Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Propaganda for the day

On this morning's Today programme we heard from Reverend Joel Edwards for Thought for the Day (18:28 in). Now I'm not the biggest fan of theists being given propaganda time in the middle of the country's premiere morning news programme, but it is normally a fairly innocuous slot (even if highly irritating for occurring when I want to listen to the news and not dull homilies).

But today's broadcast was breathtaking in its partisan political sermonising. Edwards, director of the Evangelical Alliance, was given the the slot to campaign against abortion:
"...the emerging evidence of scientists and respected journalists who lay before us clear indicators that foetuses can survive at an earlier age. It is evidence which is making the law obsolete. In this complicated life and death debate a woman's womb has become one of the most politicised places on the planet. But, had we known 40 years ago, that today 186,000 unborn would be terminated every year, would we have said yes? And would we have been prepared to live with our consciences in making[?] that decision in the light of these facts. Would we have signed up had we realised that in 40 years we would have destroyed the equivalent of London's population, and that, in the vast majority of cases, we had legislated to make abortion a choice of convenience rather than the safety of a woman's life. I doubt that parliament would have done it then, why should it continue to do it now?" [transcribed by pj]
I don't want to prevent the evangelicals from having a voice in this debate, but is it really the purpose of the Thought for the Day slot to use the nation's main morning news and current affairs programme, broadcast to millions of people, as uncritical propaganda time for a religious group to intervene in an important contemporary political debate?

Want to complain? Try here.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

Nice to know that the opinion of someone who happens to have a particular faith is just "intervening," while the important opinions are trying come to a conclusion. Why do you shroud your intolerance towards religion in some charade of equality? You obviously couldn't careless about their opinion but yet you say,

"I don't want to prevent the evangelicals from having a voice in this debate, but is it really the purpose of the Thought for the Day slot to use the nation's main morning news and current affairs programme, broadcast to millions of people, as uncritical propaganda time for a religious group to intervene"

No, no. You don't want to prevent them. You just want them to do it outside while your own opinion is treated like gold. The amazing thing is you actually think you being fair. I suppose that what bigotry does to the human mind. Yeah. Their opinion is propaganda because the guys saying he wouldn't have signed up if he knew the numbers. the self righteousness is truly amazing.

Rebecca Moses said...

Thank you for posting the link to the BBC Complaints service. I was disgusted that a religious organisation be allowed a non-debatable forum to air their own views. I am all for people from all organisations being allowed to debate this subject freely but when it is a fact that 83% of people in this country are pro-choice, I totally agree with what you said, that it is extremely partisan of the BBC to offer one side of the argument this slot and not offer the other side. I am completely disgusted by the reporting of this subject in general through all media and was relieved to find someone else who was also absolutely spitting at the end of that broadcast.

pj said...

"No, no. You don't want to prevent them. You just want them to do it outside while your own opinion is treated like gold. The amazing thing is you actually think you being fair."

It may have escaped your attention that neither I, nor any other pro-choice individual or organisation, was given a special slot on the radio to broadcast the pro-choice view unchallenged.

If religious groups are to retain their protected space on primetime morning radio (a slot which non-religious groups and atheists do not have access to), where they can broadcast their views unchallenged, they should not intervene in national political debates in this fashion.

Anonymous said...

"It may have escaped your attention that neither I, nor any other pro-choice individual or organisation, was given a special slot on the radio to broadcast the pro-choice view unchallenged."

Oh, i'm sorry. looks like the bbc radio will have to schedule in 500,000 slots so you and me (or just you since of course your opinion is so much more important than mine) can get some airtime or else its "not fair." what grade are you in?

we also know the pro choice side has never been alloted time to spew its nonsense on the matter unchallenged. in fact, we dont even know what their side is. its just never been said. you're right, the media is clearly trying to stifle their voice so that the very restrictive laws on abortion can remain so.

