This is the text of the Radio Times article which caused a bit of irritated response in some quarters. It will be obvious that it is not critical of the BBC, but congratulatory and ‘encouraging’ of how things might develop constructively.

A couple of years ago, before X-Factor ‘popularised’ it, I contributed to a BBC Radio 2 documentary celebrating the 25th anniversary of Leonard Cohen’s great song Hallelujah. Covered by more than 120 artists, Cohen the Perfectionist ended up writing and re-writing around 80 verses or versions. The lyric, full of biblical allusions, breathes some human realism into a word that would normally be seen as purely religious (and, therefore, rather suspect).

During an interview with Guy Garvey, singer-songwriter with Elbow and presenter of the documentary, he put it to me that “Cohen had hijacked religious language”. “No,” I replied, “Cohen has understood it.” By this I meant that Cohen had liberated the word from some assumed compartment called ‘religion’ and given it back to real people living in the real world and with real stories to tell. The song speaks of the ‘holy and the broken hallelujah’ – a phrase that encapsulates the torn nature of human beings who long to be ‘holy’ but usually manage just to be ‘broken’. Cohen’s point is that God is not surprised by this.

Leonard Cohen refused to allow ‘religion’ to be stuck in a compartment from which everybody else is spared any engagement. Religion and its place in the public discourse are much misunderstood.

Mention ‘religious broadcasting’ in polite company and you might well be faced with finding someone else to talk to. Either that or it’s assumed you’re really wanting more Songs of Praise on the television to keep the Christians (who haven’t gone to church) happy.

Yet, this isn’t the case. Religious broadcasting simply takes seriously the indisputable fact that religion is a phenomenon that has to be acknowledged and understood, if we are to understand the world in which we live. This doesn’t presuppose a religious commitment, conviction, practice or adherence any more than doing a programme about Marxism demands that only Marxists produce it.

The BBC’s Easter programming looks increasingly imaginative, finding creative and engaging ways of telling the Easter story, questioning the implications of the Easter story, capturing the experience of Christians celebrating the Easter story. The Preston Passion follows on from the superb Manchester Passion of several years ago, taking Easter out of the church and onto the streets. This enables everyone to be part of it and be confronted by it. A bit like… er… the original Easter events.

However, go beyond the BBC (and the odd bit of Channel 4) and religion has been dropped as if it were a toxic contaminator of decent culture. This ideological knee-jerk sees religion as an embarrassing problem (for which there is obviously no audience) rather than part of a solution (one lens through which to tell stories and understand people, their lives and motivations). ITV sees no need to consider religion – despite the fact that more people shape their lives around religious conviction and practice than attend sporting events. Now look at the relative budgets given to sport and religion…

The point here is not that religion should be privileged or protected. It is not to argue that religious propaganda should find space in the schedules of broadcasters. But it is to maintain that we can’t understand people, events and the way the world is if we don’t take religion seriously.

The BBC has a sports editor, an economics editor, a political editor and editors for other areas of life. It has no religion editor. Yet, if an economics editor is needed to help explain and interpret economic decisions and events in order that the public should be responsible citizens in our democracy, why on earth isn’t there someone to explain, interpret and communicate the phenomenon of religion as it influences people, colours political and economic decisions, questions values and shapes both individual and corporate behaviour?

There are two issues here. First, how does the BBC fulfil its public service remit by challenging the ridiculous assumption that the ‘non-religious’ world view is neutral? Second, how do other broadcasters get beyond their own prejudices and see religion as an indispensable lens through which to see and understand the world?

There are some shining examples – despite the problems of encouraging imaginative commissioning – of good religious broadcasting. Some are on the Sandford St Martin Trust Radio Times Readers Award shortlist: the humanising Rev, the powerfully questioning Forgiveness, the affecting re-telling of the Life of Mohammed, to name but three. But, the need is for a change in assumption and perception of religion as phenomenon, motivator and shaper of human stories.

Good media need good stories. Religion is not primarily about mere ideas; it is about people, communities and the stuff of human existence. It is rich, ripe and fertile soil.

I was doing Pause for Thought on BBC Radio 2′s Chris Evans Show this morning and arrived while some fun was being had at the expense of ITV. I caught the last half an hour or so of the Brits last night and was astonished when Queen Adele was interrupted so James Corden could introduce Blur for their epic finale.

 

When a sports event over-runs, or the Eurovision Song Contest drags on a while, they simply re-align the schedule and cope with it. So, what was the thinking behind cutting Adele (who deserves every second of her glory) and not just adding a few minutes to the programme? I am not a media expert, but my jaw dropped at that disaster.

