|Genre||Individual cross examinations of successive witnesses by a group of panellists on live radio|
|Running time||45 mins (Wednesdays 20.00)|
|Country of origin||UK|
|Home station||BBC Radio 4|
|Hosted by||Michael Buerk|
|Created by||Rev Ernie Rea|
|Produced by||Dan Tierney (BBC Religion & Ethics)|
|Recording studio||BBC Manchester|
|Original release||20 August 1990 – present|
Four regular panellists discuss moral and ethical issues raised by a recent news story. Michael Buerk delivers a preamble launching the topic, then a series of 'witnesses' - experts or other relevant people - are questioned by the panellists, who then discuss what each witness said.
The regular panellists are:
Notable former panellists include Rabbi Hugo Gryn (who died in 1996), Janet Daley, Edward Pearce, Geoffrey Robertson, Michael Mansfield, politician Michael Gove, Claire Fox, Ian Hargreaves, Kenan Malik, scientist Steven Rose, philosophers Simon Blackburn and Roger Scruton, and historian David Starkey, who often attracted controversy for his allegedly blunt manner.
The first programme on Monday 20 August 1990 was forty minutes long from 11 am, and followed by Poetry Please. It was made by the Factual Unit of Religious Programmes (later called Factual Programmes Religion) at BBC North in Manchester. It was hoped that the programme format would involve the panellists' views being revised during the course of a programme, but this rarely happened.
In April 1991, it had moved to Tuesdays, and followed the 9 am news, until 9:45 am (a slot similar to the current In Our Time). In July 1991, it had moved to 8:05 pm until 8:50 pm on Fridays, replacing Any Questions? for the summer recess. There was then a repeat at 1 pm on the following Saturday, and a phone-in from 2 to 2:30 pm, replacing Any Answers?. There was also an end-of-year programme. In July 1992, it had moved to Thursday mornings following the 9 am news. It became a de rigueur listen for Westminster MPs. By 1997, it was fifty-five minutes long, lasting until 10 am. It moved to Wednesday evenings from 13 May 1998 in the 1998 schedule changes, with a repeat of the forty-five-minute programme on Saturday night at 10:15 pm.
Michael Buerk has presented the programme since August 1990. David Aaronovitch presents occasional episodes during Buerk's absence.
Originally produced at the BBC North West's New Broadcasting House on Oxford Road in Manchester, the programme production base is Salford Quays. The programme is broadcast live from BBC Broadcasting House in London.
In early 1994, a television version was considered, which eventually took off on Saturday 10 September 1994 on BBC2 as a trial series of six 45-minute-long programmes broadcast around midnight, perhaps influenced by Channel 4's successful late-night discussion programme After Dark. The pilot had audiences of around 1.3 million. It was last broadcast on 15 October 1994 at 11 pm.
In his book Bad Thoughts (US title Crimes Against Logic), libertarian philosopher Jamie Whyte, who has been a witness on the programme, advises readers to listen to The Moral Maze for innumerable examples of faulty reasoning. Journalist and author Nick Cohen has also criticised the programme, in a piece highlighting the media careers of Trotskyite-turned-libertarian former cadres of the Revolutionary Communist Party, centered around the Spiked magazine.