We campaign to ensure fairer coverage of religious and non-religious beliefs across public broadcasting output. Currently the BBC fails to do this, having hours of programming (often confessional in nature) devoted to specifically religious content, and no equivalent content about non-religious worldviews such as humanism. In particular, Thought for the Day, in the middle of Radio 4’s Today programme, takes exclusively religious contributions and excludes the non-religious from participating. We believe this should change.
Broadcasting – especially public service broadcasting – is one of the main ways in which citizens and communities can learn about and from each other.
The right to freedom of speech includes the right of access to broadcasting media for all religions or beliefs. We want to ensure that humanist voices and perspectives are reflected in public discourse and assist those with humanist beliefs to identify as humanists. We want broadcasters to fairly reflect the religions and beliefs found in Britain and therefore to broadcast programmes aimed especially at humanists.
We achieved considerable success with the passing of the Communications Act 2003 by ensuring that public service broadcasting includes programming on ‘religion and other beliefs’, with beliefs being defined in a way that clearly covers non-religious outlooks like humanism.
But although the law makes clear that religions and beliefs, including non-religious beliefs such as humanism, should be treated equally in terms of broadcasting, the BBC has resisted this.
An example of this in practice is that there has been almost no programmes considering in detail non-religious beliefs or about humanism, in spite of there being large numbers of programmes about each of the major world religions, as well as programmes made by people of particular religions and for adherents of that religion.
We continue to pressure the BBC and other public service broadcasters, along with Ofcom on a range of broadcasting issues.
Thought for the Day
Thought for the Day is a religious slot in the middle of the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme which offers ‘reflections from a faith perspective on issues and people in the news’. It plainly proclaims that reflective thoughts on the events of the day can come only from people with ‘a faith’. Humanists are banned from providing contributions to the programme. We believe it is entirely unacceptable to exclude speakers because they are non-religious.
What we’re doing
- We continue to campaign for fairer broadcasting coverage for humanists and the non-religious. We have long protested to the BBC about its failure to provide any detailed programmes about non-religious beliefs or humanism, by contrast with the many hours of programmes that are explicitly religious, a high proportion of which consist of Christians preaching Christianity to their own followers.
- We were a key stakeholder in the 2017 BBC Religion and Ethics Review – along with Humanist Society Scotland we were the only non-religious or secularist group consulted. However, we were disappointed by the outcome, which did not propose equal coverage.
Since then, we’ve been meeting with senior content and decision-makers within the BBC, including on the implementation of the Review, to continue to outline our concerns and to try and secure further coverage. In recent years we have had meetings with the Director-General of the BBC, the chair of the BBC Trust, and Head of Religion and Ethics.
- We have responded to all relevant consultations this century on broadcasting and the BBC’s output. These more recently include responding t calling for a more inclusive approach in Ofcom’s 2015 review of public sector broadcasting, and its thematic review of representation and portrayal in 2018, and to the BBC’s consultation on its draft editorial guidelines in 2018.
Thought for the Day
- We have led the national campaign for BBC Radio 4’s Thought for the Day programme to include humanist perspectives. In 2018 we teamed up with our patrons and organised a joint letter to the head of the BBC calling for humanists to be included on the programme. The letter was published in The Guardian along with a story on our calls. Despite this high-profile intervention, the BBC later said it stuck by its policy to exclude humanists from the programme.
- In 2014, we ran ‘Thought for the Commute’, a poster campaign on London Underground, which highlighted the lack of balance in media coverage of religion and belief.
- Then in 2015 the Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life – of which our Chief Executive was a Commissioner – recommended that ‘The BBC Charter renewal should mandate the Corporation to reflect the range of religion and belief of modern society, for example by extending contributions to Radio 4’s daily religious flagship Thought for the Day to include speakers from non-religious perspectives such as humanists.’
- We have also pushed for change in a large number of consultation and stakeholder exercises, as outlined above, and encouraged our members and supporters to write to the BBC and to sign petitions on this subject.
You can support Humanists UK by becoming a member. That helps in itself, and you can help even more by supporting our campaigns in the ways suggested above. But campaigns also cost money – quite a lot of money – and we also need financial support. You can make a donation to Humanists UK.