Anyway, that wasn’t my business – I just came into the studio on the back of it. I was there to talk about Lent. Just before I went in I was asked whether Lent actually includes the Sundays, or if we can have Sundays off and still do the forty days. The good Christian answer is that we can choose. Forty consecutive days from Ash Wednesday (today, of course) takes us to Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week which runs up to Easter. If you take out the Sundays, you can count Holy Week in. Wonderful flexibility. But, I did remark to Chris that taking Sundays for celebration is a recourse for wimps – and that his intention to start next Monday is a bit sad. (At least he’s starting, though!)

I began my script with a reference to my eighteen-month old grandson, Ben, who vomited all over me a couple of weeks ago. He was with us again last weekend. We live in a big house in Bradford and he loves to charge around the space that was just made for little kids to charge around. He is learning how to be naughty – a natural reflex – and has that look in his eye that says: “You’re not going to like this, but I’ll do it anyway and see how far I can push you.” I think it’s written into his job description. He is pushing the boundaries and unwittingly working out what he is about and how far he can go. (It should end when he is about 30…)

And this is where Lent comes in. The forty days of mirrors follow Jesus mirroring Israel centuries before and spending forty days and nights in the desert wondering what life was all about really. What happened to Jesus was that, stripped of all the distractions that even an Internet-free first century Palestine offered, he had to face himself, what really drove him, how far he would really go in taking seriously the vocation he believed was his. OK, he’s tired, cold and hungry. Then the voice in his head says: “So, you’re really not interested in the short cut to glory and fame? Really? Why go through all the suffering when you don’t need to?” It actually is really hard: “You – of all people – don’t need to go hungry! Just turn this stone into bread and get fed. Put your own material needs first. Come on – don’t be so hard on yourself!

I think Jesus knew this wasn’t the sort of stuff to prepare him for a cross.

But the connection here between him and us and Lent is simply that if we take the time and make the space to drill down deep into our own choices and motivations, we might find it both uncomfortably challenging… and extremely profitable.

Lent isn’t magic and it isn’t primarily about giving up chocolate as some form of narcissistic aecetism. It simply offers the space in which we can take the time to reflect more seriously and deeply on what is really going on deep within us – especially those bits that we are usually too busy to examine.

Which is a theme I treat from a different angle in the BBC Radio 4 Lent address going out at 2045 on Wednesday 29 February and at 0545 and 1445 on Sunday 4 March.

 

So, yesterday St Paul’s Cathedral Chapter dropped its legal action against the camp protesters – not all of whom are anti-capitalist per se, despite the media shorthand categorisation – and the Corporation of London ‘paused’ their action to evict. This has allowed a fresh approach to the whole issue.

This morning I woke up to two stories: (a) the Archbishop of Canterbury writing in the Financial Times about the need now to move from general protest to specific solutions and (b) the Bishop of London doing a good job on BBC Radio 4′s Today programme.

The point of both of these was to push the agenda away from the protests themselves and on to the reason behind the protests: the frustration of millions of people around the world that the people who caused the global financial collapse continue as if little has happened (bonuses, etc.) and everybody else suffers. These questions – regardless of how we got to them in the last couple of weeks – will now be centre-stage as the particular ‘issue’ of St Paul’s and its handling of matters steps back into the less interesting shadows.

It would be interesting to see where the imagination is to be found within the spheres of pension funds, banks, financial institutions for re-shaping a global financial system in which reward is based less on numbers and more on ethics, and in which the distribution of wealth is driven by a vision of the common good and less by the compulsion to ‘have more’. The concept of ‘reqard’ might be significant here.

The world we are now in demands unusual business. That is to say, responses to the current crisis seem mostly to be technical and within current assumptions of what an economy is and how an economy works. It is at the level of assumption that the protests are directed.

What is now required – while these questions are on the front page, as it were – is a re-visioning of what an economy is for. Surely the mantra of the last thirty years, that we are economic beings in an economic market, is being seriously challenged. We do not exist for the market (the market economy); rather, the economy exists for us (a human economy).

This now needs to be cashed out in technical terms (bank taxes, challenges to assumptions about ‘attracting the right people by paying the hiughest salaries, etc.) and the advantages, costs, etc. identified. Many of us won’t understand the financial technicalities. But, we can certainly contribute to the articulation of an alternative vision.

