The UK's leading Christian broadcasting organization has played a key role in the final stages of the Communications Bill. Just 24 hours after the Government lost the Criminal Justice Bill in the House of Lords there were fears the Communications Bill would go the same way. The final sticking point was the question of the ability of religious organizations to own broadcasting licences. However, senior church leaders, including Peter Blackman, director of the Churches' Broadcasting Council, based in South Woodham Ferrers, Essex, put out a joint statement last Tuesday 15 July supporting the Government line. This was referred to throughout the House of Lords debate on Wednesday 16 July and in a tense final vote, the Government amendment was passed by 165 votes to 111. So the Communications Bill went forward for Royal Assent which was granted on 17 July. The Communications Act 2003 sets the regime for broadcasting, media ownership and telecommunications for the next decade. This promises to be an exciting time as digital technology is set to revolutionize our lives. A new super regulator, Ofcom, will oversee the media and telecommunications worlds. Peter Blackman, Director of the Churches' Advisory Council for Broadcasting, which becomes the Churches' Media Council in September 2003, welcomed the Communications Act 2003. He said: "Although we did not get everything we sought on ownership, we made a great deal of progress in this Act. The independent religious broadcasters can now look forward to potential growth in their industry. The position of the citizen is also protected and the public service remit for religious broadcasting is stronger than it has ever been." The Act brings in the following new provisions on religious issues: * The public service remit now lays emphasis on the ingredients of broadcasting for religions and other beliefs- news and information, history and worship. * The opportunities for religious bodies and individuals who wish to own broadcasting licences are considerably enhanced in a regime which provides for a new positive climate for religious broadcasters. Digital radio licences of all varieties are available to religious broadcasters as well as local digital television licences. Along with the existing access to local analogue licences and satellite and cable licences this marks good progress for religious broadcasters. * There is clear public commitment to the scope of licensing for religious bodies increasing as more spectrum becomes available. * The standards set for TV advertising must now be prevented from including offensive, harmful or misleading material * The Secretary of State has called for a forum on religious broadcasting under ministerial authority. * The Secretary of State has also given a clear steer about the positive value of religious broadcasting and has called for OFCOM to have regard to this on matters such as scheduling and output on television, which should at least maintain present levels and for it to be strengthened. * The new tier of community access radio will provide new significant opportunities for religious broadcasters. The Churches and other religious bodies involved in broadcasting will now seek to build good relationships with OFCOM as they begin their task under the new legislation. They will look particularly to the manner in which content standards are set and enforced and the manner in which redress is given for complaints. Source: Brentwood Diocese
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