NOTE TO MODEM MATTERS November 2016
Public Service Broadcasting and Content: latest on investment, remit delivery and policy options
After many consultations, rumours, veiled and not so veiled ‘threats’, a ‘behind closed doors’ financial settlement, a Green Paper, a White Paper, a change of Government and Secretary of State, we now have a proposed new Royal Charter and Operating Agreement for the BBC to run for eleven years from January 2017, albeit much of this won’t come into effect until April 2017.
Both Houses of Parliament debated the proposals during October 2016. The briefing note we sent to MPs for their debate (the same brief had gone to Peers for their debate the week before that), which sets out our remaining concerns and views, is at http://saveourbbc.net/house-of-commons-debate-tuesday-18-october-2016/ . Our major issue is ‘The Missing Link’, which is that there is no mechanism for the BBC to be held directly accountable to the licence fee payers; previously the Governors and Trustees had that duty but neither the new unitary board nor Ofcom as the regulator can undertake their roles and also represent the licence fee payers.
In amongst the strategy and policy, the situation for religious broadcasting has not fared well. Roger Bolton, broadcaster and a trustee of the Sandford St Martin Trust, wrote a telling article entitled “Why TV needs religious literacy” in the September 2016 edition of Television magazine and said “Religious Literacy is vital for everyone involved in broadcasting” and “The promotion of Religious Literacy should be a specific duty for the BBC across its broadcasting services.” This article can be found at: http://saveourbbc.net/religious-literacy-is-vital-for-everyone-involved-in-broadcasting/
Subsequently the good news is that Martin Bashir has been appointed to be the new BBC religious affairs correspondent, succeeding Caroline Wyatt who stepped down after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
The bad news is since then Aaqil Ahmed, BBC head of religion and ethics, is leaving the BBC and the head of BBC Factual Scotland division is taking responsibility for: arts, history, daytime documentaries, travel, factual drama, magazine shows, and religion and ethics.
May I suggest that this raises serious concerns for the ecumenical Christian community. Modem as a CTBI organisation, and with our concerns about leadership, management and ministry, should recognise the huge importance religious broadcasting plays in Christian leadership and ministry, and in communicating about religion and ethics to the mass audiences. In a single broadcast a church leader, faith or ethical message will reach more people than they will ever reach in churches and meetings.
Therefore, I ask that:
- Modem Members and other readers take any opportunities you may have to promote accountability by the BBC to the licence fee payers and argue that the BBC improve its strategy and resourcing for religious broadcasting; and
- Modem considers consulting with CTBI about effective ways in which the Christian community can lobby the BBC to address the increasingly serious needs to develop a strategy for the broadcasting of religion and ethics and properly resource it.