Off to another day of meetings…

During an address to nearly 500 people a couple of weeks ago I spoke about curiosity as a key to the Kingdom of God. What I meant by this is that Christian discipleship (it seems to me) has to be driven by curiosity about Jesus and where he might be leading us. There are lots of reasons why I think this, but they are not the point of this post.

As an example of this I used the challenge of writing and presenting scripts on the radio, making particular reference to the stuff I have done on BBC Radio 2 for more than a decade and now, particularly, on the Chris Evans Show. Before giving this address (which is why this example came to mind during it) someone asked how you find something useful to say in the ‘fluff of the programme’. So, when I referred to it I described it something like this:

You have to grab the attention of the potential listeners ( so they don’t go to the loo or put the kettle on), tease their imagination with story or image, say something, then give a pay off back into the ‘fluff’.

You get around 320 words to do it with.

The further challenge is that you have no idea if or how Chris will pick up on what you have said or the basic theme. Of course, there is no reason why he should pick up on it at all. But, the great thing about doing his show is that Chris is bright, interested, creative and excellent at engaging. When writing a script, you have to be conscious of stimulating the curiosity or imagination of the host and his team as well as the audience. It means speaking a language that is interesting and comprehensible to this diverse range of humanity.

And that’s why it is good to do. It is also excellent discipline for people like me who can talk for England, preach for hours, and range wildly from subject to subject.

It is also why I like Twitter and text messaging. These force you to be concise, to express an idea with very few words, to communicate effectively in brief. It demands the skill that is exemplified by comedian Milton Jones in his wonderful new book of ‘10 Second Sermons‘.

In a former life I used to encourage preachers to write a radio script of 400 words. I remember one person complaining that you can’t actually say something in such a short space. I responded that if you can’t say something in brief, you don’t know what you are trying to say… and you shouldn’t dare to say it for 20-30 minutes. I still think that.

The enjoyable thing about doing the stuff with Chris Evans is that he will often respond in ways you didn’t expect. Always interesting, sometimes challenging, never boring. And always a privilege not to be taken for granted.

Now I’m off to a communications conference…

Having been out of radio contact for the last three days (at a residential meeting at the utterly beautiful and wonderful Parcevall Hall in the Yorkshire Dales – no mobile signal and no accessible wi-fi), I re-emerge to find all sorts of comment about the Rowan Atkinson interview last week. I am beginning to wonder if he regretted slagging off the clergy in the first place or if it was a deliberate ‘get the headlines’ grab to raise his profile for the launch of his latest film. I wonder if he really thought his comments would become the story they did.

What is interesting from some of the response is just how personal it all gets. People have been questioning his own integrity, hypocrisy, etc and then having a go at his not-very-funny creations… as if disliking Mr Bean is enough to justify discrediting the actor behind the character. It’s all a bit odd, really.

I don’t feel at all hostile to him. I even wonder if he – like many who find the unwise aside quoted as the main thrust of the story – watched amazed as the story ran away with itself.

I have no idea – and it is hardly the most important matter in the world. The truth about clergy integrity can stand for itself, regardless of how comic actors see them.

However, I also emerged to the rather bizarre shouting match about the BBC and its policy decision to ban the use of ‘BC’ and ‘AD’ on its programmes. Yet another example of anti-Christian, liberal, politically-correct nonsense by the Beeb! Except, of course (and somewhat inconveniently), it simply isn’t true. (Listen to ‘Feedback’ on Radio 4 today – which I did in the car.)

No such policy decision has been made. The whole story emanated from a piece on the BBC website and from it all sorts of conclusions were drawn. Why did no one ask the BBC?

One of the shouters is, predictably, Ann Widdecombe. Hardly surprising, as she has form in this regard. She once slagged off (in a newspaper column – the Express, I think) the entire House of Bishops of the Church of England – and, by extension, the whole Church of England) for some research the House was supposed to have commissioned and published. I did a head-to-head with her on BBC radio and she went first, repeating her tirade. When I got my chance I asked her for an apology (on the basis of the ninth Commandment which says that we shouldn’t misrepresent our neighbour’s case) as the said report had nothing to do with the bishops, had not been commissioned by them, not published by them and not authorised by them. She managed to go through the entire interview trying to ignore this inconvenient truth and simply slag off the lousy Church anyway.

