The Communications Bill currently going through Parliament, could have important implications for religious broadcasting. That was the verdict reached by a conference held at Church House, Westminster, last Friday. The 45 delegates of the Churches' Advisory Council for Local Broadcasting (CACLB) concluded that action was required in order to safeguard the interests of viewers and listeners. They called for the creation of an appeals and complaints procedure for OFCOM decisions rather than only having resort to Judicial Review. They want to ensure that quality religious broadcasting is improved and increased in the coming decade. And they want to see restrictions on religious ownership of broadcasting licences lifted as far as possible. Peter Blackman, CACLB's Director who chaired the day said: "We all want to improve the quality, quantity and impact of religious broadcasting. The key is full, fair and proper access to and use of all the media." Dr Jim McDonnell, CACLB' s Vice Chair, and former director of the Catholic Communications Centre, described the history of legislation for communications since 1990. CACLB's responses to the 2000 White Paper, and government consultations are on: www.caclb.org.uk/ Jocelyn Hay, Voice of the Listener and Viewer Chair, said: "Listeners and viewers are commodities, bartered and simply carried from one programme or commercial break to another. The Bill concentrates on the interests of big business and consumers. Viewers and Listeners and Content must also be protected." "Andrew Barr, GRF Christian Radio Chairman and formerly BBC Scotland Head of Religion and Education, said:"Religious broadcasting is part of a tradition of Public Service Broadcasting which serves the needs of everybody. If Christians wish to broadcast to the widest possible audience they should produce innovative programmes which are broadcast across the country to large and loyal audiences. They should not be trapped into single issue lobbying about religious ownership." Peter Wilson, Evangelical Alliance's Broadcasting Campaign's Consultant said: "The restrictions against ownership of broadcasting licences by individual officers of religious bodies and organisations should be lifted. Religious people and bodies should be treated the same as everyone else." John Beyer, Director of mediawatch-uk, talking about media standards said: "The line keeps moving; good taste and decency are matters of judgement; the definitions keep changing. The fall in broadcasting standards is an incremental movement. A detailed and well defined programme code is needed." Tim Suter, Head of Broadcasting Policy Division, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, said:"The Bill is intended to balance the interests of citizens and consumers. The second part of the Bill aims to identify and address the needs of citizens. The Government's case on religious ownership rests on spectrum scarcity." The CACLB, is an agency of a Churches Together in Britain & Ireland and Churches Together in England. It brings together the Churches, Christian broadcasters, the broadcasting authorities and trainers. It deals with policy, provides information, and promotes training and organises the annual Churches' Broadcasting Conference and Andrew Cross Awards for local religious broadcasting.
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