Bishop speaks out against government plans to abolish BBC licence fee

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A leading Church of England bishop has spoken out about government plans to abolish the BBC licence fee – and praised the Corporation's role in developing greater understanding of religion.

Dr Helen-Ann Hartley is Bishop of Ripon and Chair of the Sandford St Martin Trust that promotes 'excellence in broadcasting about religion, ethics and spirituality'. 

She said: "It is with concern that we at the Trust have read reports that the BBC is to be hit by a funding freeze and that the culture secretary Nadine Dorries is anticipating the abolition of the licence fee after 2027.

"The BBC plays a critical role in the promotion and enhancement of public and personal understanding of religion. This has never been clearer than during the last two years when so many UK citizens depended on the BBC for content that helped support their own religious practice and connected them with their communities.

"As a funding mechanism, the licence has served as contract between the broadcaster and the UK public – the only stakeholder that its output exists to serve.

Read More: Will Christians miss the BBC when it's gone?

"We, at the Trust, would be very sorry to see this or the BBC's reputation as a world-class public service broadcaster and creative leader jeopardised."

Bishop Hartley said the Trust would welcome an opportunity to discuss how public service broadcasting and the BBC could be funded to "truly represent all communities and viewers in the UK".

In a statement, the bishop pointed out that the BBC had consistently produced or commissioned programmes that been shortlisted or had won prestigious Sandford St Martin awards in recent years.

Last year the BBC dominated the shortlists in all five of the Trust's annual categories and won three – for children's broadcasting, for journalism and for a radio/audio production.

The BBC was established as a Corporation in 1927 with the motto 'Nation shall speak peace unto Nation'. The BBC's commitment to religion includes its broadcasting of the radio Daily Service since 1928, and TV's 'Songs of Praise for more than 50 years.

Peter Crumpler is a Church of England priest in St Albans, Herts, UK and a former communications director for the CofE.