"If religious groups are to retain their protected space on primetime morning radio (a slot which non-religious groups and atheists do not have access to), where they can broadcast their views unchallenged, they should not intervene in national political debates in this fashion."

Huh? so because you allege they have some radio time elsewhere they cant "intervene" in "this fashion." yep. that makes sense. because the entire radio broadcasts his side all throughout the day, whereas your viewpoint is relegated to some insignificant slot.

and based on your face to faith post, your belief should be given ample propaganda time, whereas others should not. whoever the guy is you were writing to is dead on. you're just dishonest. plain and simple. you can attempt to intellectualize all day long, but the fact remains that you're just indifferent to people not exactly like you. whining about equal time when you have more than your share in the first place, and when others do get time to state their side, they're "intervening" in a unjust "fashion" and should not "be protected," unlike your "protected" time and golden opinion outside their time, isnt fooling anyone.

pj said...

"Huh? so because you allege they have some radio time elsewhere they cant "intervene" in "this fashion.""

I don't allege that they have radio time elsewhere - they have this radio time on Thought for the Day, keep up.

and based on your face to faith post, your belief should be given ample propaganda time, whereas others should not.

Yep, the editor of the Face to Faith column in the Guardian said he didn't let atheists write in it because they can't help attacking people - I pointed out to him that many religious writers in his column have used it to attack atheists. I just can't help but oppress religious people all the live long day can I?

pj said...

anonymous, reading your comments I am struck that you appear not to know what Thought for the Day is (are you, perchance, an American?)

It is a short slot at around 7:45am on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, probably the premiere news and current affairs programme in the morning, setting the day's news agenda.

The Thought for the Day slot is open only to religious believers for a scripted "reflection from a faith perspective on issues and people in the news" where priests or thinker from different religious group (e.g. Catholic, Hindu, Buddhist etc.) give a little homily usually vaguely touching on some issue in the news.

It is not intended nor usually used by religious groups to attack people or to forward political agendas. My objection here was to the use of this slot to make a political intervention in the abortion debate.

I do not object to people making interventions in the debate from a religious agenda in general, but do object to the use of this unchallenged slot being used for that purpose. If a protected slot is to be retained for the exclusive use of religious believers to broadcast a sermon to millions of people listening to the news in the morning then using it as a political platform is not the way to go.

Anonymous said...

"(are you, perchance, an American?)"

no, canadian.

"...give a little homily usually vaguely touching on some issue in the news.

well, this time its not so vague.

"If a protected slot is to be retained for the exclusive use of religious believers to broadcast a sermon to millions of people listening to the news in the morning then using it as a political platform is not the way to go."

politics. so is it politics if they were to say 'treat people with respect.' would it be politics if they said 'do onto others...'sounds like feminist/homosexual/racial politics to me. but no, its only politics when the guy says he might have reconsidered signing up for abortion, because these politics have absolutely nothing to do with his religious views ergo they dont belong in a religious segment. i read your previous post; so when its a public forum his views shouldnt be considered because they're religious and not scientific, but when its a religious forum its politics and not religious. nice way to shut down an anti abortion argument. just never let them speak.

potentilla said...

The existence of TftD with its current policies is a scandal anyway in a publicly-funded organisation. And it was (is?) usually so boring, to boot (Rabbi Lionel Blue was good, though).

At least I got to enjoy the 'face to faith' post, which I missed at the time (was in hospital, I think). I loved the bit about Christians being the real unconventional freethinkers. But you had already been given the perfect riposte that would demolish this argument! that Christians are about as alternative as Rod Stewart!

Anonymous said...

"I just can't help but oppress religious people all the live long day can I?

i suppose you forgot this little revealing comment in that post,

pj:"Obviously in my ideal world there probably wouldn't be religious believers"

...oops.

Anonymous said...

"...that Christians are about as alternative as Rod Stewart!"

Rod who?

pj said...

"i suppose you forgot this little revealing comment in that post,

pj:"Obviously in my ideal world there probably wouldn't be religious believers"

...oops."


