Select Committee on BBC Charter Review Minutes of Evidence


Supplementary memorandum by the British Humanist Association

NB:  This memorandum responds specifically to your request for submissions on religious broadcasting but overtakes and incorporates our earlier submission of May 2005.

SUMMARY

  We argue that the BBC should reflect society back to itself so as to aid its dialogue and help shape decisions and attitudes. It should as a public authority serving the nation as a whole maintain an impartial approach to matters of controversy, including religion and belief. At present, on the contrary, it acts as a promoter of religion, especially Christianity, by providing its proponents with extensive broadcasting time, including unchallenged platforms, and by deliberately refusing time for non-religious beliefs. It does this despite the clearest evidence that only a minority of the population holds any genuine religious beliefs while the number explicitly denying religious belief is rapidly growing. We suggest that this denial of a platform for the exposition and exploration of non-religious beliefs has left many people without convincing foundations for their morality and without a clear perception of their place in the universe. Such a lack of bearings can only be damaging both to the individuals concerned and to society as a whole.

INTRODUCTION

  1.  The British Humanist Association (BHA) is the principal organisation representing the interests of the large and growing population of ethically concerned but non-religious people living in the UK. It exists to promote Humanism and support and represent those who seek to live good lives without religious or superstitious beliefs. The census of 2001 showed that those with no religion were the second largest "belief group" at 15.5 per cent, two and-a-half times as large as all the non-Christian religions put together. Other surveys consistently report very much higher proportions of people without religious belief (see para 12). By no means are all these people humanists, but our consistent experience is that the majority of people without religious beliefs, when they hear about Humanism, say that they have unknowingly long been humanists themselves[21]—a point of some relevance to your present enquiry, as we bring out below.

  2.  Believing as we do that this is the only life we have, we are particularly committed to maximising individual freedom to make the best of life and therefore to human rights and to the sort of society—a democratic open society with accountable institutions of government—best suited to preserve individual rights and freedom. On the basis of these commitments, we believe that government and all public bodies should exercise a policy of disinterested impartiality towards contending beliefs within society so long as their adherents conform to the laws and minimum convent ions of the society. So far as concerns religion and corresponding non-religious beliefs, we maintain that this requires that such shared public institutions be secular, in the sense of neutral.

  3.  With this strong commitment to the open society the BHA does not seek any privilege in its promotion of the humanist life-stance, but correspondingly we object strongly to privileges accorded to the adherents of religion by virtue of their beliefs. There are two major institutional examples of such privilege being granted to religion: the education system and the BBC. Between them they cause immense damage to society. We therefore welcome the terms of your enquiry, especially as it explicitly covers no faith beliefs.

DUTIES OF A PUBLIC SERVICE BROADCASTER IN AN OPEN SOCIETY

  4.  The comparative uniformity of society in past times has probably been exaggerated, but it is undoubtedly true that the last half-century has seen an accelerating diversity of both views and interests. This has resulted from the end of social deference, the collapse of shared religious beliefs, the increase in the number and variety of people from different ethnic groups and cultures, and many other factors. This increasing diversity has been accompanied by faster and more numerous channels of communication, which in itself is potentially destabilising.

  5.  In this environment, the importance of public service broadcasting[22] in providing a forum for public discussion cannot be over-exaggerated. Society needs effective means to learn about itself, about changing circumstances and emerging challenges, and to communicate with itself and debate views and policies. Broadcasting offers by far the most important means whereby the members of a modern open society can communicate with each other and jointly address the challenges that face them.[23] From the most trivial phone in to the profoundest of philosophical discussions it allows members of society to learn about each other and negotiate the terms on which they share their community. Public service broadcasting is vital to the fulfilment of this function, and the BBC is immeasurably more committed to meeting this need than any other broadcaster.[24]

  6.  Such broadcasting can be secured only if the BBC's independence is guaranteed. It requires a protected environment and cannot be expected to survive in an uninhibited marketplace. Independence is potentially threatened by over-commitment to commercial targets, by interference by government and by any over-identification with particular interest groups. In this memorandum we argue that the BBC has overwhelmingly identified itself with the interests of religion, especially the Christian religion, deliberately neglecting the legitimate expectations of a large part of its audience.

