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I’ll do it, but only if you’ll help


Pledge “thoughtfortheday”

"I will e-mail the BBC to object to "Thought for the Day" but only if 100 other people will do the same."

— Gavin

Deadline to sign up by: 31st December 2008
1,660 people signed up (1560 over target)

Country: United Kingdom

More details
"Thought for the Day" is a slot during BBC Radio 4's "Today Programme" in which airtime is handed over to religious commentators to try to interpret world events in the context of their texts and bestow their wisdom upon us all.

The fact that this interruption occurs during the BBC's flagship radio news programme, which is otherwise supposed to apply exacting standards of evidence, makes it totally and utterly incongruous. Not only is "Thought for the Day" on during this programme, but it is given absolute peak time at approximately 7.47am, just as many people are waiting for the 8am headlines and getting ready to leave for work.

In addition, the fact that humanist, non-religious contributors, are excluded from the slot gives the impression the BBC believes morality is the exclusive remit of religious people, which is offensive, unrepresentative and untrue.

As such, "Thought for the Day" is an insult to intelligent listeners. It is high time there was a concerted campaign insisting that it either:


1) accept non-religious contributors (for example A.C. Grayling)

or

2) be removed from The Today Programme's schedule altogether


During the week commencing 1st January 2009 I will email the Today Programme to object to Thought for the Day in writing - but only if 100 other people do the same.

Although the Today Programme often passes the TFTD buck to the BBC "Religion & Ethics" unit (a conflation indicative of how they view matters) we will address our mails to where the problem appears: today[at]bbc.co.uk.

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Comments on this pledge

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  • Bren: I happen to find James Naughtie very likeable and professional, but that topic has nothing to do with this pledge.

    Delia: So far the BBC seem to be using their stock response e-mails, which is perhaps understandable given the volume of mail they're now receiving. Let's give them a bit of time to get together a proper response.

    Alan: I guess most people are not using the Pledgebank system any more but they might well still be sending their e-mails. At least 100 have cc'd me.

    Sue's article should help!
    Gavin, 5 years ago. Abusive? Report it!
  • This is weird! We can't add any more names, but we can still carry on talking to each other. I don't see any way that we could now put green ticks by our names, but if anybody hasn't yet sent in their emails, please do so now.
    John Stretch, 5 years ago. Abusive? Report it!
  • Many agnostics and atheists are very thoughtfull people cocerned deeply about morals, ethics,consumerisim, environment,conflict resolution, history, scientific method, open societies,freedom of thought and speech, value systems, religious freedom, rights of atheists etc, etc and it is most unfortuante to deny them any opportunity in the programmes such as " thoughtfortheday"
    Dr.Shivashankar Nambiar, 5 years ago. Abusive? Report it!
  • I was listening to Today on DAB which has rolling text. It is now requesting that emails on TFTD are sent direct to their religion department - they just don't get the point do they!!
    I had the same problem as John Stretch but find if you log in at this site you can tick the pledge.
    Cheers
    David
    David Lemon, 5 years ago. Abusive? Report it!
  • John stretch, if you click on "show all signers" at the bottom of the list you will be able to indicate that you have done the pledge.
    Alan Clark, 5 years ago. Abusive? Report it!
  • Do the BBC respond to ANY of our emails?

    Eve
    Eve, 5 years ago. Abusive? Report it!
  • Hi everyone,

    Just a note to say that although the pledge has closed here, the topic has not closed.

    If you object to TFTD, you can of course e-mail the BBC at any time. I posted my own e-mail and some potential addresses here: http://www.gavinorland.com/religion/thou...

    Regards,

    Gavin
    Gavin, 5 years ago. Abusive? Report it!
  • Something's happening at the Beeb!

    Go to it folks!

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/ipm/2009/01/t...
  • I just received a reply from Mark Damazer (Controller, Radio 4) however I cannot disclose it here because it says "This e-mail (and any attachments) is confidential ...Do not use, copy or disclose the information in any way ..."

    I can say, however, that the response did not address the issues I raised in my complaint.

    Their argument for keeping TFTD boiled down to the fact that they think that Radio 4 listeners "regularly engage" with TFTD whether they are "believers" or not. The rest of the reply was just padding and waffle.

