On 5th March 2020 the House of Lords debated a motion from Lord Young of Norwood Green, “That this House takes note of the role of the BBC and public service broadcasting in the United Kingdom’s economy and creative culture.” The Bishop of Salisbury, Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam, spoke in the debate:
The Lord Bishop of Salisbury: My Lords, the timing of this debate could hardly be better. I also want to thank the noble Lord, Lord Young, for his introduction. The Media and Telecoms 2020 & Beyond conference and the Culture Secretary’s contribution to it inevitably inform a lot of what is to be said. I also wondered whether I need to declare an interest, having been the vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields for 16 years, given that the first religious service ever broadcast came from there, by the BBC, in January 1924. The link continues. I never made much income from it, but it is a significant relationship with considerable affection for the BBC built into it.
The debate has focused on public service and the contribution of the BBC to the economy and creative culture of the country. Other noble Lords can speak much better than I can about the economic and creative culture contribution but, given the Government’s commitment to levelling up, you would think that the contribution of the BBC through Salford and all its local and regional outputs would be a significant part of what is to be considered.
I am sorry this is a bit like a sermon, but I will focus on three words to make my points: “British”, “Broadcasting” and “Corporation”. The Minister is right that the BBC must do more to reflect the country’s
“genuine diversity of thought and experience”,
but the BBC also shapes British identity; it does not just reflect it. It is a really subtle relationship, which goes both ways. In terms of the importance of public service in a country that has grown more secular, as well as more plural, the level of religious illiteracy and the lack of religious grammar is very significant for public service broadcasting.
“Nation shall speak peace unto nation.”
That, of course, is an adaptation of the prophet Micah, and that is where the roots of this lie. You cannot just cut off the institution from the roots that have informed it. We are grateful for the religious broadcasting that takes place, particularly on local radio and Radios 2 and 4 on Sunday mornings, reaching audiences who otherwise would not be reached. This helps to build relationships between faith communities. It is not just a Christian monopoly, because religious broadcasting has developed.
That was about British identity and how Britain has grown and developed. There is also a sense in which broadcasting continues to be significant. It is not just narrowcasting, which happens so much through social media and can be deeply influenced, in ways unseen, from outside. This is in parentheses, for the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Salisbury to comment on: why do we not have that report on Russian interference in our previous election and referendum processes? That is of huge significance in terms of how easy it is to influence narrowcasting through social media. The BBC does a really good job of broadcasting critical debate that is robust and helps to establish, over time, an element of truth otherwise not there.
Corporations need cherishing. This is about the body, an institution. In our time, we are not good at cherishing institutions and we need to do it in a way that upholds the body of the institution for the sake of the country. This is not one of those bodies that needs to be dealt with by disruption and discontinuity. It needs to be cherished, and the Government need to know that we want the BBC to be safe in their hands.
Lord Foster of Bath (LD)… We have talked about research and development and job creation, but no one so far has mentioned its important role in exports of both programmes and formats. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Salisbury spoke about another important role—levelling up—which is relevant at the present time given the Prime Minister’s desire to see it. That is being done by the PSBs as more of their staff and programme spend are outside London….The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Salisbury said that the BBC should be cherished. Only today, the Secretary of State said that all the PSBs should be cherished. However, the evidence before us is that that is not the plan of the current Government.
Lord Griffiths of Burry Port (Lab): My Lords, this has been a truly remarkable debate. It would do us all well to read it in Hansard when it appears. I suppose that I should express some kind of a conflict of interest since, like the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Salisbury, I have had a working relationship with the BBC for more than 30 years and have been paid much less than he ever was…
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Baroness Barran) (Con)…The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Salisbury, the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox of Newport, the noble Lords, Lord Hunt of Chesterton and Lord Bragg, and my noble friend Lord Lilley noted the breadth of offering that the BBC gives us. Our public broadcasters produce world-class content that stimulates our interest in arts, science and history, and broadens our understanding of our own culture and the world around us…