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‘Don’t leave it all to the BBC,’ churches argue

08/12/2008

Leaving the BBC as the sole provider of public service media could lower media standards and provide less meaningful news, information and other content, the Church of England and the Catholic Conference of Bishops in England and Wales warned today in their joint response to Ofcom’s Second Consultation on Public Service Broadcasting.

Speaking about their submission, The Rt Revd Nicholas Baines, the Anglican Bishop of Croydon and the Rt Revd John Arnold, the Roman Catholic Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster, are quick to point out that they are not attacking the BBC, but simply supporting an increasingly well understood factor of broadcasting in Britain today.

The bishops say: “This is not an obscure or technical issue, but one which affects us all. The survival and flourishing of public service content is not just an economic or political question; it has implications for the kind of society we want to be.”

They continue: “Without more than one public service provider, there is the risk - which the BBC themselves recognise - that standards will fall, information is conveyed without the vital context and interpretation that makes it socially valuable and without the appeal to reach across social and age groups.”

The bishops favour public service content provided by a combination of the BBC, a strengthened Channel 4 and the provision of some funding for programmes for which providers can compete This is vital to ensure that public service content is available to all in all types of media. Criticising the handling of ITV’s ‘surrender’ of some of its public service obligations - in particular in children’s TV - they do not support the option of leaving some public service obligations with ITV and Five unless new licences (which would be granted in 2014) have enforceable provisions in them.

In the submission they say: “Obligations that are agreed to, but prove unenforceable risk bringing the system into disrepute. The obligations should be included, but should be backed by tough sanctions in the licence for ignoring them. It would be untenable that a remit should include public service obligations which are, over the course of the licence, negotiated away or ignored by the licensee with apparent impunity. The example of children’s programmes on ITV provides a salutary warning.”

But the bishops do not give the BBC a completely clean bill of health. They compare the audience for ‘Friday Night with Jonathan Ross’ and ‘Songs of Praise’, which are similar at around four million. They say that the inconsistency between judging Jonathan Ross worth £6 million a year and the level of investment in religious programmes in the BBC and other broadcasters is striking.

They add “Don’t write-off religion or religious broadcasting. Programmes about ethics, values and the ‘big questions of life’ all have a religious dimension to them.”

Information

Further information from Arun Kataria, 07809 149430

Bishops' joint submission to Ofcom on Public Service Broadcasting - Dec 08 (pdf) 28.02 kB