    This is an incredibly thin argument.
    George, 5 years ago. Abusive? Report it!
  • Interesting. It's rapidly beginning to look as if the only people who do want TFTD to stay in its current form are Mr Damazer and the DG.

    The question is, should they be entitled to enforce their preference on everyone else, even in the face of very well reasoned arguments which they seem not even to be reading? I think not.
    Gavin, 5 years ago. Abusive? Report it!
  • I too have had a reply from Mark Damazer which is identical to the comment published on the Radio 4 blog so it is obviously not confidential.

    The reply is quite pathetic in failure to address the issues and has stimulated an enormous number of comments on the above blog nearly all opposing Mark Damazer's position.

    What now Gavin? We can't let this drop!
    Delia Ives, 5 years ago. Abusive? Report it!
  • Can I urge everyone here to go to Mark Damazer's response on the BBC web-site and leave a comment.

    Many of the comments there have degenerated into religious bickering do not directly address the relatively pathetic points that Mark Damazer makes.

    The link is:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/ipm/2009/01/t...

    It is quick and easy to create a blog account there if you don't already have one.
    George, 5 years ago. Abusive? Report it!
  • My response to MD:-
    Dear Mark Damazer

    Thank you for your reply regarding balance in TFTD.

    I think you find this a difficult question because you are searching for arguments to defend the indefensible: to find plausible excuses for disregarding the BBC's own guidelines within the TFTD slot.

    You are right that it is is a unique slot. This makes it all the more important that it should embody the principle of balanced broadcasting. You refer to the the balance of religious/non-religious voices elswehere in your programming but this is not being questioned and seems irrelevant..

    You say that the slot is intended to offer "a brief, uninterrupted interlude of spiritual reflection" (it often doesn't succeed in this) but are you suggesting that only religious people are spiritual? Exactly how would including an occasional humanist detectably "broaden the brief" in view of the already bizarrely wide range of faiths represented, and how would it "detract from the distinctiveness of the slot"? Do you know anything about humanism?

    Yes I do realise that you are "broadcasting to the general Radio 4 audience which regularly engages with the comments and ideas expressed by our contributors from the world's major faiths - whether they are believers or not", and I am sure that many of them have no problem with TFTD. But I am writing as a listener who does feel strongly about the matter and who feel that the essence of your reasoning for maintaining the status quo amounts to no more that that some listeners might like TFTD to remain exactly as it is and you agree with them.

    Yours sincerely

    Delia Ives
    Delia Ives, 5 years ago. Abusive? Report it!
  • Hi,

    Delia asks "What next?". I think if you have e-mailed, wait a little while, and if not, e-mail. Also comment on that forum as George urges and bring the debate concisely back on topic.

    Mr Damazer is now under a lot of (perfectly reasonable) pressure on this. It just needs to be maintained.

    I have learned that PM are planning a humanist "Thought for the Afternoon" to go out tomorrow. Great, as long as this is not considered by the BBC to be a consolation prize (as the one-off Dawkins slot was) and doesn't detract from the main objectives of this campaign as stated in the pledge details.

    I'm really looking forward to hearing the likes of A.C. Grayling on Today, or having the slot dropped from there...
    Gavin, 5 years ago. Abusive? Report it!
  • Does anybody know if the BBC has impartiality guidelines regarding decisions that involve a vested interests? From looking at Mark Dazamer's wikipedia entry it appears it may be appropriate,
    pluto, 5 years ago. Abusive? Report it!
  • Don't get. What vested interest?
    Delia Ives, 5 years ago. Abusive? Report it!
  • This is very , very interesting:-
    http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/8302
    Delia Ives, 5 years ago. Abusive? Report it!
  • I have just followed the above link, and listened to Jonathan Bartley's interview with the Today programme from April 2007. At the end of the interview, John Humphrys is clearly heard suggesting that perhaps they should ask the audience if they want a secular TTFD as well as a religious one!

    The IPM blog has had nearly 400 posts and I would say the majority of posters, including believers and non-believers are in support of accepting non-religious contributors.

    Although the BBC response to this campaign has been extremely disappointing so far, we cannot give up now!
    Jan Flick, 5 years ago. Abusive? Report it!
  • Hi Delia,

    According to someone who edited wikipedia two years back Mark is Jewish. Judaism gets a huge amount of exposure from TftD, particularly when it is put into the context that their worshipers account for under 0.3% of the world population, which isn't even the population of Holland. Any change whether taking it off the air or adding secular viewers would almost certainly detriment Jewish airtime.