Very entertaining, of course. But, why, when these stories explode, do people like Widdecombe and others not exercise the self-discipline of finding out the facts before commenting? I wouldn’t have thought that would be so revolutionary. We all get caught out by the journalist phoning, telling us the horror story and asking for an instant response – and that’s fine. But, if we can’t resist nature’s propensity to abhor a vacuum (or silence), we shouldn’t then be surprised to find ourselves embarrassed by the exposure of our naivety, stupidity, credulity or self-righteous pomposity.

And I still find Rowan Atkinson funny. And the offer to show him some crackingly good clergy still stands.

Being out and about in parishes, deaneries, meetings with individual clergy and meeting with meetings, there isn’t much headspace or time for thinking or blogging.

So, being pointed to something that promises to be interesting and stimulating always helps.

Following last year’s BBC Radio 4 A History of the World in 100 Objects, there is now a project in Oxford called A History of Christianity in 15 Objects. I guess the discrepancy in the numbers is relevant only insofar as it reflects the respective budgets and commitment of employees to the task. The series is being run by a parish church (and just how imaginative is that?) in association with the Faculty of Theology at Oxford University. The series takes place on a Monday night and runs for the current academic year. All the talks are being streamed live, and there’s a shorter podcast version available too. There are some impressive speakers, too.

There is a short audio introduction here.

The BBC Trust‘s review of Radio 3, 4 and 7 makes for interesting reading.

In relation to religion, however, there are some intriguing statements:

Other types of content also feature in the Radio 3 schedule alongside the mainstay of classical music. These include arts programming (5 per cent of output), jazz (4 per cent), world music (3 per cent), religion (1 per cent), drama (1 per cent) and news (1 per cent).

I’m not quite sure of the definitions here, but I bet a huge amount of the ‘classical music’ content (at least) is ‘religious’ in origin, content or form. And ‘world music’?

On Radio 4 we read:

Radio 4’s commitment to a broad multi-genre proposition is reflected in its budgetary allocation. In 2009-10 Radio 4 spent £5.1million on entertainment and comedy; £3.4million on arts; and £2.6million on religion. Radio 4 is also allocated £2.6million of the BBC sports rights cost. These levels of spend have been broadly stable over recent years.

Excellent. But the report also concludes from audience responses:

Our research found that audiences were generally pleased with Radio 4’s religious output. … there are positive performance gaps for the statements relating to religion and beliefs, suggesting that Radio 4 is more than meeting audience expectations. We recognise, however, that this can be a very subjective issue for licence fee payers.

Well, that’s great news and demonstrates intelligence and maturity on the part of the audience. But, why is religion singled out as ‘a very subjective issue for licence fee payers’? Isn’t every judgement by licence fee payers subjective? Sport isn’t to everyone’s taste - nor is comedy. Or news and documentaries. Or short stories. I might be in a minority of one, but I can’t bear ‘The Archers’ and try to turn the radio off after the news and before that wretched music starts.

Ironically, the statement about subjectivity is a very subjective one and doesn’t belong in this report. If anything, it gives the ‘assumptions’ game away rather embarrassingly.

I have just done a Pause for Thought on the BBC Radio 2 Chris Evans Show. The thrust of it had to do with the effects of the Government’s cuts on the lives of real people. Just as the numbers of bank subsidies during the crash became so huge that they became meaningless to most ordinary mortals and just as the Zimbabwean inflation rate reached a conceptually incomprehensible 231 million %, the huge numbers of people about to lose their jobs hides the impact on the individuals involved.

I guess the ‘Big Society’ will actually hit the road running with churches and other bodies on the ground (so to speak) picking up the casualties – those whose world has fallen apart. We will deal with the marriage breakdowns, the increase in mental health problems, real poverty and so on. These human realities don’t appear on any Government balance sheets (until, that is, crime increases or the demands on the NHS increase).

This morning, on my way into the BBC, I bumped into a friend who is a secondary headteacher. He told me he is expecting around £300,000 to be cut from his budget next year. That equates to a massive impact on our children. Universities are facing up to 40% cuts in teaching staff (which are already stretched – yet how many undergraduate students are already taught by postgraduate students instead of serious (i.e. employed for the purpose) academics?).

