HC Deb 03 December 1971 vol 827 cc844-93

1.34 p.m.

Mr. Norman Fowler (Nottingham, South)

I beg to move, That this House believes in preserving the freedom of the broadcasting organisations but also believes that the public should have the freedom to complain to a fully indepndent body covering both the British Broadcasting Corporation and the independent television companies in cases where they believe they have suffered damage or distress by the activities of broadcasting organisations or where they believe programmes have contained errors of fact, or have been misleading, or have shown bias, or have shown errors of taste; and urges Her Majesty's Government to examine immediately ways in which such a council can be constituted. One of the difficulties about a broadcasting council is that a broadcasting council itself means different things to different people. Sometimes it not only means a vagueness in the case for such a council, but also gives opponents of a council a valuable advantage. They are able to choose the ground upon which they fight. They are able to choose the least likely parts of a number of proposals and portray them as being the case in favour of such a council. They are able to portray the supporters of a council in the most lurid colours available and pretend that the case for a council involves Government or political control over the broadcast content, and is an attack upon the freedom of broadcasting. They try to establish that because one or two people who support the idea of a council hold reactionary views therefore, by the doctrine of guilt by association, the supporters of a broadcasting council are by definition reactionary.

The first thing that I should do is to make absolutely clear what the Motion does not call for. It does not call for censorship. Nor is it in any way a backdoor method of ensuring political control over programmes or broadcasters. As a journalist, I regard the freedom of the Press as absolutely basic in this country, and in the same way I believe that the broadcasting organisations should in no sense be the instruments of propaganda.

The Motion does not seek to join in the currently popular game of B.B.C. bashing. The fact that the B.B.C. makes mistakes does not mean that that criticism of it should be elevated to a general condemnation of the B.B.C. as a whole.

Lastly, the Motion does not seek to form some kind of society for the protection of politicians. Politicians should be experienced enough to look after themselves, but that does not absolve the broadcasting organisations from the normal demands of being scrupulous in their dealings with them.

The aim of the Motion is not to control or to suppress. Its aim can best be summed up in one word, "fairness". The council envisaged in the Motion would check that the broadcasting organisations were fair in all their dealings with the public. It would check that they were fair in their dealings with individuals, who are often unaccustomed to the ways of broadcasting. It would check that the programmes were fair to all the parties concerned. If that basis is accepted, I suggest that a further consideration is that it should be seen to be fair in that checking process.

Far from limiting the freedom of broadcasting, I believe that this kind of council would do something to help preserve it. Its formation would recognise the freedom of broadcasting and of the broadcasting organisations. But it would also recognise that freedom in itself brings with it responsibilities, and the council's interest would be the responsibility which the broadcasting organisations owed to the public.

With newspapers, that kind of responsibility has already been recognised in the formation of the Press Council, and part of the case which I shall make is that what applies to newspapers applies with even more force to the broadcasting organisations, and in particular to television. Television is a particularly powerful medium. It is powerful because the public are asked to believe the evidence of their eyes. With newspapers, a reader can at least believe that the reporter is exaggerating. With television, the picture is there before the viewer's eyes. The camera cannot lie. It is tolerably true that the camera does not lie, but by concentrating on one incident the producer can give an inaccurate impression of the whole. For instance, a demonstration may go off 99 per cent. of the time with no incident, and concentration on the one incident could give a totally false impression.

Television is often just another way of saying good pictures. Thus, there is a particular difficulty in preserving the balance in the medium. That is made even more difficult by the demands of time. Whereas I, in a newspaper article, might have 800 or 1,000 words in which to produce a balanced report of an incident or a demonstration, the television programme might have to try to compress that incident into 30 or 45 seconds. That again produces difficult problems.

So it is part of my case that television provides special demands which make the presence of a check very important, but broadcasting has one other important characteristic; that is, that it operates in a monopoly, or at any rate a duopoly situation. The viewer has a choice of programmes basically made by two alternative organisations. This has, historically, led to the requirement for balance and objectivity. I would maintain that it remains the duty of the broadcasting organisations and of television and radio to inform rather than to persuade or reflect a particular view of society.

