THE UK is becoming increasingly secular and culturally diverse, but the BBC continues to pursue a mostly Christian agendum. Every morning, BBC Radio 4 starts with a prayer for the day, and during the Today programme, there’s a religious slot at about 12 minutes to eight called Thought for the Day. The speakers are usually Christian clergy, although every so often, a Sikh, a Muslim or a Hindu or a Jew gets the slot. There’s never an atheist, an agnostic and we haven’t heard a pagan yet.
Sundays are particularly tedious with a programme on religion between 7:10AM and a religious service kicking in on Radio 4 at 8:10 AM, forcing me to switch to the BBC World Service.
I decided to make use of the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) to see if BBC management could shed any light on the matter. My request was declined because the BBC appears to believe that religious content is exempt from the FOI Act because it’s journalism, art or literature.
Here’s the text of its reply, below. ♠
Dear Mr Magee,
Freedom of Information request – RFI20151825
Thank you for your request to the BBC of 1st November 2015 seeking the following information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000: ‘Every Sunday, BBC Radio 4 seems to fill the airwaves with religious broadcasts, mostly of the Christian persuasion. I would like to ask the BBC why it feels the need to do this, specifically as this country is increasingly secularist and hardly anyone goes to the church on Sunday, if they even believe in the church. Is this a function of the BBC charter? And what’s the justification for doing thought for the day on BBC Radio 4 Today every weekday without including atheistic and agnostic ideas? Thirdly, who picks the clergy to deliver thought for the day?’
The information you have requested is excluded from the Act because it is held for the purposes of ‘journalism, art or literature.’ The BBC is therefore not obliged to provide this information to you and will not be doing so on this occasion. Part VI of Schedule 1 to FOIA provides that information held by the BBC and the other public service broadcasters is only covered by the Act if it is held for ‘purposes other than those of journalism, art or literature”.
The BBC is not required to supply information held for the purposes of creating the BBC’s output or information that supports and is closely associated with these creative activities.1 The limited application of the Act to public service broadcasters was to protect freedom of expression and the rights of the media under Article 10 European Convention on Human Rights 1 For more information about how the Act applies to the BBC please see the enclosure which follows this letter. Please note that this guidance is not intended to be a comprehensive legal interpretation of how the Act applies to the BBC.
(“ECHR”). The BBC, as a media organisation, is under a duty to impart information and ideas on all matters of public interest and the importance of this function has been recognised by the European Court of Human Rights. Maintaining our editorial independence is a crucial factor in enabling the media to fulfil this function.
That said, the BBC makes a huge range of information available about our programmes and content on bbc.co.uk. We also proactively publish information covered by the Act on our publication scheme and regularly handle requests for information under the Act.
The BBC does not offer an internal review when the information requested is not covered by the Act. If you disagree with our decision you can appeal to the Information Commissioner. Contact details are: Information Commissioner’s Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire, SK9 5AF telephone 01625 545 700. www.ico.org.uk Please note that should the Information Commissioner’s Office decide that the Act does cover this information, exemptions under the Act might then apply.
Chris Burns Head of Group Operations BBC Radio