The BBC Trust has said it has no plans to change the corporation’s religious radio programmes, despite their apparent lack of popularity.
In a public consultation, the governing body of the broadcaster found that religious programmes were the most poorly rated by listeners, with “just under two-thirds” of the Radio 4 audience (63 per cent) rating them as “good”.
They were also found to be the least popular, attracting only 15 per cent of Radio 4 listeners compared with 91 per cent who listen to “in-depth factual programmes”.
The report also stated that “Radio 4 is well aware of its listeners’ range of views on this subject and has no plans for change to its output at present.”
Fr Christopher Jamison, the director of the National Office for Vocation and a regular contributor to BBC Radio 2, said the response to religious programming was, in fact, positive and said there was “scope for more adventurous religious programming”.
“The BBC Speech Radio Review covered the contribution to the BBC’s aims made by several stations. It’s hardly surprising that only 15 per cent of Radio 4 listeners specifically choose religious programmes; that’s double the percentage of the population choosing church on Sunday,” he said.
“Just under two thirds of Radio 4 listeners think these are good programmes, which is low compared to other genres but surprisingly high in a secular culture. There is scope for more adventurous religious programming on BBC radio but creative producers need more encouragement to do this on the shoestring budget available.”
However, the National Secular Society’s (NSS) Stephen Evans said in a statement: “It is extraordinary that such a critical review could result in no action being taken. What was the purpose of conducting a public consultation and review, if the findings are to be ignored?”
The NSS also said that Thought for the Day should be reformatted to include non-religious voices.
Mr Evans added: “To have a slot in the middle Radio 4’s flagship news and current affairs programme, reserved only for religious speakers, to make sometimes very contentious points which go completely unchallenged, is unjustifiable. It demonstrates an unhealthy and anachronistic deference to religion unworthy of Britain’s public-service broadcaster.”
Acknowledging this, the BBC Trust said, “several respondents call for the secularisation” of Thought for The Day, “although a substantial number of listeners maintain that religion does have a place on the programme.”