In my ideal world there wouldn't be flat earthers either - am I oppressing them too? Seems to me your definition of 'oppress' is a bit broad, I think I did a post about that, oh yes, the one you actually got that quote from, here's some more:

"If theists are arguing that just by disagreeing with them atheists are seeking to oppress them they are quite fundamentally, and comically, wrong...Indeed I happily tolerate the right of theists to have their own protected space in newspapers to attack us atheists, or for the Chief Rabbi...or Archbishop of Canterbury to try and convert me to their way of thinking."

pj said...

"i read your previous post; so when its a public forum his views shouldnt be considered because they're religious and not scientific, but when its a religious forum its politics and not religious. nice way to shut down an anti abortion argument. just never let them speak."

When it is a scientific discussion then religion doesn't need to enter into it - the dispatches documentary and the commons committee enquiry are explicitly about the science, what could the religious perspective have to add to questions about foetal pain or premature viability? Note that there has been plenty of coverage of the scientific anti-abortion arguments.

Anyway, I think that's enough time spent arguing with trolls.

pj said...

"politics. so is it politics if they were to say 'treat people with respect.' would it be politics if they said 'do onto others...'sounds like feminist/homosexual/racial politics to me. but no, its only politics when the guy says he might have reconsidered signing up for abortion, because these politics have absolutely nothing to do with his religious views ergo they dont belong in a religious segment."

Actually you do have a point there - but it is the point that goes to the heart of the conflict inherant in having a protected space for religion such as Thought for the Day. It is true that religious believers take positions on a variety of issues based on their religion - but to tolerate state funded religious sermonising during a primetime news programme there is a need to moderate the views expressed. Only a minority of listeners will be of the religious persuasion of any given speaker, and as they are allowed to present their views unchallenged, they must avoid alienting or offending the majority of listeners. To take your view to its extreme conclusion what is to stop a Muslim cleric using the space to say that it is right and proper to kill the civilian populace of Western countries because they are morally degenerate infidels?

Anonymous said...

listen, i want you to know something. We may have our differences, but i still love you.

Rebecca Moses said...

Just thought you would like to hear my response from the BBC:

Dear Dr Moses

Thank you for your email concerning Thought for the Day, transmitted on 24 October 2007.

Please accept our apologies for the delay in replying. We know our correspondents appreciate a quick response and we are sorry you have had to wait on this occasion.

I'm sorry that you felt so strongly about Joel Edward's 'Thought for the Day' dealing with the issue of abortion. Firstly, as the slot's brief is specifically to deal with topical issues it was legitimate to tackle the subject in view of the extensive coverage of the debate by religious leaders, believers, non-believers and pro and anti-abortion campaigners alike. Obviously, this is the kind of issue which provokes strongly held views on all sides and the Thought of a particular contributor comprises his or her take on events, but to avoid inclusion of such an important moral issue would be almost perverse on a religious/ethical slot and would certainly look as though we were out of touch with reality.

Joel Edwards' script was not without balance within the content. He made clear at the start of his Thought that he distanced himself from extremists on the pro-choice side of the debate. He also admitted that he could never know the misery and the pain of women desperate for an abortion post-rape. But he wanted, as he said, to contribute to the debate. He proceeded to do so. It is worth noting that he did not call for a ban on abortion and he rooted his line of argument in theology - the other element of the slot's core brief - in fact, he used a quote from scripture to make his closing point. As Director of the Evangelical Alliance, Joel Edwards represents a significant body of opinion, both among believers and non believers, and one which is arguably less heard in the media. There is also a range of opinions among Thought contributors who wouldn't say exactly the same as Joel Edwards allowing us to present a balance of views over a period of time.

Nevertheless, I would like to assure you that we have registered your comments on our audience log. This is the internal report of audience feedback which we compile daily for all programme makers and commissioning executives within the BBC, and also their senior management. It ensures that your points, and all other comments we receive, are circulated and considered across the BBC.