It is clear that the country needs to cut back and the Government has a near impossible task in making the numbers add up. There is no easy or comfortable or unsacrificial way of sorting the financial situation out. But, there are questions that still need to be pressed:

  • Which people are going to suffer/sacrifice the most? Leave aside the talk about ‘scroungers’, there are very many disabled and vulnerable people in our communities who are very worried.
  • How has the increased cost of increased mental health and other medical need been factored in to the calculations aimed at cutting jobs and benefits in order to save money – especially given the drive to reduce costs in the NHS, the slashed subsidies and grants to local and national charities and the likely downturn in charitable giving as more people lose their income? (And will real money actually be saved?)
  • What is the thinking behind reducing investment in the next generation by negatively affecting teaching, educational resources, staffing and expertise? Methinks we have been here before…
  • What is the point in keeping Trident (at the expense of education) when the concept of an ‘independent’ deterrent is an obvious nonsense in today’s interdependent world and one can’t avoid the suspicion that Trident is a mere symbol of solidarity with the USA?

I have no illusions that these and other important questions will be taken seriously, but the problem for our churches is that we see every day the casualties of decisions made ‘on high’ – the numbers have faces and families. Categories are harder to sustain when they develop voices and have names.

I spent this week in Bantry, Ireland, speaking at a clergy conference for the Diocese of Cork, Cloyne & Ross. As with all speaking engagements, I worried beforehand about how it would go, how many would fall asleep or find what I was saying irrelevant to them. The Irish context is very different from the one in which I serve in South London and East Surrey.

I needn’t have worried. Four days of ‘work’ turned into four days of laughing, relaxing, thinking and … er … drinking. They made me welcome, included me in all they did and made it one of the most relaxing and enjoyable conferences I have done.

And these guys not only know how to ‘be the church’ along the southern coast of Ireland, but they also know how to entertain. I only have Father Ted to go on, but the reputation of the Irish for storytelling is spot on. I left the bar late each evening, still laughing at people’s natural funniness. I won’t quickly forget the rector who sang Monty Python’s Philosophers Song with one hand over his ear.

But, it occurred to me that most people’s idea of attending a clergy conference is probably of something intense and tedious. That isn’t the case. These are people who engage with the whole of life: the celebratory bits and the deep shit of some people’s (and communities’) life. They know how to laugh as well as weep – and they love life for all it’s worth.

I was thinking about this earlier today when I went into Western House to do Pause for Thought on the Chris Evans Breakfast Show on BBC Radio 2. I was having a chat with a guy outside the studio. He had been telling a story about the so-called ‘mile high club’ when a colleague interrupted and suggested the ‘religious correspondent’ (i.e. me) should close his ears. I replied that, contrary to popular thought, I do live in the real world and am not easily shocked. (If I am going to be shocked, it has to be something more inhuman than celebrities having sex in an aircraft toilet – not the epitome of romance exactly.)

This is why I love clergy. The popular reputation bears little resemblance to the gritty reality with which most of us live from day to day. We do not live in a rarefied bubble, cut off from anything that might disturb our limited and romantic world view. In fact, one of the recurring themes of my four sessions at the Cork conference was to take seriously the implications of the central dynamic of Christian faith: God takes the initiative and comes to us – God searches for Adam in the Garden (Genesis 3); God comes among us in Jesus of Nazareth; the ‘heavenly city’ comes down to earth and not vice versa (Revelation 21). In other words, the mandate of the Christian Church (the ‘body of Christ’ – which, presumably, is supposed to resemble the Christ we read about in the Gospels?) is to get stuck into the world with all the muckiness this involves and to stop worrying about our purity. Rather than fearing contamination by the dodgy stuff, Jesus thought about contaminating the world with goodness.

So, I am grateful to the wonderful Irish clergy I met; grateful to Chris Evans and the guys I met this morning; grateful to be catching up on my emails and paperwork on my day off. (One of those statements is a lie…)

At last. After several years of hearing the BBC and its public service remit being picked away at by the people who hope to benefit (financially, at the very least) from its decline, the Director General, Mark Thompson, has struck back with a powerful defence of the culture, ethos, purpose and performance of the Corporation.

In the James MacTaggart Memorial Lecture in Edinburgh last night he talked tough and he challenged those who wish to see the BBC weakened. Predictably, the instant response from representatives of Sky and other independents was to claim the lecture amounted to little more than ‘a plea for the licence fee’. Why predictable? Because it is easier even for professionals to sneer than to engage with the debate on reasonable terms.

First of all, Thompson was not defensive about the BBC (in a protectionist way) and openly described the challenges facing the organisation in the next few years. One of these challenges is the deliberate negativity within the media industry (and politics) regarding the BBC:

The purists have spent a generation making the free market case for abolishing the licence fee and the British public agrees with them less now than they did when they started. Nor is there any evidence that the public have any enthusiasm for the privatisation of Channel 4, the Arts Council of the Air or any of the other schemes which the hardliners have come up over the years. But of course you wouldn’t know any of this if you based your assessment of public attitudes to British broadcasting on the evidence of most of the UK’s national newspapers. Systematic press attacks on broadcasters, and especially on the BBC, are nothing new of course ⎯ the first hostile campaigns began back in John Reith’s day ⎯ but the scale and intensity of the current assaults does feel different.

