CoE says BBC White Paper ignores religion's key role

 The Government's White Paper on the BBC's Royal Charter fails to reflect the key role played by churches and faith communities in the nation's life, says the Church of England. In its submission to the Government's final consultation on the BBC Charter Review, the Church also warns that 'high quality' may become merely an option for BBC programmes under the new Charter. The Bishop of Southwark, who led a panel of senior members of faith communities to give evidence to the House of Lords' BBC Charter Select Committee in November 2005, asked today: "Where do religion and many other programme types fit into the six new purposes for the BBC? Religion could fit into all of them yet it is given a passing mention under only one. Many observers may think that religion has been sidelined or could be excluded at some future date. "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 of faith. We would like to see that built in to the Agreement accompanying the Charter." The Church of England wants the BBC Charter to acknowledge the all-embracing nature of religion in the BBC's purposes. The submission says that religion is "Too significant an area to be left to chance. The new Charter must make clear that there is a place for programmes where moral and ethical dilemmas are discussed. It must also make provision for the broadcast of religious services when the nation can come together at times of grief or celebration." The submission argues that effective news reporting needs to be informed about the religious perspectives that often underlie world events. It quotes the Bishop of Southwark at the Select Committee: "I do not believe you can understand much of what is going on around the world today in terms of hard news without having some understanding of religion. When you try to understand, for example, what is going on in Iraq, without some depth of understanding of religion, you can make some grave errors." He argued that it is the responsibility of the BBC, as a public service broadcaster, to report the news. He added, "I do not believe you can do that without a religious perspective." The Church is disappointed that the Government's proposals make "high quality" an option for BBC programmes for the first time. The White Paper says programmes must show "at least one" of five characteristics, including high quality. The Church argues that high quality should be compulsory for all BBC output, or the BBC will fail to set high standards. Among the Church's other concerns is the potential draining-away of in-house expertise. New opportunities for independent producers to compete with in-house BBC production teams could lead to smaller in-house specialist teams, such as Religion and Ethics, no longer having enough programme commissions to be viable. The Church accepts that there must be fair and open competition between in-house and independent producers but wants to see safeguards in place against the loss of expert knowledge. This must not be the last Charter, the Church concludes, "but the bridge over which the BBC crosses into the digital future." Source: CoE Communications Office

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