24 January 2007
News, religion, science, children's television, programmes reflecting community and culture as well as other 'public service' content should be freely available on television, radio, internet and mobile phones. So says a joint response from the Church of England and the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales to a government inquiry.
The submission also criticises Ofcom's decision to release ITV from some of its public service broadcasting obligations.
It says "The future of key areas of public service provision has been damaged by Ofcom's decision in 2005 to release ITV from obligations for local broadcasting and religious broadcasting. The future of ITV's children's programmes is also in question. ITV has not performed significantly better as a result of being released from these obligations as it had argued it would."
The submission to the Culture Media and Sport Select Committee inquiry on public service media content, signed by the Bishop of Manchester, the Rt Revd Nigel McCulloch, and Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster, the Rt Revd John Arnold, says that as television and radio programmes are increasingly found on the internet and on mobile phones, public service content should be as widely available as possible. The Government should give this their full support as part of a policy commitment to promoting and sustaining public service broadcasting.
The bishops state "It is vital in the interests of society as a whole that citizens and consumers have access to strong and vibrant public service content on all media platforms. The delivery of education and information in ways that are independent of particular commercial interests is of particular importance.
"Restricting public service content from any platform also limits younger peoples' access to public service content as they increasingly use the internet as a source of news."
The submission affirms the role of public service broadcasting whether through publicly-funded or commercial channels in providing a wide variety of programme types aimed at providing information, education and entertainment. Arguing that "The benefits of public service content derive from its comprehensive character," the submission calls for public service media content to retain the widest range of programme types, including religion.
The bishops cite numerous benefits: "Public service content contributes to social cohesion, producing better informed citizens and promoting understanding between people, while also providing entertainment. In an increasingly diverse population, these benefits are vital to civil society."
The Rt Revd Nigel McCulloch is the Church of England's senior spokesman on Communications and a member of the House of Lord's Select Committee on the BBC Charter which reported in 2005 and 2006. The Rt Revd John Arnold is the Chair of the Strategic Communications Board of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.
The full text of the submission appears below:
Culture Media and Sport Committee inquiry: public service media content
Joint submission from
The Bishop of Manchester, the Rt Revd Nigel McCulloch,
Senior Church of England spokesman on communications
Bishop John Arnold,
Chair of the Strategic Communications Board, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.
We believe that public service broadcasting (with its commitment to educate and inform, as well as entertain) contributes to the overall educational, cultural, social and spiritual health of the nation. Our approach to this inquiry’s questions is therefore based upon a deep belief that whatever the technological or economic challenges faced by broadcasters, a distinctive public service provision and ethos must remain central to British broadcasting.
1. We believe that public service broadcasting should carry the widest range of programme types, including religion. The vast majority of the population should be able to see themselves, and their interests reflected in the output and, taken together, this should reflect the nation as a whole. The benefits of public service broadcasting are derived from its comprehensive character.
2. Public service content contributes to social cohesion, producing better informed citizens and promoting understanding between people, while also providing entertainment. In an increasingly diverse population, these benefits are vital to civic society.
3. Government and regulatory policy should continue to develop the key role given to public service media content in the Communications Act 2003 and the 2006 BBC Charter for the digital era. Lengthy public and parliamentary scrutiny has recently placed maintaining and strengthening public service broadcasting at the heart of Ofcom's and the BBC's purposes. Public service broadcasting must continue to serve citizens' interests into the future.
Other issues addressed in the Inquiry's terms of reference
4. The Government has made it clear on numerous occasions that plurality in public service broadcasting provision is a cornerstone of the UK broadcasting system. Its continuation in the digital era requires a clear political will to continue to support plurality of supply at the heart of the broadcasting system. A range of broadcasters, funded through commercial and non-commercial sources, should be regulated in order to provide competition which improves quality and broadens the appeal of public service content. Maintaining the appeal to a wide range of public tastes and age-groups with distinctive output would be harder if the BBC was the sole provider of public service content.
5. Awarding the second national digital radio multiplex licence to a public service provider such as Channel 4 would enhance public service plurality.
The future of key areas of public service content
6. The future of key areas of public service provision has been damaged by Ofcom's decision in 2005 to release ITV from obligations for local broadcasting and religious broadcasting. The future of ITV's children's programmes is also in question. ITV has not performed significantly better as a result of being released from these obligations as it had argued it would. What public service obligations commercial broadcasters should be asked to bear should be re-examined.
