Written evidence submitted by Humanists UK



At Humanists UK, we want a tolerant world where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We work to support lasting change for a better society, championing ideas for the one life we have. Our work helps people be happier and more fulfilled, and by bringing non-religious people together we help them develop their own views and an understanding of the world around them. Founded in 1896, we are trusted to promote humanism by 100,000 members and supporters and over 115 members of the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group. Through our ceremonies, pastoral support, education services, and campaigning work, we advance free thinking and freedom of choice so everyone can live in a fair and equal society.



        We recognise the importance of Public Service Media in creating programming that reflects and informs the public about society in all of its diversity.

        Humanists UK therefore calls for the Media Bill to explicitly include provision for programming about ‘religion and other beliefs’ as is currently mandated for public service broadcasting in the Communications Act 2003.



Religion, beliefs, and worldviews

  1. ‘Religion or belief’ (or sometimes ‘religion and belief’) is a phrase that appears throughout UK legislation. The current Communications Act 2003, for example, refers to ‘religion and other beliefs’, and says that ‘belief' means a collective belief in, or other adherence to, a systemised set of ethical or philosophical principles or of mystical or transcendental doctrine’.[1]
  2. This is analogous to what is more commonly referred to (for example, in the field of religious education) as ‘Religions and non-religious worldviews’, which is generally understood to refer to those religions and beliefs that seek to answer ultimate questions, comprehensively relating the nature of life and the world to morality, values, and/or the way people should live. In other words, the phrase refers to religions and to their non-religious equivalent worldviews.[2]
  3. Humanism is the only prominent non-religious worldview that is common in the UK today. It is also the most well-articulated and well-resourced[3] non-religious worldview in the UK, and therefore the most suitable for inclusion in various initiatives that examine the major religions.



Question: Do you have any recommendations for additional or amended drafting to the bIll?


Recommendation: the draft Media Bill should explicitly require programming on religion and other beliefs as is currently set out in the Communications Act 2003.

  1. Part 1 , Clause 1(1) of the draft Media Bill seeks to replace Section 264 subsections (3)-(8) of the Communications Act 2003.
  2. Section 264 of the Communications Act 2003 defines that, amongst other things, public public service broadcasting as including programmes on ‘religion and other beliefs’ and specifies that ‘belief’ means ‘a collective belief in, or other adherence to, a systemised set of ethical or philosophical principles or of mystical or transcendental doctrines’.
  3. The proposed replacement is meant to simplify the requirements. In Clause 1(5)(a) it states the new requirements to facilitate ‘civic understanding and fair and well-informed debate on news and current affairs’ in the UK and around the world, and in (b) that that the audiovisual content includes what appears to OFCOM to be a ‘sufficient quantity of audiovisual content that:

(i) reflects the lives and concerns of different communities and cultural interests and traditions within the United Kingdom, and locally in different parts of the United Kingdom, or

(ii) without prejudice to the generality of sub-paragraph (i), is in, or mainly in, a recognised regional or minority language

Clause 1(5)(c) requires ‘an appropriate range and quality of audiovisual content, contained in original productions, that:

(i) reflects the lives and concerns of children and young people in the United Kingdom, and

(ii) helps them to understand the world around them.

  1. We do not consider this requirement sufficient to proactively mandate programming for and about religion or belief in the UK and are concerned that this would result in this essential programming being overlooked.
  2. In an increasingly diverse world, public service broadcasting is important to provide programming to help people learn from and about one another, prompt debate on views and policies, and learn about the society they live in.
  3. We successfully campaigned during the passing of the Communications Act 2003 to broaden the scope of public service broadcasting to include ‘other beliefs’ as well as content on ‘religion’, with beliefs being defined in a way that clearly covers non-religious outlooks like humanism.
  4. This represented a progressive step to bring the then Bill in line with the Human Rights Act, and should have resulted in the creation of programming for and about non-religious beliefs such as humanism, alongside programming on religion.
  5. However, this did not materialise in practice, as explained below. However, instead of removing this commitment, the draft Media Bill should instead recommit to such coverage, providing a renewed opportunity to enhance public sector broadcasting.
  6. We have long protested to the BBC about its failure to provide any programmes that are explicitly about non-religious beliefs or humanism, by contrast with the many hours of programmes that are explicitly religious, a high proportion of which consist of Christians preaching Christianity to their own followers. No programme has ever been broadcast on a national network in which humanists have been allowed directly to address humanists on humanism. The BBC’s Religion and Ethics department has a history of focusing on religions in its broadcasting about the beliefs found in the world today, to the exclusion of non-religious worldviews.
  7. This is explored by examining three relevant types of programme in more detail below.


