HC Deb 14 May 1958 vol 588 cc391-4
19. Mr. Lipton

asked the Postmaster-General what complaints he has received alleging political bias in recent television programmes; and what action he is taking.

Mr. K. Thompson

There have been recent articles in the Press mentioning allegations of political bias in two television programmes. Complaints have also been made to me. One was the B.B.C. "Panorama" programme of 28th April. The other was an I.T.A. programme "Polio 1958" on the same night. I have read the script made from a recording of the Panorama programme, but as I did not see it I cannot comment on its effect on viewers generally although there were a couple of passages which, taken alone, might suggest bias in presentation. I would remind the House that it is the Governors' responsibility to ensure the impartiality of their programmes and I think that in general they are successful. Nevertheless, I have taken steps to have the Corporation's attention drawn to my reservations about this particular programme.

The I.T.A. tells me that the balance of opinion in the "Polio" programme was not as complete as had been planned. It has already dealt with the matter. I do not propose to take any further action.

Mr. Lipton

Is it not a fact that by and large the people responsible for the television programmes present a reasonably impartial account of whatever they are dealing with? Will the Government make it quite clear that it is not their intention to interfere with these programmes, even if they do sometimes reflect, deservedly, upon the conduct and efficiency of the present Administration?

Mr. Thompson

It is my right hon. Friend's duty to see that the B.B.C. abides by the terms of the Charter and Licence, and that the I.T.A. obeys the terms of the Television Act. That he will do.

Mr. C. R. Hobson

Is not it time that the Postmaster-General saw the Chairman of the I.T.A., in view of the continuous breaches of the Act which take place and for which, when they are brought to notice, an apology is made? Would not it be to the Minister's advantage to have a heart-to-heart talk on the matter to prevent these notorious breaches of the Act?

Mr. Thompson

Whenever any alleged or suggested breach is brought to my right hon. Friend's notice, he takes appropriate steps.

Captain Pilkington

Is my hon. Friend aware that there is widespread feeling that the television programmes are strongly biased on the Socialist side?

Mr. G. Thomas

That is in Poole.

Mr. Hale

Will the Assistant Postmaster-General bear in mind that the B.B.C. television authorities complain that to present the somewhat vague, tenuous and unstable views of Her Majesty's present advisers as intelligible and intelligent, it is almost essential that they should use euphemistic words and flattering terms?

Mr. Thompson

The longer this exchange goes on, the clearer it becomes that bias lieth in the eye of the beholder.

22. Mr. Ness Edwards

asked the Postmaster-General what consultations he has had with the Director General of the British Broadcasting Corporation about complaints of political bias in a recent television programme; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. K. Thompson

My right hon. Friend has had no such consultations, but I would refer the right hon. Gentleman to my reply to the hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton).

Mr. Ness Edwards

In view of the fact that the hon. Gentleman has said that representations have been made by the Postmaster-General to the B.B.C. and to the I.T.A. about two programmes—the Panorama and vaccine programmes—may we take it that only when the Conservative Central Office makes representations to him does he make representations to the B.B.C.?

Mr. Thompson

I have already assured the House that whenever either of the companies is alleged to be in breach, my right hon. Friend considers the position and takes what steps he thinks practical.

Mr. H. Morrison

Could the hon. Gentleman inquire into an apparent element of bias, which may be political or not? Could he inquire why it is that the B.B.C. assumes that nobody without a university education has any brains, and that normally nobody without a university education can appear on the Brains Trust? Will he try to stop this snobbish bias against people, like many of us on this side of the House, who have only had an elementary education and are proud of it?

Mr. Thompson

Speaking as one with a similar education, may I say that I have no doubt that the attention of the B.B.C. will be drawn to what the right hon. Gentleman has said.