Bishop Helen-Ann supports language provision in House of Lords' Media Bill

First published on: 29th February 2024

Bishop Helen-Ann spoke in the House of Lords yesterday, 28 February 2024, during the second reading of the Media Bill, where she asked the Government to strengthen language provision in public service broadcasting, particularly Gaelic.  

Read her full speech below: 

My Lords, I am glad to be able to speak in this debate, and thank the previous speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Russell for his comments. It is an honour to follow him. In conversations I have had in recent weeks, it is clear there is a strong desire across this House to ensure the Media Bill progresses positively through its legislative processes in part because this is, as noble Lords have said, a Bill that acknowledges the vastly changed broadcasting landscape over the past 20 years. Given the rapidly developing technological nature of the communications landscape it is understandable that this Bill aims to give flexibility and adaptability where needed. The point I wish to make is about the absence of clear statutory provision for languages in this Bill, in particular for Gaelic. Other noble Lords have already referred to this in the debate.


The issue of provision also relates to a matter that other noble Lords have already raised about quotas and genres. I fully understand the desire to reduce burdens and increase the potential for creativity in the PSB sector; this is a Bill for growth as the noble Lord the minister has said. However, I would like to ask the Minister if he would consider asking the Government to strengthen language provision in the Bill rather than have it left in the rather precarious state it now finds itself in. Leaving it to Ofcom to assess through counting objections to the absence of language provision (for example) is an unhelpful consequence of a lack of statutory recognition. Members in the Other Place have made similar points regarding Gaelic (covering the Gaelic language as spoken in Scotland, Irish, Scots, Ulster Scots, or Cornish) and Welsh. I recognise, with others, that it is not realistic at this stage to ask the Media Bill to provide a funding solution. However the Bill could ask Ofcom to ensure that there is sufficient new Gaelic content as to enable delivery of a Gaelic television service with a public service remit. This means that Ofcom’s annual reports would highlight where are deficits in the delivery of a Gaelic service thereby providing an incentive to address those deficits.MG ALBA, the PSB provider that delivers Gaelic media content across diverse platforms is, as other noble Lords who are speaking in this debate may indicate, caught in a difficult place because while there is goodwill, there is no statutory provision for a Gaelic language service. There is an opportunity here to do something about this, and for good reasons.


In that regard, I turn to brief comments about the reasons for the statutory basis of language provision. My Lords, in my maiden speech last November I referred to my background of living and working in New Zealand. A week or so after my speech (and bearing in mind the time of year) I came across my noble friend, Baroness Goldie who happened to be cheerfully humming a tune. I recognised the tune though couldn’t immediately place it, and it was only in conversation with the noble Lady that I realised it was in fact a Māori language Christmas carol from New Zealand (Te Harinui / Great joy). My Lords, this brought home to me the global nature of our context, and the way in which music and language convey memories of place, culture and identity. In the New Zealand context, the PSB remit for the Māori language stems from the belief that language is ‘at the very heart of Māori culture and identity and for that reason alone, it must be preserved and fostered. It provides a platform for Māori cultural development and supports a unique New Zealand identity within a global society. New Zealand’s national indigenous media organisation, Whakaata Māori in its own words ‘promotes, revitalises, and normalises the Māori language by taking a digital-first, audience-led approach in the delivery of educational, entertaining, and engaging programming.’My Lords, there is a level of intentionality about this which has everything to do with creativity and growth. It is not about burden it is about acknowledging and honouring the place of language as a means to uplift a whole national identity (and by this I mean in this House every part of our United Kingdom). The whole point of the digital revolution is to make every sector more accessible, helping us tell the rich story of our diverse cultural and linguistic landscape, but this does need I think a statutory basis. In conclusion, I wish to commend the Government for this Bill and I hope the noble Lord, the Minister might be able to look seriously at concerns about language provision and I look forward to working with him and other members of this House as the Bill progresses. Tapadh leibh / thank you.

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