    Of course, I am certain that Mark would be very professional and objective in his work as you would expect of anybody in his position. Having said that he should still follow any guidelines that there may be.. if there are any...
    pluto, 5 years ago. Abusive? Report it!
  • Oh thanks pluto. I understand. O f course we don't know if he is practising.
    There certainly are guidelines and as far a I can see TftD breaks them. I will try and find the link and post it here.
    Delia Ives, 5 years ago. Abusive? Report it!
  • Great work, people, if I may say so. There is something that needs unearthing here. It's outrageous that we should so obviously occupy the reasonable position (with even Christians in agreement too) yet simply be ignored.
    Gavin, 5 years ago. Abusive? Report it!
  • http://www.statistics.gov.uk/cci/nugget....

    A little more illumination.

    I try and work out the best way to quanitfy and illustrate lack of balance in TFTD.
    Delia Ives, 5 years ago. Abusive? Report it!
  • http://www.statistics.gov.uk/cci/nugget....

    A little more illumination.

    Does anyone know where I can find a breakdown of numbers of TftDs by religion for the past 12 months or so?
    Delia Ives, 5 years ago. Abusive? Report it!
  • Delia - Clive Tooth aka thelastdanishpastry might be the man to work this out. he produced wonderful statistics on the justgiving/atheistbus donations.
    John Stretch, 5 years ago. Abusive? Report it!
  • The Mark Damazer response is completely unacceptable.
    Firstly he trots out the obvious canard that religious content is some kind of balance to secular content. The suggestion is the neutrality of the other content of the Today programme is balanced by a bias towards the religious.
    It is a very strong religious conviction that anything that isn't directly inspired by religion must therefore be against it. That certainly doesn't tally with general opinion in the UK today. He makes the ridiculous point that other contributors are not religious without recognising that some of the other contributors ARE religious. We would surely expect the religious to non-religous to be reasonably balanced. Secularism is balance NOT the absence of religion and only the religiously biased would hope to frame it as anything else.
    He proposes to take balance and create balance by providing imbalance. The man is a fool.
    Secondly he submits the chestnut that the religious content is also balanced in other output. Anyone who has bothered to read the BBC editorial guidelines on Impartiality and Diversity and I would expect the controller of Radio 4 to do so, would know that the BBC itself in its guidelines specifically excludes the defence of balance in other areas of the output.
    The man is a careless fool.
    Daniel Allen, 5 years ago. Abusive? Report it!
  • But we can't sack him. It's a job for life.
    John Stretch, 5 years ago. Abusive? Report it!
  • On the subject of statistics, more people said they were Jedis in the last census than Jews, Bhuddists, or Sikhs. Maybe they will therefore be allowed to speak on TFTD?

    http://www.statistics.gov.uk/CCI/nugget....
    Henry, 5 years ago. Abusive? Report it!
  • An article by Hermione Eyre in today's "Independent":
    http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/com...
    John Stretch, 5 years ago. Abusive? Report it!
  • http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/com...

    The pressure continues.
    Delia Ives, 5 years ago. Abusive? Report it!
  • The iPM blog seems to have lost the link to the discussion.. here it is if anyone lost it.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/ipm/2009/01/t...
    pluto, 5 years ago. Abusive? Report it!
  • We have two mentions on the politics.co.uk website. Also one on The Guardian site.

    http://www.gavinorland.com/religion/more...
    Gavin, 5 years ago. Abusive? Report it!
  • Thanks pluto, I wondered what had happened to it.
    Delia Ives, 5 years ago. Abusive? Report it!
  • The BBC is spending £10m a year on religous propaganda:

    http://www.secularism.org.uk/105572.html
  • When religious programming is limited to "songs of praise" I have no objection. The truth is I've not seen any to comment.

    However, researching the subject I have just been watching some of the religious programming on satellite. I was appalled to find childrens programming on "Genesis" which included the following:

    1) Kids have been encouraged to say what prayer to god has done to them... healing wounds, making them no longer 'allergic' to tomatoes and cherries...??

    2) Children were told bad things happen in life because otherwise "people go floppy like trees that aren't in the wind".

