Episodes

TitleRepeatedComments
20170614 (R4)Combative, provocative and engaging debate chaired by Michael Buerk.
20170621 (R4)Combative, provocative and engaging debate chaired by Michael Buerk.
Summary20171101 (BBC Radio 4)
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20170719 (R4)
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20171025 (R4)
Combative debate examining the moral issues behind one of the week's news stories.

Combative, provocative and engaging debate chaired by Michael Buerk with Michael Portillo, Anne McElvoy, Matthew Taylor and Claire Fox.

Combative, provocative and engaging debate chaired by Michael Buerk.

Combative, provocative and engaging debate chaired by Michael Buerk with Melanie Phillips, Kenan Malik, Matthew Taylor and Claire Fox.

Bloody Sunday, Leveson, Hillsborough, Chilcott, Mid Staffordshire NHS, Savile - just some of the more notable examples of public inquiries of the last few years and hardly a week goes by without a call for another hearing into some perceived scandal or injustice. MPs, police, journalists, NHS carers, local government, the church - it seems there's hardly any major institution left in this country that hasn't been undermined by scandal and in the name of 'transparency' many institutions seem willing, even eager, to expose their inner workings and problems. At the heart of these cases there are of course victims who need answers and redress and we're told that by exposing these institutions or organisations to transparent public scrutiny "lessons will be learnt". Institutions are an essential component of civil society; a focus for shared values and solidarity; can we expect our institutions to function properly in an atmosphere of constant critical scrutiny? Has this ever growing clamour for inquiries, often fuelled by freedom of information requests, just undermined their moral integrity? In our pursuit of transparency have we sacrificed the moral authority of some of the very organisations that are vital to the moral wellbeing of our society? In an age dominated by new social networks, is this process an essential part of re-defining social solidarity or is the passion for openness actually generating a kind of corrosive suspicion that destroys trust not just in institutions but in our day-to-day lives?

Combative, provocative and engaging debate chaired by Michael Buerk with Michael Portillo, Melanie Phillips, Matthew Taylor and Giles Fraser.

Witnesses: Nicholas Rengger - Professor of Political Theory & International Relations, University of St Andrews, Phillip Blond - Respublica, Dr Karl Mackie - Chief Executive, Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution and Oliver Kamm - Leader Writer and columnist for The Times.

Newly-released data obtained by the Labour MP David Lammy shows the dominance of the top two social classes at Oxford and Cambridge Universities. Four-fifths of the students accepted between 2010 and 2015 were the offspring of barristers, doctors and chief executives - and the numbers are edging upwards. More offers were made to pupils in the London commuter-belt than in the whole of northern England. Most prime ministers, most judges and a large proportion of those who work in the media went to Oxbridge. It's a route to the top, but according to David Lammy it represents and perpetuates a ruling elite which is "fatally out of touch with the people it purports to serve." Some argue that the admissions bar should be lowered for socially-disadvantaged candidates - that a 'B' from a struggling comprehensive is worth an 'A' from Eton. Some of the top US colleges give weight to an applicant's class to ensure that talented students who have succeeded against the odds are recognised. Others argue that admissions should be based on academic considerations alone, and that the greatest barrier to disadvantaged students is not the entrance criteria of elite universities but the schools that have let them down. For many, social mobility is an intrinsic moral good; they want everyone to achieve their potential regardless of their postcode and they think universities should work towards that. It is, they say, part of their job. Others say their job is simply to be academically outstanding, and if universities mirror social and racial inequalities, that's just a symptom of a bigger problem. Witnesses are Dr Wanda Wyporska, Raph Mokades, Prof Tim Blackman and Prof Geoffrey Alderman.

Producer: Dan Tierney.

