While the Catholic Cardinal and the Church of England, or at least its two archbishops, are perceived to be at war with the government over one set of public services, in relation to the equalities agenda, yesterday (25 January 2007) they set their face in favour of a public service ethos in relation to broadcasting.
News, religion, science, children's television, and programmes reflecting community, culture and informative content should be freely available on television, radio, internet and mobile phones ‚Äì says the joint response from the Church of England and the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales to a government inquiry.
The document also criticises Ofcom (the regulatory body) 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 Rev Nigel McCulloch, and Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster, the Rt Rev 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.
They continue: "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."