11. SIXTH APPELLANT
The Sixth Appeal was received on 3 May 2009 and complained about the editorial policy on selecting contributors to Thought for the Day; in particular, the omission of the humanist or atheist voice from among its presenters.
Stage one and two complaints to the BBC Executive
The Sixth Appellant first complained to the Executive by email on 1 January 2009 and was answered by the Controller of Radio 4 on 8 January 2009. The Controller of Radio 4's email repeated the statement made to iPM on 7 January 2009. This stated that he considered it reasonable on balance to continue the slot using religious contributors only. The Controller of Radio 4 explained that broadening the brief of Thought for the Day from Christian and other religions with significant UK membership would detract from the distinctiveness of the slot. He also stated that 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 and that non-religious voices are heard elsewhere in Radio 4 output.
The Sixth Appellant replied to Controller of Radio 4 by email on 9 January 2009. She stated that the BBC is disregarding its own guidelines in respect of the Thought for the Day slot and that the slot should embody the principle of balanced broadcasting.
The Sixth Appellant challenged the assertion that the inclusion of an occasional humanist view point would "broaden the brief" and "detract from the distinctiveness of the slot". She also queried whether the Controller of Radio 4 is suggesting that only religious people are spiritual by describing Thought for the Day as a slot intending to offer an "interlude of spiritual reflection".
The Sixth Appellant wrote to the Trust on 9 February 2009; her complaint was referred to the Director of BBC Audio and Music as she had not yet received a stage 2 complaint response. The Director of BBC Audio and Music wrote to the appellant on 21 April 2009 stating that the views expressed by the Controller of Radio 4 were those of the BBC and that he did not believe Thought for the Day to contravene the BBC Editorial Guidelines on bias and impartiality. The Director of BBC Audio and Music referred to the balance achieved across other BBC programming.
Appeal to the Trust
The Sixth Appellant considered that Thought for the Day lacks balance because it excludes humanist and atheist contributors. She is of the view that balance might be achieved by regular inclusion of a humanist voice (and that balance is not achieved by reference to other existing output).
The Sixth Appellant specifically questioned the Executive's approach to achieving balance on two grounds:
a. First, for those who consider humanism as valid as a religious creed balance is self- evidently absent;
b. Secondly, the appellant sees no evidence of balance between the religions currently represented on Thought for the Day.
The Sixth Appellant suggested that balance be quantified, perhaps by identifying the thresholds for participation and how many slots per year this would give entitlement to.
The Sixth Appellant did not accept the justification given by the Executive at stages 1 and 2 of the BBC's complaints process for the exclusion of non-religious voices (and specifically how this might detract from the distinctiveness of the slot).
The Sixth Appellant also queried the way in which her complaint had been handled by the Executive. She noted that no response has been made at stages 1 and 2 to the specific issues that she had raised and queried why the BBC Religion and Ethics department have not responded directly at any stage.
The ESC considered the issues within its terms of reference that had been raised by the Sixth Appellant on appeal and made the following findings:
a. The ESC considered whether the Executive handling of any of the appeals at stages one and two of the complaints process might amount to a breach of the Editorial Guideline on Accountability, the Complaints Framework or procedure for consideration of editorial complaints.
The ESC considered that the replies received by the Sixth Appellant at stages one and two of the complaints process had been appropriate and did not find that any breach of the Editorial Guideline on Accountability or procedure for consideration of editorial complaints or of the Complaints Framework had been established in this case.
b. The ESC considered whether the Guideline on impartiality applies to the issues raised by the appellant and, if so, what due impartiality requires in this case.
The ESC found that Thought for the Day is a stand alone strand and a reflection on the issues of the day from a faith perspective. It concluded that Thought for the Day is religious in content The ESC confirmed that the approach to due impartiality had to be adequate and appropriate to such a slot. The ESC found that due impartiality in this context does not require the more rigorous approach to due impartiality expected of news and current affairs. Due impartiality did, however, apply to the slot's content and will vary according to the subject under discussion.
The ESC did not agree that due impartiality requires the inclusion of non-religious contributors in Thought for the Day.
The ESC stated that due impartiality on any given subject matter (and particularly controversial subject matters) should normally be achieved within each Thought for the Day slot or (normally explicitly) across two or three slots. The ESC accepted that in some cases it might be acceptable to meet the requirements of due impartiality on a particular subject by reference to the Today programme as a whole but stated that this would have to be judged on a case by case basis.
The ESC noted the Sixth Appellant's comments regarding thresholds for participation in Thought for the Day but stated that the adoption of such a policy is a matter of editorial discretion for the Executive of the BBC. However, it also noted that the BBC need not necessarily ensure a balance of contributors to Thought for the Day in order to achieve due impartiality.
c. The ESC considered whether Thought for the Day breached any other the Editorial Guidelines?
The ESC did not consider that Thought for the Day breached any other the Editorial Guidelines.
d. The ESC considered whether any remedial action is required in this case>
The ESC did not consider that any remedial action is required in this case.
The ESC stated that it is a question of editorial discretion for the Executive as to whether a slot commenting on an issue of the day from a faith perspective should be featured in BBC programming.
ESC FINDING - NOT UPHELD
The findings of the GAP regarding the Sixth Appeal
The GAP considered the issues within its terms of reference that had been raised by the Sixth Appellant on appeal and made the following findings:
a. The GAP considered whether the Executive handling at stages one and two of the complaints process in this case might amount to a breach of the Complaints Framework or procedure for consideration of general complaints.
The GAP considered that the replies received by the Sixth Appellant at stages one and two of the complaints process had been appropriate and did not find that any breach of Complaints Framework or procedure for consideration of general complaints had been established in this case.
b. The GAP considered whether a slot exclusively for religious contributors is consistent with the Public Purposes.
The GAP found that the Public Purpose requirements and existing underlying Public Purpose Remit and Plan do not limit or prevent the BBC broadcasting religious content that excludes non-religious contributors.
c. The GAP considered whether the Executive is meeting the Public Purpose Remit and Purpose Plan by featuring non-religious content in mainstream programming.
The GAP considered that the BBC's approach to featuring non-religious content and contributors in mainstream programming is consistent with the BBC Public Purpose Remit to reflect religious and other beliefs.
d. The GAP considered whether there had a breach of the Public Purpose.
The GAP concluded there had not been a breach of the Public Purpose in this case.
e. The GAP considered whether any remedial action is required in this case
The GAP did not consider that any remedial action is required in this case.
GAP FINDING - NOT UPHELD