THE BBC'S DUTY TO MINORITIES

  7.  It has always been the duty of BBC to "inform, educate and entertain". A crucial part of that duty is to mirror the country back to itself so as to assist in society's dialogue with itself. The Green Paper on charter renewal referred to its role of "reflecting the UK, its Nations, regions and communities" and added that it should "provide programmes and services that reflect the UK's different regions and communities and that make the public aware of the different cultures and alternative viewpoints seen in the UK". It stated the principle that the BBC should "provide a range of programming reflecting different religions and other beliefs that is appropriate to multifaith Britain". The BBC in its own response accepted this, referring to the role of "serving different audiences and . . . reflecting their diverse cultures to the whole UK". It later acknowledged the need to be "more reflective of the diversity of all audiences".

  8.  In its paper Building Public Value last year the BBC endorsed the principles of universality, fairness and equity, and accountability, referred to the need to "foster [. . .] greater audience understanding of cultural differences across the UK population" in areas including "faith", to "faithfully reflect [. . .] modern Britain's diversity in mainstream as well as specialist programmes", and to "listen [. . .] to [the] concerns and priorities [of the UK s minorities], and reflect [. . .] those concerns in the future development of services". It pledged to "make special efforts to connect with the UK's . . . minorities and to encourage members of these minorities to offer their talent and energy to BBC programmes and services".

  9.  Such principles are admirable, but sadly they count for nothing when the BBC is asked to "connect with" the very large minority of non-religious people in the UK, to reflect their existence and to help them articulate their beliefs. Instead, the BBC marginalises and undermines respect for non-religious ways of life, it fails to make clear to its audience that such ways of life are possible and satisfactory, and it unbalances discussion of political and social issues by largely ignoring the arguments and views of the explicitly non-religious. When challenged it responds variously (as we show in paras 27 sqq.) by suggesting the non-religious cannot be expected to rise above soap operas and game shows, by asserting in the face of the evidence that it already caters for them, and by rejecting every constructive proposal put to it.

NATURE AND EXTENT OF NON-RELIGIOUS BELIEFS

  10.  We wish initially to clarify some of the concepts we use in this memorandum. Both the Universal Declaration and the European Convention of Human Rights refer to "religion or belief" and both have interpreted the phrase to apply equally to religious and non-religious beliefs. The Human Rights Act in section 6 requires public authorities (such as the BBC) not to discriminate on grounds covered by the Convention, including therefore discrimination between religious and non-religious "lifestances" or "world views" (the German version of the Convention uses the stronger, more expressive word Weltanschauung where the English version says "belief").

  11.  Contrary to the implicit position of the BBC and much traditional discourse, a non-religious lifestance or belief is not merely the absence of religious belief but a positive set of beliefs and moral attitudes. Humanism is such a lifestance, drawing on a tradition that is as old as or older than all the major world religions. It is not a single centrally and authoritatively dictated set of beliefs—humanists are freethinkers who acknowledge no such central authority. Rather, the word serves as the label for a certain range of beliefs and ethical positions. At Annex I we give a broad description of the lifestance that would command wide assent among humanists and serves to show the core positive content of the lifestance.

  12.  We refer above to the finding of the census in 2001 that about 15.5 per cent of the UK population said they had no religion. As we have argued elsewhere,[25] the census question in England and Wales ("What is your religion?"), asked in a context of questions about ethnicity, was heavily biased, explaining why its results were hugely at odds with all other surveys on the question.[26] At Annex II we quote a large number of such surveys and further details of the census.

