Media Bill abandons obligation for religious broadcasting

Peers have criticised the Government for ditching the requirement for mainstream British television to cover religious programming.

Currently, public service broadcasters including BBC, ITV and Channel 4 must “include a suitable quantity and range of programmes dealing with science, religion and other beliefs, social issues, matters of international significance or interest and matters of specialist interest”.

But the Government’s Media Bill replaces the list of protected genres with merely a duty to provide “a broad range of audiovisual content”, which is “likely to meet the needs and satisfy the interests of as many different audiences as practicable”.

‘Not trivial’

The Rt Revd the Lord Bishop of Leeds Nicholas Baines criticised this change, highlighting that “guaranteeing space for religion is not about propaganda for any particular faith or religion. The point is simply that you cannot understand the world if you do not understand religion.

“Religion is not about worldviews or beliefs alone but about prime motivators for individual and communal decisions and behaviours, about how and why people see the world as they do and how their priorities, rituals and communalities shape our societies.

“In broadcasting terms, that embraces drama, comedy, and current affairs; it is not all about ‘Songs of Praise’. This is not trivial. The fragilities of our world at present make attention to religion more important than ever, not less.”

Baroness Fraser of Craigmaddie agreed, saying that removing existing obligations “could have very negative unintended consequences”, while Baroness Kidron OBE said it would “likely result in a downgrading of religious, arts, science and children’s programming”.


Earlier this year, Ofcom revealed that the amount of time public service broadcasters have dedicated to ‘Religion and Ethics’ has dropped to the lowest level since records began in 2010.

Former BBC editor and executive Roger Bolton called it “a dramatic collapse” as the number of hours devoted to the genre fell from 243 in 2010 to 140 in 2022 – a drop of 42 per cent over twelve years.

The watchdog’s data for TV and audio-visual contains Public Service Broadcasting hours of output between 2010 and 2022, by genre, for the BBC, Channel 4, Channel 5 and ITV.

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