Thank you once again for taking the time to contact us.

Yours sincerely
Christine Morgan
Executive Producer, Religion and Ethics

pj said...

Cheers, that's interesting because I got a boilerplate response from the Thought for the Day team that seemed more interested in defending the slot from secularists than addressing my complaint directly (I also complained via the BBC complaints process and haven't heard back from them yet):

"Dear Dr XXXXXX

Thank you for your e-mail regarding 'Thought for the Day'.

I appreciate that you objected to the content of the 24 October edition of the programme.

First and foremost, 'Thought for the Day' is a unique slot on the BBC in which speakers from a wide range of religious faiths reflect on an issue of the day from their faith perspective.

In the midst of the three-hour 'Today' programme devoted to overwhelmingly secular concerns - national and international news and features, searching interviews and sometimes heated debate on issues of public policy - the BBC judges it appropriate to offer a brief, uninterrupted interlude of spiritual reflection, at a point in the morning when most of the audience are embarking on their day.

At its best the short talk plants a seed of thought, a spark of spiritual insight that stays with listeners during the day. At times of national event or crisis it also has the capacity to catch the mood of the nation and speak to it.

Although the number of UK church-goers has dwindled in recent decades, the policy remains in place because a significant majority of the UK population (around 70 per cent), including increasing numbers from non-Christian faiths, claim a belief in God or describe themselves as "spiritual." Also, the level of attendance in religious activities among the Radio 4 audience is higher than the national average.

Broadening the brief would detract from the distinctiveness of the slot.

"Thought for the Day" has been a regular feature on BBC Radio for nearly 40 years and therefore the programme's remit and approach is very well known by listeners and we therefore feel the programme's title is appropriate and should remain.

The BBC believes that all licence fee payers have the right to hear their reasonable views and beliefs reflected on its output. Within 'Thought for the Day' a careful balance is maintained of voices from different Christian denominations and other religions with significant membership in the UK. Speakers are expected to make brief references to their faith and its scriptures, but are not permitted to proselytise on behalf of their religion or to disparage other religions.

'Thought for the Day' speakers are not questioned or interrupted on air, but their choice of subject and the content of their scripts are subject to careful scrutiny and frequent re-drafting in collaboration with an experienced producer working to strict BBC guidelines on impartiality.

In addition, the mix of regular contributors to the slot represents a wide range of theological, social and political views to ensure further balance across a period of time.

Non-religious voices are also heard extensively across the general output. Occasional programmes give voice to atheist and humanist viewpoints. The vast swathe of general programmes makes little reference to religion, but approach the world from an overwhelmingly secular perspective: news, current affairs, documentaries, talks, science, history; which includes, of course, the other 2 hours 57 minutes of the Today programme.

Outside 'Thought for the Day', the BBC's Religion & Ethics output maintains a balance of religious and non-religious voices, through programmes such as 'Sunday', 'The Heaven & Earth Show with Gloria Hunniford', 'Beyond Belief', 'Moral Maze', and 'Belief'. In these programmes, atheists, humanists and secularists are regularly heard, the religious world is scrutinised, its leaders and proponents are questioned, and the harm done in the name of religion is explored.

We do not suggest that the only people with anything worthwhile to say about morals or ethics are religious people but that does not mean that the 'Thought for the Day' brief is not a legitimate one for listeners of all faiths and those of none. Some of the programme's strongest support and most positive feedback comes from people who begin, "I am not a religious person but I do enjoy 'Thought for the Day'..."

Nevertheless, I would like to assure you that we have registered your comments on our audience log. This is the internal report of audience feedback which we compile daily for all programme makers and commissioning executives within the BBC, and also their senior management. It ensures that your points, and all other comments we receive, are circulated and considered across the BBC.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact us.

