Leading Article: It's the kind of thought that counts

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The Independent Online
And here with her thought for the day is ... Dolores O'Riordan of the Cranberries. Imagine. Ms O'Riordan is opinionated and moralistic. Her thought for this Monday morning might well be worth listening to; she might even sing it. Or how about hearing Pat Barker; her books contain lots of bite-sized thoughts. Or Bernard Williams - who is paid to think. No. Those who listen to the Today programme are not going to hear any of those because they are not "religious" - that is to say, they do not fall under the hieratic definitions of belief on which the BBC insists.

The minor national institution of Thought for the Day is in the news because some regular presenters have been sacked, allegedly because they might say things (eg, about poverty) that are deemed politically dangerous to a nervous quango anxious to keep its nose clean in the run-up to a general election. That is not really the issue. Conservative Central Office has every right to get uptight about sententious Church of England clerics. Thought for the Day's problem is the limited definition of what counts as a "thought".

Today inevitably has faults. Indeed, Conservative Central Office and Brian Mawhinney assure us that its faults are legion. But the programme cannot be blamed for the fact the BBC entrusts this slot to the religious broadcasters despite the fact that that department is responsible for some of the direst programmes on the airwaves.

It is a great blessing that Today finds space for listeners to enjoy a few moments' reflection. And if they don't want it, they can at least switch on the coffee grinder and the electric razor without missing the next news item. But it need not be a thought about the day's events - that formula gives us nuns on Middle Eastern politics, and Methodist ministers on the sale of Railtrack. What we want, rather than more political opinion, is ethical vignettes - a daily philosophical gobbet on the human condition. Who amongst us, whatever we do, would not benefit from a bit of moral uplift with our breakfast?

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