'Thought for the Day' may take on secular outlook adoighaog

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Mark Thompson, the director general of the BBC, seems to have left the door open for secular contributions to future editions of "Thought for the Day" on Radio 4'sToday programme.

Mr Thompson, 47, a practising Catholic, said in an interview that he understood why some groups wanted the coveted slot opened up to non-religious dialogue.

"You can make a case for opening it up to people with other heartfelt belief systems. I would not close my mind to it," he says in the latest edition of The Tablet, a weekly Catholic journal.

Mr Thompson said coverage of religion had been the most controversial subject in his tenure at the BBC so far, with some furious rows over programming.

"There is not much evidence that the audience at large has become more sensitive to religion ... what is certainly true is that pressure groups have got more confidence and more means at their disposal," he said.

"Thought for the Day" is broadcast every weekday at 8.45am on Today, and is three minutes long. Guests have included the Chief Rabbi and the Archbishop of Canterbury. The slot has has been criticised by some religious people as being too bland, while secularists have complained it is not open to reflections of a non-religious nature. Others say the broadcast has become politicised or is just too dull.

The National Secular Society has long campaigned for the programme to allow atheist speakers. It has threatened the BBC with legal action on the matter.

Around 30 per cent of people in the UK do not belong to a religious faith, yet this large minority has always been denied a voice on "Thought For The Day", to the anger of high-profile secularists such as Harold Pinter and Michael Foot.

The BBC has tried to beef up the slot by using younger people to speak after receiving complaints that the list of speakers was too old and boring. But the board of governors' traditional final line has been that the slot will remain exclusively for religious reflection.