Following claims of rape or sexual harassment made by dozens of women against the movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, a picture emerges of one of the most powerful men in Hollywood exerting pressure on young actresses at the start of their careers, often in hotel rooms and offices. While the allegations of non-consensual sex are denied, the story has prompted a collective soul-searching in Tinseltown and beyond. How was Harvey Weinstein's behaviour tolerated, why did so few people speak out against him, and how many other Weinsteins are out there? Some say this is not an aberration, just a typical example of unrestrained male behaviour. They believe that many men would do the same sort of thing if they thought they could get away with it. For others, the problem has less to do with gender and is more about a general abuse of power. They argue that in showbiz - as in other sectors such as fashion and sport - there is not enough accountability, and there needs to be stricter mechanisms to deal with bullying at work. Central to both those interpretations of the problem is the concept of moral complicity. To what extent are those who tolerate a crime also responsible for it? Do we all have a moral duty to speak out about unacceptable behaviour, even if that comes at huge personal cost? Or are we too quick to label those who knew, and did nothing, as 'hypocrites'? Should we do more to encourage and support the reporting of suspicions? Or is there a danger of creating a society of greater division and mistrust? Witnesses are Ella Whelan, Laura Bates, Prof Josh Cohen and Corinne Sweet.

The Moral Maze returns with a special programme marking 50 years of the Abortion Act, recorded in front of an audience of students at UCL Faculty of Laws. Under the 1967 law, terminations were made legal for the first time in limited circumstances, with the agreement of two doctors. By far the most common reason for abortion (accounting for more than 181,000 of the 185,596 abortions in 2016) has been that continuing the pregnancy would risk injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated (as a point of clarification, the introduction to the programme only states the strictest grounds, which account for a very small number of abortions). Social attitudes have changed and many doctors now support the official line of the British Medical Association which wants abortion to be decriminalised completely. So is it time for abortion to be treated like any other medical procedure that is regulated by the General Medical Council? On the other side of the dispute are those who say the Act has been too liberally interpreted. With nearly 200,000 abortions a year in the UK, they say we effectively have 'abortion on demand' and they want the law to be tightened to protect the rights of 'pre-born children' and their mothers. Whatever the details of time-limits and interpretation of the law, the moral dividing line remains as deeply-etched as it was in 1967: it is between those who think a human life starts at conception and those who don't.

The Moral Maze has teamed up with Dundee University's Centre for Argument Technology. For the first time, researchers will analyse the debate and use the data to create an interactive web page called "Test your argument", hosted by the BBC's experimental site "Taster" and available via the Radio 4 website after the broadcast.

Before the Cava corks had finished popping to celebrate Catalonia's declaration of independence, direct rule was imposed from Madrid, the region's autonomy stripped away; its president sacked. It was a tumultuous few minutes by any country's standards. To some, the Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont is a traitor to Spain who should face criminal charges. To others, he is a Catalan patriot fighting for the region's right to self-determination - a cardinal principle of international law enshrined in the UN charter. When such a right collides with the territorial integrity of a state, competing ideas of democracy emerge. Separatists decry scenes of women being pulled out of polling stations by their hair and the detention of what they call political prisoners. Those sympathetic to the Madrid government are convinced it is they who have the moral high ground and that the actions of Catalan leaders amount to a serious breach of the Spanish constitution. A key moral question centres on what is meant by the "will of the people". In the case of Catalonia, should we base our moral judgements on the 90% who voted for independence in the illegal referendum (which only had a 43% turnout) or on the majority of Catalans who, for whatever reason, didn't vote? Does a democratically-mandated central government have a moral duty to uphold the rule of law for the sake of unity, or can self-determination trump the duty of loyalty to the nation? What are the moral boundaries of self-determination? When, if ever, is a unilateral declaration of independence morally justified?
Witnesses are Chris Bambery, Joan Costa Font, Jose V.Rodriguez Mora and Diego Zuluaga.

Witnesses: Nicholas Rengger - Professor of Political Theory and International Relations, University of St Andrews, Phillip Blond - Respublica, Dr Karl Mackie - Chief Executive, Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution and Oliver Kamm - Leader Writer and columnist for The Times.