The Catholic Universe has questioned the BBC over the representation of regular Catholic speakers on its Radio 4 Thought for the Day segment.
The inquiry follows the segment coming under fire after accusations of discrimination from ex-Today programme host John Humphrys, as well as a prominent British Sikh peer, who has quit as a longstanding contributor to the Radio 4 show.
The Thought for the Day slot on the Today programme provides ‘reflections from a faith perspective on issues and people in the news’, according to the official BBC Thought for the Day website.
However, The Catholic Universe questioned the BBC as to why there were no Catholic representatives listed as regular contributors on its website – as opposed to the Anglican, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Judaism representatives listed.
A BBC spokesman pointed out that the segment does have regular Catholic speakers, such as Tina Beattie, Francis Campbell, Catherine Pepinster, Dr Anna Rowlands and Tim Stanley.
“Francis Campbell featured on 9th September,” the spokesman told The Catholic Universe. “I’m not sure why these people aren’t featured on the ‘regular contributors’ section of the programme, but have passed this over to our digital team.”
Last week Lord Singh of Wimbledon quit his 35-year long position at the segment in protest against discrimination, accusing the BBC of “prejudice and intolerance” after it attempted to prevent him from broadcasting an item commemorating an executed Sikh guru who had opposed the forced conversion of Hindus to Islam under the Mughal emperors of India in the 17th century.
He said that the corporation had tried to prevent the script from being broadcast last November “because it might offend Muslims” – despite containing no criticism of Islam. “It was like saying to a Christian that he or she should not talk about Easter for fear of giving offence to the Jews,” Lord Singh said.
Describing Lord Singh as “a respected contributor for many years”, the BBC said: “By its nature Thought for the Day is a live, topical segment and it’s not unusual for editorial changes to be made so that it reflects the biggest news stories of the day.
“Our aim is to treat all faiths respectfully and our editorial processes on this apply to everyone equally,” the BBC spokesman told The Catholic Universe.
“We disagree with Lord Singh and don’t recognise his characterisation of Thought for the Day.”
Lord Singh’s decision to quit came shortly after Mr Humphrys, 76, who presented the Today programme for 32 years before quitting last month, said the item was “rather pointless”.
“It’s not sold to us as religious Thought for the Day,” he told Good Morning Britain. Complaining that secular voices were excluded, he said: “I could not do it…It’s discriminatory…I feel quite strongly about certain things and I would love to express my opinion about certain things but I’m not allowed to,” he said.
Humphrys has previously voiced his displeasure at the daily broadcast, telling the Radio Times that it was “inappropriate that Today should broadcast three minutes of uninterrupted religion, given that over half our population have no religion at all. Why is that?”
However, Catholic Universe columnist Caroline Farrow slammed Mr Humphrys for his “very close-minded and intolerant attitude”.
“The BBC is responsible for providing content with a universal appeal which ought to reflect the diversity of the population,” Mrs Farrow told The Catholic Universe.
“Religion provides a moral and ethical framework for many and as someone who is asked to discuss current affairs from a particular religious perspective, my experience is that viewers and listeners find the religious perspective both interesting and enlightening, even if they do agree with it.
“Thought for the Day provides a brief opportunity for the listener to delve more deeply into their own conscience and spirituality and is more important than ever in this age of information overload and rolling news coverage 24/7.”
Despite her own Catholic faith, she often finds contributions from representatives of other faiths “extremely valuable”, as well as “thought-provoking”. “It is always good to have one’s own perspective challenged,” she said.
“Mr Humphries appears to be displaying a close-minded and intolerant attitude, which is disappointing from such a tenacious journalist. Three minutes is a very short period of time and perhaps his impatience speaks to the way in which the internet is eroding everyone’s levels of both concentration and patience,” said Mrs Farrow.
Meanwhile, a BBC spokesman told The Catholic Universe: “Thought for the Day is a long-standing part of the Today schedule and an important part of Radio 4’s religious content. It features speakers from the world’s major faith traditions reflecting on topical events and issues, and serves a distinct purpose as part of the BBC’s overall output which of course includes many non-religious programmes. It provokes a range of different views including John’s and this isn’t the first time he’s made these known publicly.”
Picture: File photo dated 11/05/2016 of the BBC logo. (Anthony Devlin/PA).