Mark Thompson: The BBC has a duty to resist the voices of intolerance

From a speech by the director general of the BBC to the FT New Media and Broadcasting Conference in London
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The Independent Online

In the past, the BBC has been tempted to divide the world into practising Christians, agnostics and people of "vague faith". In fact we live in a country of millions of people of "vague Christianity", and need to find ways of serving them too.

In the past, the BBC has been tempted to divide the world into practising Christians, agnostics and people of "vague faith". In fact we live in a country of millions of people of "vague Christianity", and need to find ways of serving them too.

So, I am in favour both of proper sensitivity to all the UK's major religions and of fresh efforts to re-engage with the reality of Christianity in this country, recognising that one of the unwanted consequences of the Jerry Springer - The Opera débâcle is that some Christians may feel that the BBC has turned its back on them.

That isn't true - but I recognise that we need to re-connect with them. Yet we must also stand up strongly for the BBC's right and duty to remain a public space in which the widest range of ideas and creativity can be shared by the public.

This is the point of the BBC. This is why showing Jerry Springer was, in my view, both right and important. I believe that this openness, along with the wider openness of our society, is under threat. The voices of those who would wish to limit it seem to be getting more strident.

Small pressure groups can use the internet, e-mails and other modern communications tools to give a false impression of size and weight. There is sometimes a sense of competitive victimhood, especially in the matter of religion - they achieved that, why can't we achieve this? Rage and extremism seem somehow closer to the surface.

So at the BBC we expect to be tested again, perhaps with greater frequency and intensity. Our guidelines and editorial principles are painstaking and probably to most people rather dull, but we have to stand behind them with courtesy and sensitivity but also with conviction and muscularity. Openness and tolerance are critical virtues too, and they need to be defended.

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