    3) A Parent was telling his son how before religion he was an immoral, greedy man who used to drink. No examples of moral, selfless non-believers there.

    4) Describing non-believers as "me-wants monster" and believers as "god-wants warrior". Yay that's just what we want more extremists willing to do god's will as a warrior.

    This was childrens' programming! GAHH!

    I do hope BBC coverage isn't similar to this. On balance if better quality BBC broadcasting cuts out some of the market for these channels that may justify their existence. However, that budget should include programming of other groups such as secular views without an agenda constrained by a religious boss.
    pluto, 5 years ago. Abusive? Report it!
  • In case anyone hasn't yet found them here are the pertinent BBC guidelines regarding editorial impartiality:-

    "Impartiality lies at the heart of the BBC's commitment to its audiences. It applies across all of our services and output, whatever the format, from radio news bulletins via our web sites to our commercial magazines and includes a commitment to reflecting a diversity of opinion.

    In practice, our commitment to impartiality means:

    • we strive to reflect a wide range of opinion and explore a range and conflict of views so that no significant strand of thought is knowingly unreflected or under represented.
    • we must ensure we avoid bias or an imbalance of views on controversial subjects.

    Impartiality in series

    Programmes dealing with widely disparate issues from one programme to the next but also clearly linked as a strand with a common title. These should normally achieve impartiality within individual programmes, or across two or three editorially linked programmes, rather than across the strand as a whole.

    We can not achieve impartiality in this context by ensuring other views will be heard on other services".
    Delia Ives, 5 years ago. Abusive? Report it!
  • Reply at last from Mr Damazer. Exactly the same as his website statement of 7th January, apart from the following words at the end of his penultimate paragraph:
    "and the harm done in the name of religion is explored."
    I've replied expressing my dissatisfaction at the inadequacy of his response.
    John Stretch, 5 years ago. Abusive? Report it!
  • It is very distressing to get from Mr Damazer a regurgitation of his previous statement without any comment on the many valid points made by so many listeners.

    Combine this with the refusal of the BBC to reconsider its initial reaction to the Gaza appeal and one begins to feel that there is a certain arrogance within the Corporation.

    Contemptuous may be more apposite.

    Lawrie Scott
    Lawrie Scott, 5 years ago. Abusive? Report it!
  • Gavin has emailed everyone a summary of the fallout from his pledge. It had a great impact and just shows what can be done if everyone does just a little bit.

    I'm disappointed then that he appears to be giving up. He writes "...by the way we have been ignored, that I just don’t feel like it any more."

    Has Gavin been leaned on by the same people who are leaning on Mark Damazer?

    While complaining to the BBC Trust is a good thing to do I can't imagine that it is going to have any effect.

    Anyone want to help me start up a "Secular Thought for the Day" website?

    Any other ideas for action?
    George, 5 years ago. Abusive? Report it!
  • Ok, I've started a pledge to create a Secular Thought for the Day website.

    Please give me your support: http://www.pledgebank.com/SecularTFTD I need at least 30 people to get it started.
    George, 5 years ago. Abusive? Report it!
  • As Mr.Damazar suggested, I complained to the BBC trust. Here is their reply, which avoids answering my complaint in the same way that Mr.Damazar did.
    -----------------------------------
    Thanks for your e-mail regarding 'Thought for the Day'.

    We appreciate that you unhappy that the programme does not include non-religious thinkers. We also note that you've read Mark Damazer's online explanation but still feel that it contravenes our policy on impartiality.

    It's always good to receive correspondence from listeners, and to be challenged by it. 'Thought for the Day' is set within the 'Today' programme, and has the remit of commenting from a religious perspective on a current news issue. It follows therefore that it is supposed to say something of substance, and that its contributors - speaking from a variety of distinctive faith positions - can stimulate, challenge, provoke, irritate, and sometimes comfort.

    There are 360 Thoughts a year, and 30 or more contributors, from many faiths and many denominations - and a balance of view is maintained over a period rather than within every script.

    However, we do acknowledge your concerns and we'd like to assure you that we've registered your complaint on our audience log. This is a daily report of audience feedback that's circulated to many BBC staff, including members of the BBC Executive Board, channel controllers and other senior managers.

    The audience logs are seen as important documents that can help shape decisions about future programming and content.