I would not, for example, accept the Stuart Hood theory that this simply plays into the hands of the Establishment. I cannot see that, given the present structures of broadcasting, there is any alternative but the course which we adopt at the moment—the concept of balance, of fairness.

Nor do I believe that balanced reporting is necessarily dull reporting—indeed, exactly the opposite. If there is one thing that I have learned from my years as a journalist, it is that opinions are pretty easy to acquire and dispense but that the acquisition of facts is rather more difficult. Yet balanced reporting is far more valuable than opinion-mongering.

I would add to the case for a broadcasting council that such a council would help to preserve this rôle for the organisations, help to preserve the balance. We then have to decide what kind of broadcasting council we want.

The Bow Group has recently put out a pamphlet making the case for a very wide council. This idea of a council would deal with alternative patterns of television and the deployment of resources. One could extend it further, I suppose, since it would be possible to consider the staffing situation within the organisations, for example. The example which is sometimes given is the apparent male preponderance at the B.B.C., aptly described in The Guardian headline, "Why is Auntie run by Uncles?"

But I do not see how the council which I have in mind could go as wide as the Bow Group or some other supporters of a council would want it to go. I believe that the essential rôle of the council would be to operate when the public believe that their rights or interests have been infringed. It would be essential to deal with complaints coming from the public.

I would not attempt to make an entirely comprehensive list of the areas in which I think the council should operate, but I would suggest that there are at least five principal areas where it could make a real contribution to the standards of broadcasting. Most of these areas I have chosen because it has been shown by the Press Council's reports that it is in these areas that an independent body can judge. I recognise, of course, that there are great differences between broadcasting and newspapers, but at any rate the operation of the Press Council shows that it can operate and judge in most of the fields which I will mention.

First, a member of the public should be able to complain to the council if he believes that the activities or methods of the broadcasting organisation have caused him harm in cases where there may have been intrusion, misrepresentation or, indeed, sharp practice—such as persuading people to appear on a programme to do one thing and then revealing on the actual programme that they are to do something substantially different.

But, apart from the direct harm to individuals, the council should be able to hear complaints about the programmes themselves. Therefore, second, the public should be able to complain if programmes contain errors of fact, if they are misleading or if there are omissions. Omissions are particularly important, perhaps because the cutting of a particular sentence from an interview may give an entirely misleading impression of the whole answer given in the interview. I would suggest that the redress for a successful complaint should be the public correction of the mistake.

Third, a member of the public should be able to complain when programmes show bias. This could amount to a portrayal of a situation over a period. Much more likely, however, it will amount to the occasional programme or interview. It could be a broadcaster's total misuse of a programme to put out a thoroughly mischievous view.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins (Putney)

What would the hon. Member say to the proposition that my bias is his balance and his balance is my bias?

Mr. Fowler

I will not try to follow that point, except to say that this can be, and has been, decided by the Press Council. I was going on to give an example, which might show the hon. Member my intention. Of course I accept that it will be difficult to draw the line, but that does not necessarily mean that we should not make the attempt.

The example I had in mind—I shall be pleased to give it in detail if necessary—is a broadcaster totally misusing a programme to put out a thoroughly mischievous view, as in a religious programme earlier this year on the Immigration Bill, when the Bill was attacked not as a difference of opinion, although that was implied as well, but on patently false and scaremongering grounds. That would be something on which the broadcasting council could intervene. It could also intervene when an interviewer had become too involved in the situation which he was reporting and had, to use the words of a B.B.C. executive in the last few days "gone over the top" in putting his own views.

It should be made clear that the function of an interviewer, like that of a reporter, is to elicit the views of the person being interviewed. It is certainly to test those views. But what is not his function is to put forward his own views of a certain situation. If the interviewer wants to give us the benefit of those views, he is best able to do so as a newspaper writer or as a politician.

Mr. Philip Whitehead (Derby, North)

There is and must be in current affairs reporting an interrogative function for the television journalist which involves putting a contrary view but not necessarily and certainly not conspicuously the point of view of the reporter himself.

Mr. Fowler

I entirely accept that, especially from the hon. Gentleman who has so much experience as a producer of television programmes. But it is a question of where the line is drawn. The interrogative function of a reporter is, clearly, important, as long as it does not go to the point where he intrudes his own views. That is where the line must be drawn.

