Friday 7 August 2015

Thought for the Day

Christine Morgan, head of religion for BBC radio, was on today's Feedback to talk about Thought for the Day. This was how her brief discussion with Uncle Roger went:
Roger Bolton: Christine, I've often talked to you on this often defending it...let me ask, basically: Any plans to change it? 
Christine Morgan: Not as far as I'm aware, Roger. No. 
Roger Bolton: No? No requests from the Today programme to drop it?  
Christine Morgan: No. 
Roger Bolton: And any possibility of non-believers and atheists presenting Thought for the Day
Christine Morgan: Well, I have to start in a different place because what is important about understanding Thought for the Day is that it is in the middle of the Today programme, so obviously I understand the profile of it. But it is a topical reflection through the prism of faith. You know, 'Sport' deals with sport, and 'Business' deals with business and it's no unreasonable to stick to the purpose of the slot. It is a religious reflection. And I think in the three hours of the Today programme that two minutes 45 is actually offering the listeners a really valuable take on what's going on in the world from a different perspective. And it is distinctive. I was really encouraged when the Green Paper was published actually and the national conversation started about the purpose of the BBC and this word "distinctive" came up and I have been using "distinctive" in connection with Thought for the Day for as long as I've been coming on your programme. Roger... 
Roger Bolton (interrupting): Well, and we'll try and use it for Feedback as well. Everybody will be clinging onto that particular life raft (laughing), won't we, in the future?
Christine Morgan: It was music to my ears! I think people like Giles Fraser, who a couple of weeks ago talked about the different theological traditions of Germany and Greece in the middle of all that plethora of coverage of the Greek debt crisis, and we had loads of people writing to say it was so interesting to hear such a different take on it.
Now, it would be easy to make a nit-picking Bertrand Russell-type debating point that, yes, 'Sport'=sport and 'Business'=business but Thought for the Day doesn't necessarily mean A Religious Thought for the Day, but it's pretty clear what she means and it's not an unreasonable point.

And TFTD certainly is "distinctive". It wouldn't arouse so many parody sites (blogs and Twitter feeds) if it wasn't so "distinctive". The platitudes, the forced analogues, the tacked-on topicality, the blandly left-leaning political points (with the occasional hard-left rant from Giles or Iona's John Bell chucked in for good measure), the overwhelmingly liberal religious beliefs (from whatever faith community), the inevitable shoe-horning-in of God towards the end....these all make it "distinctive". 

That little list of mine, however, points to its main flaw. It embodies the spirit of what might be called 'BBC religion' - safe and generally liberal (in the modern sense of 'progressive', 'socially liberal' and 'left-leaning' rather than in the classical sense of the word). 

And as the feature is meant to be topical and often refers to major political issues of the day (including terrorism, mass immigration and the economy), having people who overwhelmingly all sing from the same, cosy BBC consensus on such highly contentious issues (i.e. mass immigration is good, Islamic terrorism is in no way connected with Islam, global capitalism is a problem) results in a seriously unbalanced hub of bias right at the heart of the Today programme.

Well, that's my biased take on it anyway.


P.S If you were wondering, the Giles Fraser talk Christine Morgan was praising there can be summarised as follows: "The Greek debt crisis can be explained by Greeks and Germans belonging to differing versions of Christianity."

P.P.S. Did you notice Roger Bolton slipping in a little bit of 'Woe is the BBC!' shroud-waving there?

More followed at the end of the programme as Roger gave another of his loaded commentaries, making pretty clear his own belief that the BBC was forced into the deal with the government, and repeatedly stressing the cuts, the cuts, the cuts. Two listeners were quoted - one defending the BBC against the government, the other attacking the BBC for being a Tory tool. Roger mentioned in passing (about four seconds!) that some wanted the BBC to be given a good going-over but we didn't hear from any of them here.

It's the last Feedback on the run so Roger's shroud-waving is now on hold for a couple of months. He'll be back though, shroud in hand.


  1. I think one can make a case for a short period of reflection in the morning. But it needs to incorporate philosophers as well as faith-bound thinkers. It also needs to cover a wider range of opinion. Let's hear it from the mullah who thinks Sharia will solve all our problems. It would be far better for people to be aware of how strong that segment of opinion was in the UK now.

    As it, TFTD is a tame patting zoo of opinion, rather than the wildlife version.

    1. On reflection, I think I may have conceded my Bertrand Russell point to the BBC too soon.

      I don't disagree with anything you said there. An influx of philosophers and a much wider range of religious types could be a winning formula.

      I'd place I bet though on your Sharia-loving mullah getting an invite long before an abortion-abhorring, anti-contraceptive Catholic. (And I say that as someone who's not against abortion, certainly not against contraception and not a Catholic).

      And as for "As it, TFTD is a tame patting zoo of opinion, rather than the wildlife version", I may 'borrow' that at some stage!

  2. Curiouser and curiouser.

  3. I wish the Church would disestablish itself from the BBC in truth.
    As a rabid evangelical Bible-bashing fundamentalist Christian in its literal prophetic sense, I see no reason at all for any Christain to give the BBC house room.
    I`d say that Jonathan Edwards, Diane Louise Jordan and Steve Chalk finished the Church off as any credible vehicle for celebrities to milk their faith for license fee pieces of pie/silver...and Giles Fraser personifies the theological black hole for the CofE it squats over.
    Witness his clueless interrogation of a theologian in the Moral Maze the other night...he really hasn`t a clue, unless its offering his font to Russell Brand or Hamas to shit in.
    No-Welby ought to tell his prattlers in search of fairy dust from the media to go to Simon Cowell direst-and leave the new church to those who will send the BBC to Hades in Gods good time.


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