  13.  It is significant that one such poll was commissioned by the BBC itself for its Heaven and Earth Show in September 2003.  It showed 26 per cent of atheists or agnostics and another 24 per cent who were "spiritually inclined but don't really belong to an organised religion".[27] Here we have half the population who have explicitly or implicitly rejected religion. Does the BBC assume that none of them has any interest in exploring what it means to live a life without religion? to find non- religious answers to the so-called "ultimate questions"? to articulate a non-religious basis for morality? It would seem so from its failure to provide any platform for such exercises even while it continues to lavish time on religion.[28]

  14.  A recent paper for the BBC governors quoted Dr Colin Morris as saying:

"In the 60s, radical theologians predicted that from the ruins of organised religion, a maturely secular world would emerge. Chance would be a fine thing. What emerged was a society riven by every conceivable form of religiosity." It is arguable that the fault lies less with the "mature secular" population, who have articulated the humanist viewpoint with compelling clarity, than with the major institutions of society: the education system, bound by law to teach the young religion but no alternative, and the BBC, stubbornly resisting for over 50 years requests by humanists and other freethinkers for access to the most important platform of all for public discussion even while they provide the churches with unmediated access to an often unwilling public (as with Thought for the Day) across the schedules.

TWO TYPES OF PROGRAMME

  15.  We think it useful to distinguish between two types of programme dealing with religion and belief:—

    (a)  those that offer a commentary (news, magazine and discussion programmes)—see paras 16-18

    and

    (b)  those that are devoted to presenting a religion on its own terms, offering a service to its followers (such as religious services and homilies like Prayer for the Day and Thought for the Day)—see paras 19-21.

  16.  The role of commentary is unquestionably proper and desirable: such programmes fulfil in the area of fundamental values and beliefs and their related institutions the same role as news and current affairs programmes do for the more ephemeral area of politics. They inform their audience, they provide for debate about ideas that can then be accepted or rejected, and on balance they encourage moderation and cooperation between people of profoundly different beliefs.

  17.  To a small extent the BBC already covers matters of concern to the non-religious in such programmes, but largely only when we issue a criticism of some religious policy or initiative. For example, our criticisms of religious schools have been noticed—but our constructive alternative policy, prepared after wide consultation in the education world, has been ignored. Our influence in the reform of religious education in schools over many years and our current constructive role in helping forward the equality and human rights agenda have likewise been ignored.

  18.  Decisions over the content of such programmes as Sunday (Radio 4) and The Heaven and Earth Show (BBC1) are a complex of many considerations and in any particular case can doubtless be defended. What cannot be excused is the overall (but difficult to quantify) bias against considered explicit non-religious lifestances.

  19.  The second category of programme is those in which a representative of a religion is given unmediated access to the audience. It would be possible to make a principled case against a public authority such as the BBC in an open society putting its resources at the disposal of a particular religion or belief—"why should a public institution do the churches work for them?"[29] We do not take that line: it may be irrelevant that programmes such as Radio 4's daily service are sanctified by history, but they plainly provide a valued service to a number of people (principally the devout housebound).

  20.  But such provision must not be discriminatory. Its extent must reflect not the historical predominance of the Christian religion but the present state of belief in the UK. There are now many non-Christian religions and a far greater disparity within Christianity than Lord Reith could ever have dreamed of, let alone a popular renunciation of religion as a guiding force that would have alarmed him severely. The BBC needs to regain its balance and neutrality by extending its programming to "new" religions and beliefs—including secular lifestances such as Humanism.

  21.  The present situation is far from satisfactory. For example, Radio 4 broadcasts every week almost three-and-a-half hours of direct, unmediated broadcasting by believers to believers—mainly but not quite exclusively Christian.[30] This excludes the several magazine programmes dealing with religion. Nor are speakers on (for example) Thought for the Day, who are amazingly given access not just to those who choose to tune in but to a huge captive audience to Radio 4's Today programme, confined to anodyne if (to many) irritating religious reflections: they are even allowed to argue a case on matters of political controversy, as the Chief Rabbi did against physician assisted dying on the morning of the House of Lords debate on Lord Joffe's Bill within minutes of a balanced Today item on the subject. The position is similar but less marked on Radio 2 and on television. Though there is some very small provision of such unmediated time for non-Christian religions, there is absolutely no comparable provision for what is (according even to the census) the second largest group in the spectrum of religion or belief—namely those with a non-religious outlook, including humanists.