7. Specifically, senior members of major faith communities in the UK have stressed that they see religious programmes and other output about religion as a key part of public service broadcasting output. Giving evidence to the House of Lords’ Select Committee on the BBC Charter in 2005, the Bishop of Southwark, leading a panel of senior members of other faith communities, said: "For very many people in this country and around the world religion matters immensely and it is the responsibility of the public service broadcasting service to reflect the world as it is. In the world as it is, religion is something very significant.”
8. He continued: "I do not believe you can understand much of what is going on around the world in terms of hard news today 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, one can make some grave errors."
9. Beyond this, religion's over-arching character and the inadequacy of confining it to a single programme type or genre requires its reflection not just in specialist programmes but also in news, current affairs, documentary and drama.
Imposing public service obligations on commercial broadcasters
10. There is a clear need to continue to provide commercial broadcasters with meaningful incentives for continuing to cover a range of public service broadcasting obligations. Advertising revenues have fallen but Ofcom has opened the way for new means of funding through sponsorship and on-air fundraising. Spectrum policy is also important.
11. The Ofcom report on Digital public service broadcasting in July 2006 discuss the management of the spectrum and observes that “it is increasingly important that the way spectrum is managed creates strong incentives for the most efficient use of the spectrum so that the most valuable (our emphasis) users, services and technologies gain access to spectrum quickly”. (Digital PSB, 1.12) Ofcom goes on to note that it proposes from 2014 to require broadcasters to pay for spectrum use.
12. Spectrum management and payment for spectrum should be considered in a public policy context that defines the word ‘valuable’ in more than simple economic terms. The spectrum is a public resource to be managed in the interest of the common good and so, in this respect, spectrum policy should take into account overarching social goals such as the need for plurality in the broadcasting system and the continued health and viability of public service content. Spectrum pricing policy should act as an incentive, not a disincentive, to the provision of public service media content plurality.
Viability of existing funding models for ITV, Channel 4 and Five
13. Existing funding for ITV, Channel 4 and Five depends on the quality of programmes and the buoyancy of the advertising market. Channel Four demonstrates that there is scope for advertising-funded public service programming of high quality. Diversifying its funding through new channels demonstrates that new business opportunities are also available.
Public funding of other broadcasters in addition to the BBC
14. If further public money is required to support public service broadcasting, it should be in addition to the BBC licence fee, not taken from it. The public appetite for high quality public service content has been well explored and is not exhausted.
The Public Service Publisher
15. The public service publisher concept as advanced by Ofcom should be explored in depth to establish its viability and effect on broadcasting as a whole. Whether it might be used to provide incentives for broadcasters to produce public service content should also be investigated.
Public service content on new media
16. It is vital in the interests of society as a whole that citizens and consumers have access to strong and vibrant public content on all media platforms. The delivery of education and information in ways that are independent of particular commercial interests is of particular importance. Restricting public service content from any platform is anomalous, arbitrary and ignores the growing convergence of content on TV, online and on mobile phones. It also limits younger people's access to public service content as they increasingly use the Internet as a source of news.
17. In the light of this, the success of BBC's presence online, with its reach to 52% of the population, assumes a greater significance: young consumers or their families pay the licence-fee, and they must have access to the content they have paid for.
18th January 2007
Some statistics depicting the significance of religion in Britain
o The 2001 census found that almost four out of five people in the UK population have a faith.
o Churches are active in their communities delivering essential services and providing volunteers often when other agencies have abandoned difficult areas, whether in the inner-city or deep countryside. A significant proportion of those who do not identify with any belief say their community would be poorer if the Church was not there.
o The contribution of faith communities to society provides economic as well as social capital. For example, visitors attracted to an area by the presence of a cathedral spend £91 million in the local economy per year. The fifty million annual visits to churches are worth £300 million to the economy.
o A survey conducted by Opinion Research Business in 2005 found that 22% of the nation worships once a month or more.
o A poll for the Church of England shows that 43% of the nation’s population attend a Christmas service, up from 39% three years ago and 33% six years ago. Extra services were put on in many cathedrals and churches at Christmas 2006 to satisfy demand.
o Aside from the significant number attending other denominations’ worship, more people attend a Church of England service on an average Sunday in England than make up the combined membership of all the major political parties in Britain. The number attending Church of England services across a typical month is 1.7 million.
o The estimated weekly Mass attendance for the Catholic Church in England and Wales together is currently 917,484
 Churches Tourism Association
 Average Sunday attendance 1,010,000
Source: The Catholic Church in England and Wales