Skip to main content

A terrible justification for keeping TFTD exclusively religious

The BBC Thought for The Day debate rumbles on. I notice that, according to an Ekklesia report, the BBC Trust defended the exclusively religious contribution to the TFTD programme against charges that this failed the test of 'due' impartiality on this ground:

“The requirement of ‘due’ impartiality means that the approach required depends on audience expectations” the BBC Trust report ruled. Since the audience expected a certain range of contributors, then the status quo was acceptable in the Trust's opinion.
[Source here].

But of course, if this is the justification, it is terrible. Impartiality does not depend on audience expectations in this way.

Notice that, if it did, then a racist programme that excluded black contributors would qualify as 'impartial' if the audience did not expect black people to appear.

E.g. an openly white supremacist radio show that banned black people from appearing on it would qualify as showing 'due' impartiality, so long as no one expected black people to be on it, which of course they wouldn't, if it was openly a white supremacist station.

Or maybe 'the audience expected a certain range of contributors' means, the audience believes non-religious contributors ought not to appear (whether or not they think they will appear)? But then much of the BBCs audience does not believe that. So the BBC Trust's justification (if accurately reported) is based on an obvious falsehood.

But in any case, showing 'due impartiality' clearly doesn't mean doing what your audience thinks you ought to do. Otherwise, in a profoundly racist country, a radio show that discriminated on the basis of race would still be showing 'due impartiality'.

The summary report (available here) also says:

The ESC found that, given due impartiality is about what was said rather than
rather than the contributor, the fact that the choice of contributors to
Thought for the Day is limited to those of religious faith does not in itself
amount to a breach of the guideline on impartiality.

Oh, so a show that excludes black people, but does ensure the views expressed are balanced, shows 'due impartiality', then?

The full report is available here, but I have not waded through all of it. I should say, in fairness to the BBC Trust, that, skimming it, I could not find anything to support the precise interpretation placed in it by first of my quotes (from Ekklesia), but then it is massive, and I am short on time...

Read Simon Barrow - a Christian - on TFTD here. Very good.

Illustration - example of an organization showing BBC Trust-style 'due impartiality'?


Anonymous said…
Perhaps the BBC are merely excluding some secular voices on grounds that they routinely compare religious leaders to the Ku Klux Klan? Maybe a slightly more, erm, thoughtful approach to thought for the day might be more effective.

Stephen Law said…
Handbags at the ready then..

I was obviously not suggesting religious leaders are LIKE the KKK.

I was pointing out that the principles being employed by the BBC might entail that they class such an organization as showing 'due impartiality', which is clearly absurd.

Compare - "All vegetarians are good people." "But Hitler was a vegetarian." "So you're saying I AM LIKE HITLER?!"

Similar smokescreen tactic!
Mike said…
Who is "routinely" comparing religious leaders to the Ku Klux Klan? Stephen presented a striking counterexample to demonstrate the falsity of the proposition that impartiality depends on audience expectations. And you have not addressed the issue. Smoke screen indeed.
Martin said…
Ekklesia are misquoting the judgement. What the BBC actually said was:

"The ESC stated that the BBC Editorial Guidelines apply to all output: the mere fact that a
programme has a religious remit does not mean that it is outside of the application of the
Editorial Guidelines and so beyond scrutiny. However, the requirement of "due" impartiality
means that the approach required depends on the content and audience expectations for that
content. "

The BBC regard TFTD as religious broadcasting, so they see no reason to allow non-religious groups to participate.
To paraphrase Martin, only those who believe in fairies need apply.
Martin said…
To give Ekklesia their due, whilst they had managed to muddle up editorial impartiality with the selection of contributors (and so allow the Klu Klux Klan an airing), they were actually arguing for the remit of TFTD to be broadened.

Personally I don't particularly mind if the content is restricted to the worshippers of middle-classness, as is the status quo, but in another context I was involved in a discussion about discrimination the other day. The consensus seems to be that discrimination is not dependent upon the intent of the discriminator, but upon the feelings of the discriminatee.