Mr. Timothy Raison (Aylesbury)

Would my hon. Friend also consider whether there is a case for what might be called columns of the air; in other words, certain moments on television, clearly defined, as programmes rather like the columns in The Guardian, or any other newspaper? There would, clearly, have to be a balance between such columns, but it would seem a perfectly feasible and legitimate activity for journalists on television or for television reporters, so long as it was properly controlled.

Mr. Fowler

That would have to be carefully considered, but it is something with which I should have sympathy. It would be like an objective newspaper that aims to have its news reported as objectively as possible, as it must, but puts its opinions in the leader columns or inside articles by columnists who are employed for that purpose. What I do not want, and what is objectionable in the broadcasting context, is the intrusion of views into the presentation of news and current affairs programmes as such.

The fourth area in which the broadcasting council should be able to operate is the difficult area where there are alleged errors of taste. I concede at once that this may be the most difficult of all in which to operate. It is most difficult because the difficulty of definition is most striking. That does not prevent the opponents of a broadcasting council from putting their definitions of taste, such as the letter to The Times by Hugh Carleton Greene, who considered that his era at the B.B.C. was an era which was liberal and adventurous. That is a fairly good value judgment, but it should at the least be open to challenge.

Those who say that taste has no part in it should at least study the Press Council report of last year. A section of the Press Council's annual report is devoted to matters of taste and matters when the Press Council has found itself able to adjudicate. If there is one specific example, it would be that of violence on the screen. This is the proper concern of all of us, and there can be little doubt that that kind of portrayal does, or may, have a general effect on some viewers.

The fifth thing that a broadcasting council would be able to do is to make an occasional declaration of principle. This, too, is something borrowed from the Press Council itself. The Press Council, for example, has made declarations of principle about the payment of criminals for articles in newspapers. It may be—I throw this out as a suggestion—that the present Ulster situation could have formed the subject of one of these declarations of principle. I think that hon. Members on both sides of the House would accept that there are undoubted problems about reporting that exceptionally difficult situation. A declaration of principle might have provided both reassurance to the public and guidance to broadcasters, which would have been more effective for coming from an independent body.

That is the kind of broadcasting council which I should like to see.

Against it are deployed two main arguments. The first is that it is already being done and the second is that it cannot be done in any event. The already-beingdone school used to point to the B.B.C. programme "Talkback" as the kind of thing it had in mind. Although I think "Talkback" is a perfectly adequate and entertaining programme, I do not think anyone would regard it as carrying out the kind of functions which I have set out. The school now points with rather more force to the new B.B.C. programmes complaints commission. This has a number of disadvantages. It is limited; it does not consider questions of general standards; it is not possible to complain directly to it, but only after the B.B.C. has rejected the complaint; it does not apply to independent television, which has a different procedure and which may develop different criteria.

Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)

My hon. Friend has mentioned Northern Ireland. One of the difficulties about the complaints commission is that while anyone who has a complaint against the Press may complain to the Press Council, according to the terms of reference of the B.B.C. programmes complaints commission only the individual who has been offended or injured, or an organisation which has been treated unjustly or unfairly, may make the complaint, and then only after having complained to the B.B.C. That is surely a grave defect.

Mr. Fowler

That, too, supports what I am saying. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to develop that later.

I was explaining the defects of the B.B.C. programmes complaints commission. The major defect is in what it seems to the public to be, why it seems to have been set up. Almost universally in the Press it has been regarded as a pre-emptive strike by the B.B.C. to prevent a broadcasting council, and I think it will be so regarded by the public. It may not be regarded by the public as a sham, but it will certainly be regarded as an unsatisfactory substitute for the real thing. It may be a sop in the right direction, but nevertheless a sop.

The alternative school says that nothing can be done in any event. It is said that the checks of the governors are sufficient. There is added to this argument an argument that I have always considered slightly curious, that if there is an independent adjudicating body, it will undermine the whole management structure and control of the B.B.C. or other independent organisations. I do not think that the argument is sustained, nor do I believe that the Government think it sustained. Otherwise I cannot understand why yesterday in this House my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary should have announced new procedure for checks in complaints against the police. My right hon. Friend was not saying, when he introduced these new checks, that he did not have confidence in the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police or in the police force generally. What he was saying was that here is a system which does justice to both sides more adequately. So, as I say, I regard that argument as not sustainable.