AMOUNT OF TIME

  22.  A serious problem is that such programming is potentially invasive of the schedules. If unfair discrimination cannot be supported and the schedules are not to be overrun by programming for small minorities, it suggests that whatever time is available be reallocated roughly in proportion to some combination of population and demand or appreciation. (The new digital channels will provide some help, with (on radio) the BBC s popular Asian Network well placed to provide some Hindu, Islamic and Sikh programmes.)

LEGISLATION ON HUMAN RIGHTS AND NON-DISCRIMINATION

  23.  There is growing recognition that, in line with the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights, the entire spectrum of fundamental beliefs or lifestances, embracing not just the various religions but also non-religious beliefs with a comparable function, should be treated without discrimination. This is what the Human Rights Act itself requires (see Annex III), as do (for example) the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003 and the current Equality Bill. The BHA at the invitation of Government departments is taking a constructive part in the steering group for the new Commission for Equality and Human Rights and in other aspects of the equality agenda.

  24.  Moreover, as the result of an amendment introduced by the Government itself, the Communications Act 2003 (at section 264(6)(f)) requires that public service broadcasters should provide programmes about "religion and other beliefs" (characterised as "collective belief[s] in, or other adherence to, a systemised set of ethical or philosophical principles or of mystical or transcendental doctrines"—section 264(13)). In introducing the amendment, Lord McIntosh of Haringey explicitly referred to Humanism:

    The second [amendment] is to add a reference to other beliefs, which would include ethical systems or philosophies such as humanism or secularism.

Lords Hansard, 1 July 2003: Column 784

  25.  The BBC, the principal public service broadcaster, has never acknowledged that this legal change requires any action on its part. It has never referred to it in any of its policy statements in connection with charter renewal or otherwise. Its language in policy documents remains exclusive, referring only to religion rather than inclusively to religions and beliefs.

  26.  What is more, an enquiry by the BHA under the Freedom of Information Act early in 2005 revealed that the BBC had generated not a single item referring to the new law. Despite this complete absence of consideration, it has numerous times asserted to us its confidence that it meets the requirements of the Act.

THE BBC IN ITS OWN WORDS

  27.  We should like to illustrate the BBC s attitude by quotation from correspondence.

  (1)  In November 2002 the BBC s head of religion and ethics, Alan Bookbinder, was quoted in the Church of England Newspaper as saying:

    All our licence payers are entitled to see their belief reflected back to them. Broadly we try to keep a balance according to the composition of the audience. It is not a direct mathematical formula, but we are aware of the make up of our audience as we try to reflect that.

  A BHA member wrote to him, saying:

    Given that about 30 per cent of the population do not believe in God, and that a substantial proportion of them are Humanists and/or lead effectively humanist lives, would you please tell me what you are doing to reflect back our beliefs to us?

  Bookbinder replied:

    The 30 per cent who don't believe in God and "lead effectively humanist lives" (whatever that means) have acres of TV and Radio time devoted to secular concerns.

  We find this reply revealing, first, in its disdainful reference to humanism and secondly by its suggestion that people without religion need no programmes about their fundamental values but can be satisfied by the "acres of time" devoted to (presumably) game shows, comedies, sport and soaps.

  (2)  On 23 July 2003, a letter from Alan Bookbinder in the Daily Telegraph included the claim: "our recent success fighting off the atheist lobby demonstrates that [Radio 4's Thought for the Day] is still very much a religious slot". This followed an approach by about 100 distinguished persons coordinated by the BHA, the Rationalist Association and the National Secular Society asking that occasional comments from a non-religious viewpoint be included in Thought for the Day—a suggestion roundly rejected by the BBC even on appeal to the Governors.

Sat: Prayer for the Day (2 mins) + Thought for the Day (3 mins)
Sun: Something Understood (30 mins * 2) + Sunday Worship (38 mins)
Mon-Fri: Prayer for the Day (2 mins) + Thought for the Day (3 mins) + Daily Service (15 mins)
R4 total = 3 hours 23 mins / week direct committed pastoral religious broadcasting. At times of religious festivals, this provision is substantially expanded.

