HC Deb 15 December 1965 vol 722 cc1252-4
26. Mr. Gresham Cooke

asked the Postmaster-General if he will take steps, under section 14(4) of the British Broadcasting Corporation's licence and agreement, to require the British Broadcasting Corporation to mark all programmes that are likely to be offensive to religious susceptibilities.

Mr. Benn

No, Sir. The B.B.C. is already under a general duty to satisfy itself, so far as is possible, that its programmes do not offend against good taste nor offend public feeling. It must remain a matter for its day-to-day judgment whether viewers' attention should be drawn to particular programmes in any way.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in the programme to which reference has been made—in which a crucifix was used as a pipe rack—our Lord's words were also used in a pornographic joke? Is he aware that this gave great offence and that if it had affected a minority religion there would surely have been a great outburst? Should not such programmes be marked, "Only suitable for atheists and not ordinary people who believe in religion?"

Mr. Benn

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the B.B.C. does sometimes alert viewers to some of its programmes. Religious susceptibilities or feelings are strong, but not only between Christians and atheists. Sometimes strong feelings are aroused between members of different denominations. I am told, for example, that the Pope's broadcast from the United Nations caused great hostility among some other denominations, incredible though that may seem. It is difficult, therefore, to deal with this problem.

Mr. Shinwell

Apart from religious susceptibilities, would my right hon. Friend not agree that there is strong feeling in many quarters about many of the programmes for which the B.B.C. is responsible? Would it not be desirable, if this is not already done, for the B.B.C. to invite a delegation of hon. Members to discuss these matters with the Corporation?

Mr. Benn

I am well aware of what my right hon. Friend says about the strength of feeling on this issue—of which I know the B.B.C. is also well aware. As my right hon. Friend will know perhaps better than anyone, it is difficult to say almost anything worthwhile without offending somebody.

Mr. Doughty

Would the Postmaster-General point out to the B.B.C. that scenes and acts which may be suitable for sophisticated audiences in small places like cabarets are unsuitable for general broadcasting to millions of the general public?

Mr. Benn

This is one of the difficulties of mass communication. If the B.B.C. and I.T.A. were limited in what they could broadcast generally to what was suitable for young people it would greatly limit their output. I know that this arouses very strong feeling and if the hon. Gentleman feels so strongly about it he should, as many hon. Members do, make representations to the B.B.C. and I.T.A. either directly or through me.