An additional argument is that it is only broadcasters who can understand broadcasting; yet the Press Council is chaired by a non-journalist; non-journalists are members of the Press Council. Of course, we recognise that the broadcasters have fears about a new independent body being set up. It was also true that when the Press Council was set up journalists and newspaper editors had fears. But I would refer these broadcasters and producers and editors, fearful of an independent council, to the article in the Evening Standard by Charles Wintour, a very respected—one of the most respected—figures ill Fleet Street, the editor of the Evening Standard, who pointed out that these fears had existed when the Press Council was set up. He summed up by saying that everyone now in the industry knows that those fears bear no relation to reality. The Press Council has spoken up for Press freedom on a number of occasions. That would happen also with the broadcasting council. There are those in broadcasting who do not believe that the public have an interest in any event. They take the view that the public interest is somehow superfluous.

I call in aid Leve Stuart Hood who in an article in The Listener referred to the new members of the B.B.C.'s own commission as men whose only obvious constituency is a local and parliamentary establishment of this country. The arrogance of that kind of attitude in itself almost makes out a case for a broadcasting council.

I have tried to outline the duties and scope of a broadcasting council. The form of its constitution could be settled reasonably quickly by a committee of inquiry. Whatever its constitution, the requisites are clear. It should be independent and be seen to be independent. Its basic powers should be the powers of publication and the public correction of mistakes and errors made. I do not believe that such a council would place an intolerable burden on broadcasters any more than the Press Council has placed an intolerable burden on journalists. I believe, however, that it would have a good persuasive effect on standards of broadcasting and contribute to maintaining the accuracy and fairness of broadcasting organisations. Above all, it is something that the public want, and it is something which they have the right to demand.

2.4 p.m.

Mr. Phillip Whitehead (Derby, North)

I would like to begin by offering my congratulations to the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Fowler) both on raising this subject and on the exhaustive and moderate way he has done so. I would, however, ask him to accept that on this side of the House there is a certain attitude of hostility to the notion of a broadcasting council because of the great concern which many hon. Members feel, which I tried to express in exchanges with the Home Secretary yesterday over calls for the limitation or, some of us might think, political censorship on reporting specifically in Northern Ireland but also in other exacerbated political situations.

There is also a certain sadness on this side that the Annan Committee, which should have examined the need, if there was one, for a complaints council just as it should have examined the whole rôle of broadcasting, was so peremptorily despatched. It was clear from a letter by Lord Annan in The Listener, in reply to an article by Mr. Robert Kee, that his Committee had he been allowed to go ahead, would have examined the whole area of redress of grievances and would probably at the end of the day have come up with improved mechanism for meeting the complaint to which the hon. Gentleman has referred.

For a long time there has been pressure of one sort or another far this kind of complaints council. The classic answer was provided by the Pilkington Committee some years ago. After a number of people had come forward to give evidence, saying that there should be some form of consumers council which would have some degree of regulatory power over broadcasting authorities, it replied: If authority to provide a service, and responsibility for what is provided, do not rest in the same hands, then those who have the effective power will not be answerable; and those who are answerable will not have effective power. New organisations, whether intended to regulate, or to admonish and encourage, or to censor, involve the separation, in greater or lesser degree, of responsibility for standards from the creative function in broadcasting; that is, the function of planning the service and producing the programmes. This is a serious argument against the setting up of an independent complaints council, whatever its functions and whatever its responsibility should be, entirely divorced from those who preside over the creative function in broadcasting.

Although I go a little way along the road with the hon. Member for Nottingham, South, all of us should bear in mind this reservation expressed by the Pilkington Committee. I do not believe that we can set up a body to arbitrate over taste, over political balance, over alleged bias, and so on, which is separate from those who have creative responsibility. I hope briefly to show why.

