BBC R4 Today Presenters’ Views of TFTD

Most of what’s wrong with Today could be fixed by retiring Humphrys IMHO but as an atheist, humanist, rationalist I happen to like Thought for the Day. Ironically it is Humphrys’ view that is closest to mine:

“Sometimes it’s good … an interesting thought in a provocative way [but] inappropriate that Today should broadcast nearly three minutes of uninterrupted religion.”

Says it all. Justin’s remark is surprisingly sneering and misrepresenting as Giles Fraser suggests:

A 2 or 3 minute reflective slot in the middle of the 3 hour flagship daily news and current affairs program is a great tradition. The real innovation needed is to ensure it includes a fair balance of non-religious spiritual / philosophical reflection. Again to be fair, despite currently being 100% religious, my impression is that few of the speakers let their particular religion or god dominate their message – more often than not the speaker’s underlying agenda is in fact more overtly political than religious (Giles?).

TFTD would however definitely be improved by a fair balance of speakers from secular philosophical perspectives, topical but reflective of the deeper or more transcending human issues. As for Justin’s sneering suggestion that the message is usually simply that people should be nicer to each other, my usual response is:

“What’s so funny ’bout peace, love and understanding?”

There are worse premises to start from.


[Post Note: Clearly the quality of the slot is very dependent on the skills and qualities (and agenda, everybody has one) of the individual presenter. Like Nick Robinson I would single out a few excellent contributors. His example, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks would be one of mine too (I’ve praised Sacks before, reassuringly topical to today’s debate!). The problem to solve if moving in a secular / disestablished direction is who – which institutions – individuals represent and resist promoting with their agenda. But other think-pieces like A Point of View and Something Understood seem to reasonably solve this.]

[Round#2 – Ironic that TFTD the following morning 31st Oct, majored on the story of Luther, followed by an interview with Rowan Williams, followed by a longer piece on Luther. A good deal more than 3 minutes of “religion”. No-one mentioned the RT opinions expressed above.

And …

Sarah correctly points out that the Luther story got “legs” thanks to Gutenberg and the printing press. The solution to the question what to do with secularisation and disestablishment of TFTD, BBC and society general is very clear but the additional problem we have to deal with in the 21st century is social media – “the printing press on steroids”.

And more on Luther half an hour later. It goes on.]


[Post Note: Elizabeth Oldfield’s Twitter thread on this:

“In case anyone is interested, here are my thoughts on #TFTD, as someone who has both worked in bbc radio from the inside , and delivered it. When I was offered it I almost said no. I wasn’t a big fan. I want faith *out* of the dusty legacy slot and where it belongs , in dynamic hurly burly of life and death and NOW. Lived religion is strange and visceral and joyful and rich and unsettling, not dull.

TFTD has v stringent editorial constraints. Standard BBC defences (presenter challenged,other guest balanced) don’t apply so paranoia reigns. Topical, offensive to no one, not even slightly political and an interesting three mins of radio? It is therefore almost impossible to do well. It’s not bc religious people have nothing interesting to say, it’s that the slot prevents them. I don’t think I’ve ever really nailed it.

BUT When it’s good, it’s very good. It lingers like nothing else in the prog. It creates space for meaning& reflection which we dearly need. So I think it should stay, but be improved. It needs releasing from being “topical” (this is often forced). The editorial constraints need relaxing, because saying *anything* about fundamental values will cause offence to someone. And some voices from thoughtful non- relig trads should probably be included in the mix, as long as relig voices not slowly pushed out. Religions have a huge amount of wisdom to offer on how we live honestly, lovingly, healthily together & my theology tells me so will others.”

Spot on Elizabeth. This has little to do with non-secular theistic religion, and everything to with reflective wisdom and values that are “meta-topical” to the onward rush of current affairs. (The artificial drive to be “topical” and non-contentious values-wise is almost certainly driven by the need to justify its ongoing inclusion “objectively”.) The flagship daily news programme is exactly the place for this slot and it really must be improved by removing exclusively religious constraints, in good faith.

The Humanists UK response, whilst quoting the negative comments from (some of) the presenters also concludes:

“We want Thought for the Day to include humanist perspectives.”


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