THE Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd Paul Bayes, has praised the BBC for its “impartial” reporting of the Remembrance Sunday bombing in his city when other media attacked the refugee and asylum system and faith groups that had supported Emad al Swealmeen, who was killed when his bomb exploded in a taxi (News, 19 November).
Bishop Bayes was speaking during his maiden speech in the House of Lords, on Thursday, in a debate on the value of the BBC. He said: “The journey of the young man concerned provided a fine opportunity for the naïvety of people of faith to be exposed, or for the systems by which people seek refuge to be deplored. These words had little purchase in Liverpool, where a number of organs of commercial media have been deeply and permanently distrusted for 40 years.”
The BBC, Bishop Bayes said, provided an “impartial platform of scrutiny and continues to hold the significant trust of people across my community, where few other voices do”.
This trust, he said, was based on “a platform of religious literacy”, which rested on “a readiness, particularly on the part of local BBC journalists, to explore, on its own terms, the self-understanding of communities of faith as places of God’s welcome.
“I also underline the urgent need for that religious literacy to be intentionally sustained and intentionally deepened, if the BBC is, indeed, to hold its value for a global audience in a world that remains, predominantly, a world of faith.”
He told peers that the value of the BBC was “rooted in its decision to be calm, to choose a particular volume and quality of scrutiny and to sustain it, no matter how unpopular it may be”.
The public square was increasingly a place in which “to be opinionated is to be rewarded, and where volume and shrillness of tone have become praiseworthy in themselves”, he said. “In such a world, it is surely the role of a public-service communicator to still the waters so that they reflect the truth.”
The debate was opened by Lord Bragg, the broadcaster and writer, who spoke of the BBC’s value to Britain and the world, and urged the Government to give it more support. He pointed out that the licence fee was half the cost of Sky and streaming services such as Netflix.
The Government seemed “bent on making the BBC weaker when every indicator suggests that the opposite course would be the wiser”, he said. “It seemed to be ignorant of the BBC’s deeply held strengths and the affection in which it is held in this country for its reliability, talent, fun, originality, and the feeling of being part of a nation that it engenders. It belongs to us, the licence-fee payers.
He continued: “The BBC has earned our respect and repaid our support, in war and peace, over many years. It has built itself in our image. Surely, now that it is so clearly up against it, we cannot let it down.”