At first this seems unworkable, as someone just has to proclaim "I am being discriminated against" for there to be discrimination, but in practice it could work because most of us don't believe we are being discriminated against, most of the time. It certainly did help me to understand the issues in a case I was involved in recently.

If you go along with this, and I'm perfectly willing to accept that some may not, as well as dealing with rumblings by the forgotten middle class, the humanists, about TFTD, we may also need to look at the discrimination claims of far-right groups such as the BNP. Can we dismiss them out of hand because we believe they are disingenuous, or do we have to take them as seriously as we would be expected to do in a case of race or disability discrimination?
Anonymous said…
Perhaps the BBC's conclusion was that only a religious person can have an opinion that is fit to be dignified by the name of 'thought'.
anticant said…
We all experience discrimination subjectively from time to time, and some of us for most or all of the time if we belong to an unpopular minority.

Objective discrimination, however, is a matter of observable fact and institutionalised practice. I dislike positive discrimination - in the form of women-only short lists and so on - as much as negative discrimination.

If TFTD is, as the BBC maintain, a religious programme it should be placed somewhere else and not slotted into the middle of a daily news and current affairs programme so as to gain a captive audience.
Martin said…
My wife informs me that the humanists should be kept off-air for the reason that it just makes bad radio. She heard the "Thought for the afternoon" and felt it was dreadful.

It occurs to me that the humanists are arguing for inclusiveness. In which case they should team up with all the religious types who are also excluded: the ranters, the hang 'em and flog 'em brigade, the preachers of hate, Satanists, those who torch abortion clinics, those who preach for money and of course the weird and the wacky such as the Pastafarians and the Jedi Knights (more popular than Jews, Sikhs or Buddhists in UK). This would certainly spice up the broadcast. There seems no particular reason why all the other religious groups are excluded, if the criteria really is religion.

Popular posts from this blog


(Published in Faith and Philosophy 2011. Volume 28, Issue 2, April 2011. Stephen Law. Pages 129-151) EVIDENCE, MIRACLES AND THE EXISTENCE OF JESUS Stephen Law Abstract The vast majority of Biblical historians believe there is evidence sufficient to place Jesus’ existence beyond reasonable doubt. Many believe the New Testament documents alone suffice firmly to establish Jesus as an actual, historical figure. I question these views. In particular, I argue (i) that the three most popular criteria by which various non-miraculous New Testament claims made about Jesus are supposedly corroborated are not sufficient, either singly or jointly, to place his existence beyond reasonable doubt, and (ii) that a prima facie plausible principle concerning how evidence should be assessed – a principle I call the contamination principle – entails that, given the large proportion of uncorroborated miracle claims made about Jesus in the New Testament documents, we should, in the absence of indepen

What is Humanism?

What is Humanism? “Humanism” is a word that has had and continues to have a number of meanings. The focus here is on kind of atheistic world-view espoused by those who organize and campaign under that banner in the UK and abroad. We should acknowledge that there remain other uses of term. In one of the loosest senses of the expression, a “Humanist” is someone whose world-view gives special importance to human concerns, values and dignity. If that is what a Humanist is, then of course most of us qualify as Humanists, including many religious theists. But the fact remains that, around the world, those who organize under the label “Humanism” tend to sign up to a narrower, atheistic view. What does Humanism, understood in this narrower way, involve? The boundaries of the concept remain somewhat vague and ambiguous. However, most of those who organize under the banner of Humanism would accept the following minimal seven-point characterization of their world-view.

Plantinga's Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism refuted

Here's my central criticism of Plantinga's Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism (EAAN). It's novel and was published in Analysis last year. Here's the gist. Plantinga argues that if naturalism and evolution are true, then semantic epiphenomenalism is very probably true - that's to say, the content of our beliefs does not causally impinge on our behaviour. And if semantic properties such as having such-and-such content or being true cannot causally impinge on behaviour, then they cannot be selected for by unguided evolution. Plantinga's argument requires, crucially, that there be no conceptual links between belief content and behaviour of a sort that it's actually very plausible to suppose exist (note that to suppose there are such conceptual links is not necessarily to suppose that content can be exhaustively captured in terms of behaviour or functional role, etc. in the way logical behaviourists or functionalists suppose). It turns o