  (3)  Greg Dyke as Director-General summed up the BBC's position in a letter of 28 August 2003: ". . . demand for programmes [about Humanism] is . . . met by items on programmes such as The Heaven and Earth Show, or radio programmes presented by humanist scientists". The appearance of humanist scientists in programmes is unsurprising, given that so many eminent scientists (not to speak of writers, philosophers and other public figures) are humanists, but it is irrelevant to our demands since they do not appear as humanists but as scientists etc. And while it is true that the non-religious are sometimes asked to appear in religious magazine programmes, they are almost invariably asked to respond to religious speakers on a religious agenda, so that they are positioned as foils to the religious, and can explain their views only in the context of religious belief. Not only that, but of course humanists can have little idea when such items will appear, so that the BBC apparently expects them to listen or watch in hope through hours of religious material in order to hear the odd contested word supporting their own views.

  (4)  When the Communications Act was passed in 2003, we wrote to the then Director-General, Greg Dyke, saying: "We believe we can be helpful and constructive in assisting you meet this new public service obligation and we look forward to a productive dialogue". The offer was rejected as was the suggestion that any change of policy by the BBC was necessary following the Act. The correspondence is reproduced in Annex IV.

  (5)  When we wrote to him when he became Director-General, saying: "what is lacking is even the slightest parallel to the unmediated presentation of religion that is so pervasive in the BBC's output", Mark Thompson asserted in reply (16 August 2004) without quoting any evidence: "the BBC's programming schedule meets all public service requirements with regard to religion and other beliefs imposed on the BBC by the Communications Act". In a later letter (15 October 2004) he stated "Our Religion and Ethics department regularly meets representatives of a wide variety of faiths and belief systems specifically to ensure that such views are appropriately represented". There are no such regular meetings with us or any other body representing non-religious lifestances. The head of religion and ethics has met us once, at our request, in January 2004, when we put forward a list of ideas for programmes to which, after much prompting, he responded the following October by rejecting them one and all.

  (6)  A BHA member received in May this year the following response to a complaint:

    As a public service broadcaster the BBC has a responsibility to meet the needs of all audiences. Over 75 per cent of the adult audience claim some religious allegiance (2001 census).

    Much of the BBC's output approaches the world from a secular, non-religious point of view. A minority of the BBC's output has specifically religious content—some of it celebratory and affirming, some of it journalistic and scrutinising—while other programmes, such as Jonathan Miller's Brief History of Disbelief, have addressed atheism directly.

    On Friday 13 May the BBC Governors held a seminar, attended by Mark Thompson, senior executives and a panel of invited experts, to discuss the BBC's religious and belief programming. The BBC has a public service responsibility to provide religious programming. The purpose of this seminar was not to find ways of increasing religious output, but to discuss how the BBC can best meet this commitment by providing programmes of the highest quality. The seminar also explored how different faiths and beliefs could be reflected across a range of genres. If you would like to read more about the seminar please go to:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/bsp/hi/pdfs/09_05_05_religious_output.pdf

  This response, typical of many, is worth some comment:

    (a)  "Over 75 per cent of the adult audience claim some religious allegiance (2001 census)"—but (i) no-one is questioning the need for some religious programmes; (ii) the BBC implicitly admits that there is another 25 per cent: do they not deserve proper attention? (iii) the adherence of many in the 75 per cent is in any case merely nominal—we have already quoted the BBC s own poll that found 26 per cent of atheists or agnostics and another 24 per cent who were spiritually inclined but don't really belong to an organised religion—Humanism might well be very attractive to them if they were allowed to hear about it.

    (b)  "Much of the BBC's output approaches the world from a secular, non-religious point of view"—The suggestion here seems to be that those without a religious belief cannot be expected to rise above programmes about make-overs, sport and travel. Do those without religious beliefs, in other words, not have any serious philosophy of life that is worth examination? If the BBC's answer is that they do not, they are saying that the many serious thinkers who embrace Humanism have nothing to say that is at all worthy of attention. If on the other hand the BBC admits that positive non-religious beliefs are worth examination, why do they deliberately and consistently refuse to pay any attention to them whatsoever?

