The BBC 'should remain at the heart of British broadcasting'

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A group of leading UK legislators – including a senior Church of England bishop – have called for the BBC to "remain at the heart of British broadcasting, bringing the nation together, serving all sectors of UK society, and delivering a world-leading service that is respected across the globe."

But, as the Corporation looks ahead to tough discussions with the government about its future funding, the lawmakers want the BBC "to do more to maintain the legitimacy of public funding by doing a better job of representing the full range of perspectives and communities that make up our diverse society."

They also call for wide public consultation about the BBC's future funding.

The report by the House of Lords Communications and Digital Committee examines options for funding the BBC, which celebrates its centenary this year.

The committee, which includes the Bishop of Worcester, John Inge, looked at alternatives to the existing annual licence fee of £154.50. These included a universal household levy linked to council tax bills, a ring-fenced income tax, and reforming the existing licence fee to provide discounts for low-income households.

The committee dismisses taking advertising as not generating enough income and hitting other broadcasters. A Netflix-style subscription would also not produce enough money and pose "major technical hurdles and accessibility barriers", while a direct government grant would "risk undermining editorial independence."

The influential committee notes that "any changes to the BBC's funding will require public support" and strongly urges the government to hold 'national consultations' so that the public can be asked about future changes.

Members were concerned that the government currently has no plans for public engagement on the key issue.

Some observers, including Patrick Barwise and Peter York, authors of 'The War against the BBC', have argued that the BBC has already suffered significant financial cuts, including having to take on the cost of providing free TV licences to people aged over 75 on low incomes.

Earlier this year, the Bishop of Ripon, Helen-Ann Hartley, spoke out against possible plans to abolish the BBC licence fee, and praised the Corporation's role in developing a greater understanding of religion.

Bishop Hartley chairs the Sandford St Martin Trust, that promotes 'excellence in broadcasting about religion, ethics and spirituality.'

She said: "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 past two years when so many UK citizens depended on the BBC for content that helped support their own religious practices and connected them with their communities."

The Sandford St Martin Trust – along with many other organisations – has called for the opportunity to be involved in discussions about the BBC's future funding so it can "truly represent all communities and viewers in the UK."

Bishop Hartley has also previously called on the BBC to be more imaginative in its religious broadcasting. She said the Corporation needed to go beyond 'preaching to the converted' to produce documentaries and dramas that challenge and inform people's world views.

She said: "I'm far more motivated by programmes that explore the big questions in life. You can't really understand the world and what motivates people if you're not able to interpret or understand religion."

Rev Peter Crumpler is a Church of England minister in St Albans, Herts, UK, and a former communications director with the CofE. He also wrote the article 'Will Christians miss the BBC when it's gone?'