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Impartiality and truth of public broadcasting is under threat, warns Archbishop of York

11 December 2020

‘I want us to be a Gogglebox Britain, seeing our diversity as a great strength’

Channel 4

One of the families filmed for Gogglebox on Channel 4

One of the families filmed for Gogglebox on Channel 4

PUBLIC-service broadcasting in the UK, with its values of impartiality and truth, is under threat, the Archbishop of York, the Most Revd Stephen Cottrell, has said.

Writing in the double Christmas issue of the Radio Times this week, Archbishop Cottrell said that the vision of a former Director-General of the BBC, Lord Reith, which wove together entertaining, educating, and informing, was being compromised by “the echo chambers of social media and the fake news that often goes with it”, which had “led us to mistrust and cynicism”.

In other countries, the Archbishop continued, “even news channels seem to be the mouthpieces of certain political parties or vested interests.” He gave the example of election campaigning in the United States. “Look at how divided and mistrustful of each other the people of that nation have become. Most alarmingly of all, there seems to be no common understanding of what is true and who can be trusted. Truth seems to have become a commodity, bought by the highest bidder.”

This could happen in the UK, which was already divided, he warned. “I know that there are many across the country who feel that during this terrible pandemic year, others have been favoured at their expense.”

One of the programmes that Archbishop Cottrell was looking forward to watching over Christmas, he said, was Gogglebox, in which members of the public are filmed watching television. “What I love about is that I see the people I’m watching, a joyful and diverse common humanity and a country that is represented in all its constituent parts. . . Somehow it restores my faith in humanity.”

The variety of programmes, especially over Christmas, also did this, he said. For many, television was a companion, “even a friend”.

But this togetherness in diversity was not always visible in the country, he said. “Couple this with the rise and spending power of Netflix and Amazon (News, 13 September 2018), and our British way of doing broadcasting is under threat. A voracious, unchecked market may just sweep it away.”

The BBC, he suggested, could be trusted, as he believed that the NHS and the Church of England were trusted. “At the end of this dark and difficult year, I know that many lonely, frightened and isolated people have turned to the television (and the radio) for help, companionship, relief, and guidance. This is a model of broadcasting we should be proud of and not take for granted. . .

“I want us to be a Gogglebox Britain, laughing and weeping together, and seeing our diversity as a great strength.” The same “glorious diverse humanity” could be seen in the Christmas story, he said. “Gathered there, we can look around and discover that we belong to one another. We are one humanity.”

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