    (c)  "Jonathan Miller's Brief History of Disbelief" was shown on BBC4 and has still not been scheduled for showing on a terrestrial channel. In any case it did not deal with positive non-religious world-views such as Humanism but only with the rejection of religion—ie, good as it was, it was essentially negative, not suggesting any positive alternative to religion.

    (d)  "On Friday 13 May the BBC Governors held a seminar". The British Humanist Association made a detailed submission to the Governors specifically for this review. It seems to have been ignored: there was no reference to it in the Governance Unit paper prepared for the meeting (to which their web link leads) or in the report on the seminar posted on the BBC website.

    (e)  "The BBC has a public service responsibility to provide religious programming." This is a blatant distort ion of the truth by omission: the duty as set out in the Communications Act refers (as stated above) not to religion but to religion and other beliefs, including Humanism. The Act cannot be quoted as a defence for the BBC's failure to provide programmes about Humanism—it specifically requires them to do so.

  28.  We could multiply these quotations many times over: all show that the BBC persistently refuses to respond to our arguments other than by bland assertion of its own blamelessness and by arguments that carry no weight.

BROADCASTING FOR THE NON-RELIGIOUS

  29.  At a time when religion is in decline, it should not be the role of a public service broadcaster in an open society artificially to sustain religious belief, whether by providing religion with a disproportionate amount of airtime or by excluding rival beliefs from the principal medium whereby groups in society can make themselves heard. Rather than provide a platform only for those who lament the alleged rootlessness and immorality of the present generation, or indeed the increasing secularisation of society, the BBC should also be helping those with constructive and coherent alternative life-stances and non-religious answers to "ultimate questions" to test them on the public. If society is suffering from moral confusion and spiritual anomie as is often alleged then it is vital that alternatives to the failing tradition of supernatural religion be explored, not suppressed.

  30.  Religious programmes, and religious teaching in other contexts, often claim that only religion can provide the basis for morality. This not only insults the large number of people who lead ethical lives without religious beliefs, but also undermines the moral commitment of the large number of people who reject the religion they were brought up in. While the vast majority of non-believers find that they are perfectly capable of living moral lives without recourse to any external authority, there can be little doubt that programmes which explore non-religious lifestances that base morality in our common humanity would help to ground people's moral values, and hence would also benefit society as a whole. If the BBC were to produce programmes of this kind, it would be an excellent example of public service broadcasting.

  31.  It may be useful to reiterate what we are seeking.

  32.  We want the BBC to cease discriminating against non-religious beliefs by recognising that they are part of the same spectrum as religion and should be treated on equal terms.

  33.  We therefore want programmes specifically for the non-religious, so flagged, recognising that much of the public will (owing to the prevailing religious bias of the school system and the media) have a confused and unarticulated world-view at best. After all, for several generations both religious education and broadcasting have set up religion as the preferred basis for life and implied that morality depends on it: when millions have rejected religion and but neither schools nor the mass media have provided any coherent alternative, many end up confused and unsure about the basis of morality.

  34.  The programmes we seek would not be attacks on religion (any more than Christian programmes are attacks on Islam, for example) but reflections on the basis of secular morality and on particular moral issues, on a secular spirituality and living a non-religious life, drawing on the tradition of non-religious lifestances (Confucianism, Epicureanism, Stoicism, the philosophy of the Locke, Hume, Mill, Russell, etc, etc) from ancient times down to present day.

  35.  Such programmes would help the large number of people who do not hold religious beliefs to explore what they do believe, and how those beliefs affect the way they lead their lives. They could be expected in a small way to yield a social dividend—to help social cohesion and commitment, to combat the moral anomie, cynicism and selfishness that some commentators perceive in modern society.

