Thought for the Day: Step down from the pulpit

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The Independent Online
Controversial contributors to Radio 4's early morning "God slot", Thought for the Day, are at the centre of an unholy row amid allegations that they are being "rested" because of their outspoken political views.

Three of the best known, the Venerable George Austin, Archdeacon of York, Canon Phillip Crowe, former principal of Salisbury theological college, and Dr Leslie Griffiths, former president of the Methodist Conference, have received letters from the BBC saying their performances will not be required for the next year or so while the religious slot in the Today programme tries out some new names.

David Coomes, a BBC producer, wrote to the three saying that some recent scripts have been too simplistic: "Thought should not be about government or even oppostion bashing. Everybody else in Today does that." But he adds some words of comfort for the three: "I use the term `rested' geniunely; all strands need refreshing from time to time, and there is no reason why old favourites etc cannot return as others in turn are rested."

This is small comfort to the three former contributors. Canon Crowe, who has contributed more than 200 radio sermons, has accused the BBC of trying to play "politically safe". The corporation is believed to be trying to reduce the amount of political comment and put greater emphasis on religion and philosophy.

Ernest Rea, head of religious broadcasting at the BBC, denied this last night, saying that, in common with other programme strands there would be changes in contributors from time to time: "There is no change in the core brief of Thought for the Day."

He added that the programme would benefit from new blood as it "widened its net" to accept contributions from journalists and academics who had made public statements on their faith.