He then goes on to ram the point home:

Often the reporters freely admit to us that they know the story they’re working on is going to be ramped up, distorted or just plain nonsense. But as one journalist said to one of my colleagues recently: ‘It doesn’t matter about the facts, they just want to trash you.’ Now that’s what I call refreshing honesty. Not the public interest. Not accountability. We just want to trash you.

Now, hurting the feelings of BBC leaders is not the issue here. The issue is why there is such a strong agenda of negativity in sectors of the UK media against an institution revered around the world and (as every poll seems to suggest) loved by the public? (Read the report – he quotes figures.) By the time he has a go at Sky and the Murdoch Empire, it is clear that he is suspicious of the motives behind criticism from certain quarters.

Secondly, Thompson talks up the wider broadcasting field and stresses the need for a strong Channel 4, a strong ITV and a strong independent sector. Yet, he sees that strength lying in the commissioning of and investment in excellent British creative programming. Why? In order that all people have access to the best  and that we are not reduced to a lowest common denominator culture in which we simply buy in – regardless of quality – what everybody else is making abroad:

Exceptional per capita investment in new production has meant that we have a far bigger position in the most expensive forms of TV drama, comedy, landmark factual not a sufficient condition for producing the best TV in the world, but it is a necessary one.

As everyone knows, much of that investment derives from direct and indirect public intervention. Free market purists claim that, if you reduced or eliminated this intervention, the market would simply fill the gap. But look around the world. There are plenty of countries where public intervention is on the wane – licence fees cut, public broadcasters in decline – but in no country anywhere has the market stepped up to replace the lost programme investment.

But do not believe anyone who claims that cutting the licence fee is a way of growing the creative economy or that the loss in programme investment which would follow a substantial reduction in the BBC’s funding could be magically made up from somewhere else. It just wouldn’t happen. A pound out of the commissioning budget of the BBC is a pound out of UK creative economy. Once gone, it will be gone forever.

Thompson makes his case strongly, but the speech needs to be read as a whole and only then addressed critically. The BBC faces significant challenges, but it needs people at the top who believe in it, are not afraid of fighting for it and can articulate a vision for its confident role in the emerging digital world. It feels to me like we have heard a strong first strike. We need more.

I didn’t realise I felt so strongly about the value of the BBC in this competitive world until I heard James Murdoch’s MacTaggart Lecture last year. The brazen amorality of his case and the deliberate omission of anything that confounded his argument (News Corp says it wants competition, but actually wants to be dominant across the media platforms, eliminating the competition it doesn’t like…) was shocking. The massive progress led by Murdoch Senior in changing the way the media operate were undermined (in my view and that of some others who are interested in media policy) by Murdoch Junior’s arrogance – the arrogance of those who have power and know they have the money to increase their concentration of power. As Thompson observes:

Sky is already a far more powerful commercial counterweight to the BBC than ITV ever was. It is well on its way to being the most dominant force in broadcast media in this country. Moreover, if News Corp’s proposal to acquire all of the remaining shares in Sky goes through, Sky will not just be Britain’s biggest broadcaster, but a full part of a company which is also dominant in national newspapers as well as one of the Britain’s biggest publishers.

According to Enders analysis, it will be a concentration of cross-media ownership which would not be allowed in the United States or Australia, News Corp’s other two most important markets.

Compare the ethical assumptions behind these two statements:

There is an inescapable conclusion that we must reach if we are to have a better society. The only reliable, durable, and perpetual guarantor of independence is profit.

and

People say to me ⎯ ‘aren’t you afraid that Sky is going to start spending more on original British programmes and will therefore be competing head-to-head with you?’ But that’s what should happen. It would be good for the BBC. It would be good for the industry. It would be good for the public… What would success look like? Strong creative and commercial revival at ITV, 4 and 5. A Sky which was as proud of spending hundreds of millions of pounds on new British programmes as on the HBO archive. British producers succeeding in international markets, not at the expense of quality but because of it.

The former was James Murdoch’s conclusion, the latter Mark Thompson’s.

Mark Thompson has taken the debate to the nay-sayers and has raised the rhetorical stakes. There are interesting times ahead.

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