The BBC won’t talk about religion

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 We also proactively publish information covered by the Act on our publication scheme and regularly handle requests for information under the Act.

Appeal Rights
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. Please note that should the Information Commissioner’s Office decide that the Act does cover this information, exemptions under the Act might then apply.

Yours sincerely,

Chris Burns Head of Group Operations BBC Radio

Review: The Hindus, Wendy Doniger

KhajurahoI recently re-read Wendy Doninger’s very thick tome called The Hindus. This was and is a very controversial book which attracted much opprobrium from the Hindus on the far right of the spectrum. The far right Hindus don’t hesitate to heap misfortunes on Western academics that comment on Hinduism, including throwing rotten eggs at the woman. Which is pretty much infra dig.

Doniger’s colleague, for example, David Gordon White, attracted quite a degree of opprobrium with his book, the Kiss of the Yogini – which actually I think is not really a very good book at all. It’s salacious and builds on works translated moons ago – for example the Kaulajnananirnaya

You know, as an independent journalist doing an honest review, I feel that Doniger’s The Hindus is weighty enough to act as a doorstop if the door needs one. Her views on the tantra are controversial because she only seems to reference the very discredited Mahanirvanatantra, composed by so-called reforming Bangla Hindus. That chapter wasn’t the best she could have done, considering her rather excellent translation of the Kamasutra, which, as she points out in The Hindus, has fuck all to do with tantra..

No. I have a serious problem with Doniger’s The Hindus which goes far beyond her ideas and the ideas others have about her.

She has apparently an obsession which I’ve decided to call “bracketisation”. Her book is very readable but just as you’re getting into another page, you discover she is addicted to the very famous brackets, that is to say ( this and that).

I am going to quantify this by using the tried and time tested method of entering one of her pages at random.

On page 117, Doniger has a total of five sets of brackets in an otherwise very readable chapter about the Vedas. She’s lucky I chose that page because some pages are so packed with sets of brackets and maybe she doesn’t understand that brackets slow you down. Maybe she had never been to Constantinople, which is a very long word. Can you spell it? Yes, all in all, a very provocative and stimulating book but marred by the disease of bracketisation.

Which can be fixed. By a good editor.

Oxford cops sting 952 people speeding at 20MPH plus

Dr Helen SainsburyA freedom of information (FOI) request to the Thames Valley Police has revealed the cops are taking the twenty miles per hour speed limit very seriously, in Oxford .

The police told Volesoft that in the last year 952 people had had  on the spot fines.

They were issued with penalties, which have to be paid on the spot.

The Thames Valley Police, in its reply said it had no figures relating to people it had warned could have speeded beyond 20 miles per hour.

You can read the Thames Valley Police response here – and of course you can always watch inspector Morse, Lewis and the rest. 

Oxford reveals costs of “blue bin initiative”

YOU KNOW you’ve got to give credit to Oxford City Council. It takes the freedom of information act (FOI) seriously.

We asked, a month ago, about the cost of its rather infamous “Blue Bin Initiative”.

It sent out a very expensive leaflet to us very  long suffering residents of Oxford.

Here’s what it came up with on its FOI request. We have asked for an internal review from the Vale of the White Horse on how it lost votes. Unfortunately, the Vale of the White Horse seems to have lost everything. We asked for an internal review. We are still waiting, us Oxford residents.

Hello Mike,


Further to the acknowledgment below, regarding your FOI request dated 28 September, I am now in a position to respond. Please see below for the answers to your questions.

1. Please break down the costs of this initiative – I and other residents of this street received a colour brochure yesterday – league – see sub questions:

Oxford City Council received 350k after they were successful in applying for a DCLG grant.
As this is a three year project officially launching on October 5th, a full breakdown is not yet available.

1a How much did the smartphone app cost to develop?

The Smart App is not part of the project, it was already developed. It cost £750 to include the Blue Bin Recycling League pledge form.

1b To how many households were the full colour brochures delivered in Oxford?

All Oxford households, approximately 60,000. 61,000 packs were ordered.

1c Please name the areas represented by the colours at the back of the leaflet.

Oxford has been split into 8 areas which have been given a colour. These areas mirror our collection days and geographically incorporate several different well known Oxford area names

2. Who was responsible for the initiative? Was it council members?

The Recycling Team submitted a bid to the DCLG grant fund to run the incentive scheme. It has had full Councillor support and consultation and is overseen by John Tanner, board member for Cleaner Greener Oxford

I hope this helps,

Best wishes


show quoted sections

Link to this

Just in case you missed this fab House of Fraser photo


I know it’s a bit fruity, but…

Khajuraho…Khajuraho is a world heritage UNESCO site 

Philip Pullman meets the Uke meister in Oxford

Ukeleles in OxfordI WAS proceeding in a westerly direction when I spotted a photo opportunity and a sound bite to boot. Outside a theatre in Oxford, a juxtaposition presented itself.

And as you all know, I cannot resist a juxtaposition, of whatever type it may be.

Yes, it was Philip Pullman (pictured left) with one of the founding members of the band – the Ukulele Orchestra of the UK with  Will Grove-White (pictured, right).  Will was playing at the New Theatre and apparently Philip is a fan of the ukulele and I think asked Will to sign his rather wonderful book about the ukulele for him.

We did overhear Philip say how much Will’s book had helped him in his ukulele playing.

Pure fantasy? I think not. I was there.