Regards

XXXXXXX
BBC Information


So, have you heard any pro-abortion slots on Thought for the Day yet? Ah balance, I notice that Joel Edwards has had several Thought for the Day slots since too.

pj said...

In the interests of completeness I repeat the reply I finally got from the BBC:

"Dear Dr XXXXXXX

Thank you for your e-mail concerning 'Thought for the Day', transmitted on 24 October 2007.

Please accept our apologies for the delay in replying. We know our correspondents appreciate a quick response and we are sorry you have had to wait on this occasion.

I'm sorry that you felt so strongly about Joel Edward's 'Thought for the Day' dealing with the issue of abortion. Firstly, as the slot's brief is specifically to deal with topical issues it was legitimate to tackle the subject in view of the extensive coverage of the debate by religious leaders, believers, non-believers and pro and anti-abortion campaigners alike. Obviously, this is the kind of issue which provokes strongly held views on all sides and the Thought of a particular contributor comprises his or her take on events, but to avoid inclusion of such an important moral issue would be almost perverse on a religious/ethical slot and would certainly look as though we were out of touch with reality.

Joel Edwards' script was not without balance within the content. He made clear at the start of his Thought that he distanced himself from extremists on the pro-choice side of the debate. He also admitted that he could never know the misery and the pain of women desperate for an abortion post-rape. But he wanted, as he said, to contribute to the debate. He proceeded to do so. It is worth noting that he did not call for a ban on abortion and he rooted his line of argument in theology - the other element of the slot's core brief - in fact, he used a quote from scripture to make his closing point. As Director of the Evangelical Alliance, Joel Edwards represents a significant body of opinion, both among believers and non believers, and one which is arguably less heard in the media. There is also a range of opinions among Thought contributors who wouldn't say exactly the same as Joel Edwards allowing us to present a balance of views over a period of time.

Yours sincerely

XXXXXXX
Executive Producer, Religion and Ethics"


I note that Thought for the Day doesn't regard:

"There seems to be no way of being 'pro-life' without sounding 'anti-choice'...had we known 40 years ago, that today 186,000 unborn would be terminated every year...I doubt that parliament would have done it then, why should it continue to do it now?"

as advocating the repeal of the abortion law, which is a very odd interpretation of what he said. I wonder what she thinks he meant by it?

I'm also interested in the idea that Thought for the Day is specifically for topical religious interventions but at the same time free from any need for balance, whether that be other religious voices or secular opinions, this is worrying when the likes of Joel Edwards can make factual claims such as "the emerging evidence of scientists and respected journalists who lay before us clear indicators that foetuses can survive at an earlier age" as well as political interventions such as "why should it continue...?"

The line:

"There is also a range of opinions among Thought contributors who wouldn't say exactly the same as Joel Edwards allowing us to present a balance of views over a period of time."

Highlights their real concern regarding 'balance', making sure that the religious groups and only the religious, not secular or atheistic speakers) get equal time to proselytise, not that there is balance on any one issue.

The claim that his saying:

"I want to distance myself from the despicable conduct and caricatures associated with elements of pro-life Christianity in the States. The people associated with blowing up clinics for God!

And I have to say I get nervous about the parade of male clerics across the faith spectrum who appear in the media to tell women what to do about their bodies."


In any way counts as being "not without balance within the content" is laughable.

I was also amused by the claim that "...he rooted his line of argument in theology - the other element of the slot's core brief - in fact, he used a quote from scripture to make his closing point."

Let's read that again shall we?

"...as Joshua, Moses' successor, said to the young nation - 'Today I set before you life and death. Choose life and live.'"

Wow, that's some deep and highly relevant scripture there.

I just love the way that the sort of idiots that write these replies are unable to just say, 'look, we want a protected space for religious people to say what they want, I'm sorry you don't like it but that's just the way it is', instead they have to write this sort of tendentious tripe that just winds people up all the more because now we know they have absolutely no regard for what we're saying.

[the full script on the Thought for the Day website]