(a)              Current affairs programmes and documentaries related to religion or belief – e.g. Young, Sikh and Proud (BBC One), My Mate's A Muslim (BBC Three), Britain's Easter Story (Radio Four).


(b)              Magazine and discussion programmes about religion and belief designed to educate, entertain, and inform – e.g. Sunday (BBC Radio Four), The Moral Maze (BBC Radio Four), The Big Questions (BBC One), Sunday Morning Live (BBC One).


(c)              Programmes by believers about religion and belief and addressed to fellow-believers – e.g. the daily service on BBC Radio Four, Songs of Praise (BBC One), and programmes to mark specific religious festivals (Easter, Diwali etc). We will consider these in turn.


  1. In terms of (a), the BBC has not broadcast a single documentary programme about humanism or humanists either on television or radio since a short interview series on the then Home Service in 1965.
  2. With reference to (b), humanists and the non-religious are generally invited to take part in discussion programmes and so this is less of a problem. However, such inclusion is still far from proportionate to the demographics of the population.
  3. In regard to (c), there is an unbroken daily sequence of programmes specifically serving the Christian community (e.g. Thought for the Day and Prayer for the Day (BBC Radio Four), the daily service (BBC Radio Four), and Songs of Praise (BBC One) are all predominantly Christian), plus occasional programmes devoted to the observances of other religions such as Passover or Eid. But there has never been a single programme in which humanists have been given a platform to talk to like-minded humanists.
  4. When presenting the above concerns, we often hear that the majority of the BBC’s programming is ‘non-religious’ and that it is religious programming that is in the minority. However, this naively or willingly overlooks the distinction between programming that is not concerned with religion or belief, on the one hand, and programming that is specifically about or for the non-religious as such, on the other. For example, BBC News at Six is not a programme about religion, and neither is it a programme about non-religious beliefs. Instead it aims to be about the newsworthy activities of everyone, regardless of religion or belief, and these activities typically do not concern religion or belief at all. The same is true for most of the BBC’s output. To say that the weather forecast balances Thought for the Day (where five times a week a religious person shares reflective thoughts on the events of the day) is clearly false. The same is also true for programmes like Infinite Monkey Cage. It is about science. But it is not about what makes non-religious people distinctive, in their beliefs, behaviours, or identities, or the history of non-religious thought. Religious people can (and do) just as easily identify with the views being put forth on Infinite Monkey Cage as non-religious people.

Are the requirements for the Tier 1 standards code proportionate?

  1. Part 4 of the draft Media Bill sets out a new Video-on-demand Code, similar to OFCOM’s Broadcasting Code, to regulate video-on-demand (VoD) services like Netflix.
  2. The Standards code for Tier 1 services must ‘contain provision designed to secure that religious programmes do not involve–             

(a) any improper exploitation of susceptibilities of the audience for such a programme, or

(b) any abusive treatment of the religious views and beliefs of those belonging to a particular religion or religious denomination’.

This section needs to be made inclusive of the non-religious who can also be victims of hate crimes. This is made clear in both the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 (section 28) and the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006 (section 29A contained within schedule 1)[4], whereby hate crimes can be committed against ‘a group of persons defined by reference to religious belief or lack of religious belief’.[5]

  1. The term ‘abusive treatment’ should be clarified to make sure it does not prevent fair criticism of religious (or, if the law is amended as we suggest, non-religious) beliefs and only prevents what is already set out in law e.g. hate speech. Freedom of expression is a fundamental right for individuals. It is protected by all major international human rights instruments, including Article 19 of both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), whereas, however, there is no right reserved for individuals not to be offended.

For more details, information, and evidence, contact Humanists UK:

Karen Wright

Public Affairs Manager


[1] Communications Act 2003, section 264:

[2] See, for example, the final report of the Commission on RE, which proposes renaming the subject ‘Religion and Worldviews’:

[3] Numerous substantial books on humanism have been published in the last twenty years and Humanists UK has produced online resources including MOOCs hosted by Sandi Toksvig and Alice Roberts, and a highly praised website for schools:

[4] Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006.

[5] Crime and Disorder Act 1998. Section 28 (5).