Row Over Thought For The Day As BBC Clarifies Editorial Policy After New Editor's Comments

The BBC has said that there are 'no plans to make changes' to the Thought for the Day slot on BBC Radio 4's 'Today' after the programme's incoming editor singled it out for potential changes at the weekend.

The BBC clarification comes after Sarah Sands, the former editor of the London Evening Standard who is taking over at the Today programme, wrote in the Financial Times (FT) that humanists should be included in the traditionally religious slot and implied that she would change its name. 'I admire religion and believe it is robust enough to have challengers,' she added.

However, BBC sources pointed out that Thought for the Day is part of BBC's religious programming and not part of the editorial remit of the Today programme.

A BBC Radio 4 spokesperson told Christian Today: 'Thought for the Day is editorially looked after by the BBC's Religion and Ethics team in radio and features speakers from the world's major faith traditions. There are no plans to make changes to it.'

Sands wrote in the FT: 'Given there are some who say I must change nothing, I was amused to chat to an old Today hand, Robert Fox, who pointed out how much the programme had developed over the years. In his day it was much more informal and had an engaging air of jeopardy about it. So I will try not to be overwhelmed by the institution. And if we are to start in deep waters, what about Thought For The Day? This slot, it seems to me, is about the meaning of life, so the title hardly does it justice. It is much, much more than platitudes about Jesus and Brexit, balanced now and then with a view from another faith. And if this is about profound faith, surely we should also include humanists? I admire religion and believe it is robust enough to have challengers. I wonder what the listeners think of this . . .'

Christian Today has learned that the comments will be discussed on BBC Radio 4's 'Feedback' programme this Friday.

A senior BBC source said: 'Sarah wasn't recommending editorial changes to Thought for the Day. Rather she was discussing her personal experience and a more general open minded approach to taking on the editorship of Today.'

But a leading Christian campaigner warned that plans to 'dilute' the slot -- which is broadcast at 7.45am on Mondays-Saturdays and runs for two minutes and 45 seconds – should be 'firmly resisted'.

Andrea Williams, the Chief Executive of Christian Concern said: 'The concept for Thought for the Day was originally rooted in our Christian heritage. Many people rightly recognise that it is Christianity which has provided the foundations of Britain's values and institutions, despite the loud voices of a small secular lobby. Sadly this foundation has been lost as Britain has walked away from Jesus Christ and Thought for the Day is reflecting the moral vacuum in society. Calls to dilute the programme any further should be firmly resisted otherwise there will be nothing left.'

Peter Hitchens, the Mail on Sunday columnist appeared to agree with Sands's approach. Hitchens, who is a practising Anglican, author of The Rage Against God and the brother of the famous atheist Christopher, told Christian Today: 'Yes, let's have some atheists too. Many of them will probably be more interested in God and religion than some of the supposedly Christian contributors we have now. Indeed, what would Christians do without atheists? They are among the few people in our society who still care about religion. Far better than indifference.'