There is another argument advanced against the setting up of any new body whatever. That is the fact that, whereas the Press Council presides over the affairs of an independent Press which is, theoretically at least, open to new recruits from time to time, and is privately owned, the broadcasting organisations are themselves watched over, in the public interest, by public authorities. The governing bodies of both B.B.C. and I.T.A. are equally public authorities. Therefore, the suggestion is that these organisations, because they are different in kind from those which exercise editorial or regulatory functions within the Press, should indeed be supported with advisory councils but not be superseded by any new body.

If we consider for a moment the sort of people appointed by the present Minister and all his predecessors from both parties to membership of the Authority or of the Board of Governors of the B.B.C., it is clear that they adequately represent what one might call mainstream opinion in this country. They represent most of the strands of the political consensus. They are retired politicians, civil servants, trade unionists—people who represent the balance at the broad centre of opinion. I do not believe that they are in any way deficient at representing that mainstream opinion to the programme producers, whether in I.T.V. or the B.B.C.

As an instance, I take an example from some years ago when there was an intervention, so hon. Members opposite might think, in the interests of the Labour Party. In 1950, Lord Simon of Wythenshawe, then Chairman of the Governors of the B.B.C., took off a play called "Party Manners" because, he said, It was represented to me by individuals of weight and judgment that it held British statesmen up to contempt in a way which was improper and undesirable". Individuals of weight and judgment, to use Lord Simon's portentous phrase, have never, I submit, been lacking in power to influence the course of British broadcasting. Individuals of weight and judgment always have redress of a sort. There are many ways open to them of expressing a point of view and of achieving, in time, a change in direction or style within the broadcasting organisations.

There is a third, if somewhat negative, argument against the setting up of a complaints council which is founded on the nature of those who propose such a council. Many people—this is true of most of my former colleagues in broadcasting, as it is certainly true of my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins), whom I am glad to see here hoping to take part in the debate—believe that the arguments advanced by the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) in the pamphlet to which his hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South referred and, more particularly, by Mrs. Mary Whitehouse and her organisation are profoundly disturbing. Such people call for the tone and style—lifestyle, so to speak—of broadcasting to be altered, and altered in a way which more particularly fits their view of the world. This, to many of my right hon. and hon. Friends and to most professional broadcasters, seems a profoundly dangerous trend.

It has already been said that the difference between what I regard as firm principle well accepted and what hon. Members opposite might regard as bias or propaganda is purely in the mind of the beholder, purely in the mind of the viewer. When the hon. Member for Aldershot calls in his pamphlet for disciplinary action against the "Guevarists" who are running television and talks about propaganda masquerading as entertainment, he worries and alarms almost everyone who works in broadcasting, and, I believe, he alienates all responsible broadcasters from his point of view.

I remind hon. Members that the polician, or, indeed, anyone in public life, is not in a good position to feel hypersensitive about the nature of comment. For many years the politician has been hypersensitive to comments made about him, about alleged omissions and alleged slants in the Press, since long before television was invented. I have looked up the report of a debate in the House exactly 200 years ago, when Colonel Onslow, a member of a distinguished family still represented here, complained about the treatment which hon. Members were then receiving from the Press. He said: Sometimes I am held up as a villain, sometimes as an idiot, and sometimes as both. Today they call me Little Cocking George. They will find I am a cock they will not easily beat. It is at least possible that that member of the Onslow family was sometimes a villain, sometimes an idiot and sometimes both, but he would have been the last person to see it.

Edmund Burke, replying immediately afterwards said: It is impossible the liberty of the Press can exist without the probability of its falling Into licentiousness; but there is a corrective. Do not make war against all publication of our proceedings; fix your hand on the particular libel. By doing so you leave the liberty unrestrained". I suggest that we should fix our hands on the particular libel. We should realise that liberty cannot be retained within the media—and certainly not in broadcasting—without the possibility of licence always being there. We cannot legislate it away. We cannot control it away. We cannot set up some new statutory body so to regulate broadcasting that it will be eliminated, because one can eliminate it only by eliminating the free communication system at the same time.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. He has suggested that politicians are peculiarly sensitive to criticism. I remind him of the recent experience of Private Eye, a highly critical journal. According to an analysis which it put out recently, those who are most sensitive to criticism are its fellow journalists. Almost all the libel actions taken against Private Eye have been taken by other journalists, not by politicians.

