I would suggest that the Radio Ulster slot would have a similar kind of diversity within our context.

  Q687  Chairman: But you do not find it offensive that there are non-religious people actually in that slot from time to time?

  Reverend Hill: When you say non-religious?

  Q688  Chairman: I mean people who are not signed up to a particular faith.

  Reverend Hill: They are people with a spiritual perspective. It is very much a point in the day for a spiritual perspective. They may not sign up or tick the boxes that I have ticked but they nonetheless have a spiritual perspective on life, and certainly the evidence from the United Kingdom is that people are broadly spiritual; the churches may be in decline but spirituality is on the increase. I know humanism is also there and I would like to see it at other places in the schedule.

  Q689  Chairman: I am now totally confused. I go back to Anna Carragher. Just interpret what actually this means in a programme? I understood your first reply as meaning that someone who was, for example, a humanist might actually do the equivalent of Thought for the Day.

  Ms Carragher: They would not come on as a humanist. People would come on who may not be of a particular faith, but whose thought would be a broadly spiritual thought, but who would not necessarily be signed up to be either Catholic, Protestant, Sikh, Jewish; they may be somebody who is coming from a broad disparity perspective, who might be a signed up member of your faith.

  Q690  Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury: So you do not have, as on the Today programme, the name and profession, like a Sikh who does Thought for the Day and says, "Editor of the Sikh" whatever, which identifies what he does.

  Ms Carragher: Sometimes. It would depend on the individual. Sometimes.

  Q691  Chairman: Rather than putting this at the tail end we have to investigate it in a little more detail, but it sounds to me as though you do go a bit wider here than the national Today programme, but I see Lord Maxton shaking his head.

  Ms Carragher: It is in broad guidelines.

  Mr Loughrey: It is not significantly different, Chairman.

  Lord Peston: To take an obvious example, following what Reverend Hill said, the fastest growing belief in this country seems to be a belief in astrology. Polls show that an enormous number of people believe in the validity of astrology, but you would not dream of having an astrologer on, I hope, saying that, "Today is not a propitious day for doing this, that or the other"?

  Chairman: At this point we will draw this bit to an end! I am enormously grateful; thank you very much indeed. I think we may have some further questions on this issue and on others which we have dealt with before, so perhaps we could write to you on those if we do have them? Thank you very much for your evidence, which we have found fascinating and really very interesting indeed.

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