    Finally, I've attached an invitation from the Head of Audience Services asking you to participate in our survey. We would welcome your views on the service you have received.

    Thanks again for taking the time to contact us.

    Regards

    Jonathan Carberry
    BBC Complaints
  • I'm not giving up, just opening this to the floor for other organisers too. Also I certainly wasn't leaned on. Ignored more like, just like everybody else!

    Aside from contacting the Trust, another thing people might be able to do has been suggested by David Solomon. He says:

    "What about an email to all the present speakers on this slot asking them to
    support the inclusion of secular spakers as well as religious speakers, or alternatively, changing its name to "Religious Thought for Today"? My guess
    is that many of them are fair-minded people who would be supportive."

    If you can find them, you could write to them protesting.
    Gavin, 5 years ago. Abusive? Report it!
  • Alan Clarks's reply from BBC Complaints is appallingly bad in its failure to address the issue. It says: "- and a balance of view is maintained over a period rather than within every script." Yet we are not asking for balance within a 5 minute script - just for a few atheist TftDs out of the 360 per year that are solely from a religious viewpoint.

    Incidentally, on its webpage, the Religious and Ethics Department classifies atheism as a "religion" which further weakens their position.
    Delia Ives, 5 years ago. Abusive? Report it!
  • My email to BBC Complaints is a bit too long to post here. You can read it at:-

    http://quedula.blogspot.com/2009/01/bbc-...
    Delia Ives, 5 years ago. Abusive? Report it!
  • For those still watching this, yesterday the BBC aired a version of the one show, which basically patronised atheists as being "too embarrassed to talk about God" and "not willing to make a commitment". I refute it utterly - the implication that we are not religious because of fear of commitment is extremely and deeply insulting.
    DannyS, 5 years ago. Abusive? Report it!
  • Does anyone know what the policy is on Wake Up To Wogan's 'Pause For Thought' spot, I assume it's the same as TFTD. Maybe this should be the next target?
    George Shilling, 5 years ago. Abusive? Report it!
  • Having come so far with this campaign, it is imperative that everyone who complained about TFTD is encouraged to persist with the process and see it through the BBC Trust. Complaints to the BBC Trust must be made within 4 weeks of Mark Damazer's last email response. They must also be substantive and specific.

    If we all get palmed off by the BBC Trust in the same way that we were by Mark Damazer then we will have ever stronger grounds for complaint.

    If we just give up and go away then we are allowing the BBC to continue discriminating against secular speakers in their choice of TFTD contributors.

    The article by Michael Brooks in this week's New Scientist, called "Natural Born Believers", argues that humans are primed for supernatural thinking and that disbelief is therefore hard to achieve. Those that have made this leap must surely have useful insights into our daily affairs, that belong on TFTD!
    Peter Archibald, 5 years ago. Abusive? Report it!
  • I just came across an interesting blog along the same sort of lines at platitudes. It's very good, see this post in particular.

    http://afterthoughts.crowth.net/theyre-r...
    Statz, 5 years ago. Abusive? Report it!
  • Something of a cheek for Mark Damazer to be launching this blog while having ignored all arguments re. TFTD..

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/radio4/
    Gavin, 5 years ago. Abusive? Report it!
  • The contributions have been streaming in, and now we're ready to launch the Secular Thought for the Day website. It is ready and waiting at http://www.secularthought.org

    The first "thought" will be posted at about 08:00 on Wednesday February 18th. I haven't decided yet which submission will be first, but every one I've received so far has been excellent, and every one of them deserves to be the first post.

    So, between now and Wednesday please let as many people as you can know about this site. Blog about it, talk about it, write to your local paper about it. Spread the word. And of course remind people of the purpose behind it: to demonstrate to the BBC that a Secular Thought for the Day is just as valid, if not more so, than the faith-oriented intermissions on Radio 4's Today programme.

    And if you haven't signed up to do your bit for this site then there is still time. The pledge is at http://www.pledgebank.org/SecularTFTD
    George James, 5 years ago. Abusive? Report it!
  • As much as i agree with the intention of this pledge, i am shocked with some of the comments i have read above. Such as Richard Handley who seems not to recognise that sanity might inculde those who do not share entirely his views. Anyhow, good work on the whole
    Ben McManus, 5 years ago. Abusive? Report it!
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