The Catholic Church and the Church of England have called for a stronger mandate for religion in the BBC Charter and Agreement, in a joint letter to Tessa Jowell MP, Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport. Parliament will debate the Charter later this month. The Rt Revd John Arnold, Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster and the Rt Revd Nigel McCulloch, Anglican Bishop of Manchester write: "The religious dimension of life is right at the heart of how people see themselves and what motivates their actions. It is unthinkable that this is not fully and properly reflected in the BBC's output." The bishops acknowledge the Government's wish to ensure that religious programming remains a feature of the BBC's output. But the bishops contend that the BBC's broad coverage of religion must be mandated in the Charter and Agreement. They want the Charter to include religion under more than just one of the BBC's new purposes as drafted. The bishops are concerned that the draft Charter does not signal where ethical dilemmas will be discussed or the need for the public to come together at times of grief or celebration. It is not nough, they say, for this to be left to the goodwill of the Director-General. The bishops contend that a mandate for broader coverage is vital for the BBC to serve the whole British public, where four in five define themselves as having a faith, and one in four worships once a month or more frequently. The text of the letter follows: The Rt Hon Tessa Jowell MP Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport 2-4 Cockspur Street London SW1Y 5DH 5 June 2006 Dear Secretary of State We would like to raise three points concerning the proper reflection of religion on the BBC arising out of the Government's formal response to the Second Report of the House of Lords' BBC Charter Review Select Committee. At the outset it should be pointed out that the Bishop of Manchester is signing this letter in a personal capacity, not as a member of the Select Committee. 1. The BBC's broad coverage of religion must be mandated in the Charter and Agreement. It is indeed reassuring that 'The Government looked to ensure that religious programming remained a feature of the BBC's output.' We also note that the Green Paper proposed a variety of different programmes about religion. But a commitment to this wide variety of programmes and the aspirations of the BBC to religion across different genres of programme calls for more than the single reference to religion under the heading 'Representing Nations and Regions.' Even at this late stage, we are looking for a broader inclusion of religion under more than one of the BBC's purposes. As it is, the purposes do not signal clearly an obvious place where moral and ethical dilemmas will be discussed or where the nation can come together at times of grief or celebration. 2. Religion's significance in the lives of the British population is not just reflected in the census finding that 4 in 5 define themselves as having a faith, or that 1 in 4 in the British population worships once a month or more. The religious dimension of life is right at the heart of how people see themselves and what motivates their actions. It is unthinkable that this is not fully and properly reflected in the BBC's output. 3. We do not need to point out to you that the Communications Act recognised that the adequate reflection of religion within public service broadcasting called for a detailed prescription of the types of programmes that are expected from broadcasters. You yourself were crucial to obtaining that provision in Statute, for which we are grateful. But recalling this involvement makes the mismatch in provisions for religion between the Charter and the Communications Act all the more surprising. Especially when you confirm that: 'The BBC's public service remit and the means of ensuring that it is fulfilled will continue to be defined by the Charter and Agreement, rather than by the Communications Act'. The Charter will mandate the BBC to a much less rigourous coverage of religion than other public service channels unless something is done about this. We do not consider that it is sufficient for greater detail to be found only in the Service Licences and Purpose Remits. These will take their cue from what is in the Charter and Agreement. The Bishop of Southwark said in his evidence to the Select Committee last November "We do not want things just to be left to the good will of the director-general. We feel that there should be a formal public service commitment which includes fair reflection of religion and other matters; we actually want that built in to a statement accompanying the charter." We do hope that you will give this your urgent consideration. Yours sincerely The Rt Revd Nigel McCulloch Bishop of Manchester The Rt Revd John Arnold Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster, Chair Strategic Communications Committee, Catholic Bishops Conference for England and Wales. Source: CoE Communications
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