HC Deb 06 April 1967 vol 744 cc429-31
9. Mr. Ian Gilmour

asked the Postmaster-General whether he proposes to issue directions to the British Broadcasting Corporation and the Independent Television Authority not to send broadcasts containing obscene language; and if he will make a statement.

10. Mr. Wall

asked the Postmaster-General if he will instruct the British Broadcasting Corporation and the Independent Television Authority not to send broadcasts containing obscene language.

Mr. Edward Short

No, Sir. The broadcasting authorities are already under a duty to satisfy themselves that, so far as is possible, the programmes for which they are responsible should not offend against good taste or decency, or be offensive to public feeling.

Mr. Gilmour

I appreciate the undesirability of censorship, but is it not equally undesirable that the Postmaster-General should incite the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. to use four-letter words? Can he say whether he really meant those words which he uttered at that luncheon, or whether they fell out inadvertently?

Mr. Short

I neither condoned the use of the words nor suggested that they should be used. The Daily Sketch made this quite clear. I personally very much deplore the use of these words. I was making two points. First, what is acceptable on television is based on a consensus in society, and Parliament has laid on the two broadcasting authorities the duty to interpret this consensus without any Ministerial censorship or directive, or any watchdog committee. My second point was a plea for honesty in art, and I might have added in politics and in life generally. So long as I have breath in my body, I shall advocate honesty and attack cant, hypocrisy and humbug.

Mr. Wall

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman's denial will receive as much publicity as his original statement. Will he bear in mind the effect on children, and that by the use of bad language on the B.B.C. a lot of youngsters are only too keen to be able to justify their own bad language?

Mr. Short

As a parent myself, I agree with that, but I am saying that it is the duty of the two broadcasting authorities to deal with this. This duty has been laid on them by Parliament, and they must carry it our without Ministerial direction, or censorship, or any watchdog committee.

Mr. Mapp

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the thin line between liberty and licence is gradually being eroded by the television authorities? Would it not be wise to call their attention to the fact that in the country there are many people of that opinion? I respect what my right hon. Friend has just said, but the fact remains that licence is now on the increase in these programmes.

Mr. Short

The best way to subject these two authorities to the full blast of public opinion, and opinion in this House, is not to put any kind of body between them and public opinion, but to leave it to them.

Mr. Dance

Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that at the moment the B.B.C., in particular, is breaking the terms of its original charter? Surely he should take some action to see that it does not break it?

Mr. Short

I do not agree with that. I think that we can leave this to the good sense of the authorities.

Mr. Whitaker

May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his adult attitude and integrity? Does he not think that one reason why we prefer British television and radio to that of the Rhodesian régime which the hon. Member for Hal-temprice (Mr. Wall) supports is that it is, happily, free from day-to-day meddling by politicians?

Dr. Winstanley

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many hon. Members who also object strongly to obscenity or other lapses of taste on television would object equally strongly if there were any intervention by the Postmaster-General, or any other Minister for that matter, in programme content, whether on I.T.V. or B.B.C.?

Sir G. Nabarro

While generally accepting what the Postmaster-General said, may I ask him to think again in the case of a television film such as "Up the Junction", which gave widespread offence and was then repeated to give even more offence? If it is known that a film gives offence, why repeat it?

Mr. Short

I am not going to start intervening in programme content. I repeat that Parliament has laid this duty on the two broadcasting authorities, and until Parliament changes that they must carry it out.