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Michael Buerk: Radio 4’s The Moral Maze presenter claims ‘freedom of speech is seriously under threat’ at BBC

Michael Buerk, who has presented the Radio 4 debating programme The Moral Maze for more than three decades, has claimed that “freedom of speech is seriously under threat” at the BBC.

The presenter said he is concerned that his show, which sees different guests debate on the ethics behind the news stories of the week, will no longer be able to be provocative in a time when “public discourse, poisoned by social media, is ever more inclined to regard anybody with a different view as not just wrong, but evil”.

In an article for Radio Times, he wrote that Radio 4 has a “hopeless yearning to connect with yoof”.

“We used to pride ourselves it was a programme on which ‘the unsayable gets said’,” he continued. “There were no holds barred, the audience were grown-ups and didn’t need protecting from views they might not like.

“The arguments weren’t curated or choreographed, and they didn’t need censoring because the whole point of the programme was to test them to destruction.”

He added: “It survives, even prospers in a modest way, despite the temper of the times. In the wider world – and, it has to be said, in some parts of the BBC – more and more is being put off limits, things that cannot possibly be said, new orthodoxies that are beyond challenge. I do think freedom of speech is seriously under threat.”

Buerk said The Moral Maze is already “less abrasive” than it used to be and added that half the audience “feel like drowning themselves in their cornflakes” after listening to the Today programme because of its “woke” editorial choices.

In response to Buerk’s comments, Radio 4 said: “We’re proud of the huge range of quality programming, which is as rigorous and curious as it has ever been, that caters for and represents a wider range of listeners.”