October 4, 2019 10:59:33 pm
A prominent British Sikh peer in the House of Lords on Friday announced that he was “reluctantly” quitting a regular BBC Radio slot named ‘Thought For The Day’, amid a censorship row over a segment on Sikh teachings which the broadcaster feared “might offend Muslims”.
Lord Indarjit Singh, Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO), has been one of the regulars on the BBC Radio 4 show dedicated to reflections from a faith perspective on issues and people in the news by various contributors.
The 87-year-old accused the BBC of “prejudice and intolerance” in the way it handled a script referring to Guru Tegh Bahadur’s martyrdom for fear of “Islamophobia”.
“I am reluctantly leaving Thought For The Day’ (TFTD) because I can no longer accept prejudiced and intolerant attempts by the BBC to silence key Sikh teachings on tolerance, freedom of belief and the need for us all to make ours a more cohesive and responsible society,” Lord Singh said in a statement.
“I believe that both Guru Nanak and Jesus Christ who boldly raised social concerns whilst stressing tolerance and respect, would not be allowed near TFTD today,” he said.
The script in question dates back to November 2018 and focussed on the ninth Sikh Guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur, who the peer wanted to highlight as having given his life defending those of a different religion to his own against a Mughal Emperor’s policy of forced conversion.
Singh’s script on the martyrdom had been agreed by the producer of the day but the senior producer “arbitrarily and without consultation” declared she would not allow the script to be broadcast because it “might offend Muslims”, even though it contained no criticism of Islam.
“The martyrdom occupies a similar position in Sikh teachings to Easter in Christianity… It was akin to telling a Christian they should not talk about Easter for fear of offending Jews,” says the peer, adding that those responsible for the slot have sought to bury historical fact by such actions.
Singh stood his ground and said he would rather the slot was left empty than have Sikh teachings “insulted” in this way.
The producer in question reluctantly agreed for the talk to go ahead. However, the peer alleges that his treatment by the broadcaster took a turn for the worse from then on.
“I was not forgiven, and the number of slots given to me was further curtailed. The pressure became worse,” he added.
A BBC spokesperson described Lord Singh as a “respected contributor” for many years but disagreed with the allegations.
“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,” the spokesperson said.
“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’,” the official added.