Lord Singh of Wimbledon has warned of “thought police” at the BBC after announcing that he is quitting Radio 4’s Thought for the Day after being a contributor for the last 35 years.
In comments to The Times, the Sikh crossbench peer claimed that concern over the religious content of Thought for the Day reflections had reached the point where even Jesus Christ “would not be allowed near” the programme today.
He claims that he was told by the broadcaster that his planned reflections remembering an executed Sikh guru who had challenged the forced conversion of Hindus to Islam in India in the 17th century “might offend Muslims”.
He told The Times that the script was not critical of Islam and that rather his own religion’s teachings had been “insulted” by the BBC’s handling of the matter.
“It was like saying to a Christian that he or she should not talk about Easter for fear of giving offence to the Jews,” he said.
When he threatened to leave the slot empty in protest, the BBC let him go ahead with his commentary, he says.
He told The Times that there was now a “misplaced sense of political correctness” at the BBC that “pushes contributors to bland and unworldly expressions of piety that no one can complain about”.
He also claimed that the corporation had stopped sending Christmas cards to contributors.
“The need for sensitivity in talking about religious, political or social issues has now been taken to absurd proportions with telephone insistence on trivial textual changes right up to going into the studio, making it difficult to say anything worthwhile,” he said.
“The aim of Thought for the Day has changed from giving an ethical input to social and political issues to the recital of religious platitudes and the avoidance of controversy, with success measured by the absence of complaints.
“I believe Guru Nanak [the founder of Sikhism] and Jesus Christ, who boldly raised social concerns while stressing tolerance and respect, would not be allowed near Thought for the Day today.”
Lord Singh said he complained over the incident last November but the BBC’s director of radio, James Purnell, found no wrongdoing on the part of the corporation.
Responding to his claims, the BBC said: “Lord Singh has been a respected contributor for many years and remains so.
“By its nature Thought for the Day is a live, topical segment and it’s not unusual for editorial changes to be made so that it reflects the biggest news stories of the day.
“Our aim is to treat all faiths respectfully and our editorial processes on this apply to everyone equally.
“As those who feature on the slot know, the team works with others fairly regardless of which faith contributors represent. We disagree with Lord Singh and don’t recognise his characterisation of Thought for the Day.”
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