  36.  Given the immovably entrenched position the BBC has taken over decades in defending its bias towards religion, we believe that aspirations such as that in the Green Paper, at pp 40-1, which refers to a requirement to provide programmes about "different religions and other beliefs" are inadequate. An obligation should be firmly embedded within the Charter (and wherever else the aims of the BBC are to be expressed or monitored) that the BBC cater, without discrimination, for the different belief groups in our society, explicitly including such non-religious groups as humanists. Otherwise we cannot trust the BBC to turn bland general assurances into real programmes.

GOVERNANCE

  37.  In keeping with our general views, we would oppose any religious (or humanist) representation on the BBC board of governors or any trust that might replace it, and likewise on any BBC regional or national boards.

  38.  The BBC has a Central Religious Advisory Council. We wrote to the BBC in 2004 pointing out its obligation under the Human Rights Act not to discriminate on grounds of religion or belief and asking that the terms of reference of CRAC be extended to cover non-religious lifestances. This request was rejected by Mark Thompson, the Director-General, on the illogical grounds that the BBC was confident that its programming met all the requirements of the Communications Act to provide programmes about nonreligious beliefs. (If it needs advice on its religious programmes, why should it any less require advice on its alleged programmes on non-religious lifestances?) We have been told subsequently that a review of all the advisory bodies is pending. We hold to the view that an advisory council limited to religion is discriminatory and that its terms of reference should be widened to cover all religious and non-religious beliefs and that its membership should include a representative of Humanism as the principal non-religious lifestance in the UK.

  39.  We take this opportunity to point out that there is confusion about where any duty to enforce section 264 of the Communications Act lies. The BBC has consistently seen the duty as lying with Ofcom: for example, in a letter of 16 August 2004 Mark Thompson wrote to us: "Under Section 264 of the Act, Ofcom reports on the fulfilment of the BBC's obligations under section 264(6) and we remain confident that Ofcom will report favourably in this respect". On the other hand, Ofcom in its recent review of public service broadcasting ignored section 264 and in a letter to us of 8 March 2005 said: "The performance of the BBC in respect to its duties as defined by section 264(6)(g) is a matter for the Governors and, through the Charter Review process, the Government". The Act seems to us to place the obligation on Ofcom but the evident confusion is frustrating to ourselves and anyone else wishing to see the BBC held to account for the multiple obligations that Parliament plainly intended to impose on it as the principal public service broadcaster.

9 October 2005



21   This is true, for example, even of our President, the comedian Linda Smith, who had not heard of Humanism until we contacted her after she appeared on Radio 4's Devout Sceptics. Back

22   We do not intend in this memorandum to deal with the very many other functions of public service broadcasting (education, the arts, sport, etc) except to say that we recognise their great importance and the generally high achievement of the BBC in these areas. Back

23   We regard it as more important than the press because of the breadth of its audience and (in the case of the BBC) its mandated neutrality. Back

24   We would add that the value for money it offers is off the scale when compared with the cost of cable and satellite offerings. This is not to say that the BBC is perfect: we share the widespread view that scheduling on both the principal BBC television channels is often depressingly unambitious (other than in terms of audience maximisation). But by contrast (for example) the offering of Radio 4 is incomparable. Back

25   In a submission to the Office of National Statistics on the census in 2011. Back

26   This is borne out even by the census itself: a different question in Scotland produced a total of 27.6 per cent with no religion, whereas in England with the question quoted here the figure was only 14.6 per cent. Back

27   Evidence of this is found in the rapidly growing demand for non-religious ceremonies-baby-namings, weddings, and funerals. Back

28   Its statements of programme policy for 2004/05 proposed 80 hours of religious programming on BBC1, 20 hours on BBC2, over 150 hours on Radio 2 and at least 170 hours on Radio 4, as well as unquantified totals on other channels. Back

29   We note that some countries are organised on a confessional basis with separate provision of broadcasting (and other services) by and for (for example) Roman Catholics, Lutherans and Humanists. A case in point is the Netherlands. Organisation of the state into such columns would be impossible to substitute for our profoundly different British system and anyway we object to it in principle as too limiting. Back

30   Typically: Back


 
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