Mr. Whitehead

I think that that is true, yes, but I had not thought that journalists were calling for the sort of body now proposed by the hon. Member for Nottingham, South, and I am addressing myself to him and those who support him.

Mr. Fowler

The hon. Gentleman makes that point, but it is a significant fact that there is virtual unanimity among the newspapers in supporting the idea of a broadcasting council.

Mr. Whitehead

In the editorial columns, yes. I concede that. The hon. Gentleman has quoted, for example, Mr. Charles Wintor. However, if one looks back to the columns of the Press at the time when the Press Council was instituted, one finds that there was far less unanimity about the need for discipline, regulation and so on.

In moving his Motion, the hon. Gentleman said that he wished to have a council to investigate complaints that rights or interests had been infringed. I go a certain way with this new "Fowler's Usage of Complaint", because I think that his first category—activities which cause an individual harm, misrepresentation or serious error of fact which can be shown to have taken place in programmes—needs a degree of redress, though I hope to show in a moment that such redress is not satisfactorily secured from the broadcasting organisations at the moment.

The hon. Gentleman then went on to speak about bias over a period or in the occasional programme, about reporters "going over the top", quoting Mr. Huw Wheldon's description of the Alan Hart interview with Mr. Faulkner. I honestly believe that is is impossible to move into this area of bias and alleged bias without serious difficulty which will lead, whatever the hon. Gentleman may say by way of disclaimer, to a form of political censorship, a muting of the free debate which is one of the glories of our communications system.

I do not often quote Lord Hill, and still less do I agree with him, but Lord Hill said not long ago that if a man's politics got into his programmes he would not last very long, not because of his politics but because of his programmes. I believe that to be true. The viewers and the broadcasting organisations know propaganda when they see it. If a producer or reporter obtrudes into his television programmes his own opinions over a period of time in a way which is overtly propagandist, he will not survive for long. I can say that with some authority, having worked for 10 years in current affairs television, first with the B.B.C. and then with I.T.V.

One experience I had during that time was that whenever one did a programme on any outstanding political subject, whether home affairs or foreign affairs, the complaints coming in afterwards would almost balance fifty-fifty. If one did a programme about the Middle East, for example, there would be a body of complaint saying that it had been pro-Israeli, and there would be another body of complaint saying that it had been pro-Arab. Over a period, the letters almost balanced one another out.

It is very difficult to have any kind of organisation set up to attempt to look at these allegations of balance and to assess complaints on a serious issue of misrepresentation on a purely political issue, since the outrage of a particular viewer may just be that his viewpoint has not been given proper prominence.

Still less, I believe, is it possible to assess questions of taste. Mrs. Mary Whitehouse is our chief self-appointed arbiter of taste. I remind the House of what Mrs. Whitehouse has said over the course of time about programmes which have been put out, especially in drama. In her book Cleaning up T.V." a few years ago, one sees reference to the sort of programmes to which she has objected, and they go all the way through to what are now regarded by almost everyone as serious television classics. The drama "Culloden", which was put on some years ago and made the name of Mr. Peter Watkins, was attacked in the most savage terms by Mrs. Whitehouse as a programme which should not be shown, which contained undue violence and which was an unnecessary intrusion into the viewer's living room. It is very difficult for a new organisation to set itself up as an arbiter of taste.

If there is to be any form of complaints council, it should have a very limited function. It should devote itself entirely to the first point which the hon. Member raised, namely, activities by the broadcasting organisations which have caused an individual serious harm through misrepresentation. I accept that this happens; it is within my professional memory. Many such incidents are reported, and people appeal to us to intervene on their behalf against the broadcasting organisations. It is no longer true to say, I fear, that the B.B.C. Governors fulfil the rôle for which they were set up because, under Lord Hill, they have taken unto themselves an executive rôle as well as the rôle of regulation.

I do not think that "Yesterday's Men" should be used as an example of unfair misrepresentation, bias and lack of balance providing a reason for saying that there should be a broadcasting council, because most of the people who were misled in that programme were statesmen who had other means of redress. But Lord Hill and the B.B.C. Governors intervened in the programme "Yesterday's Men". They saw it and had it edited before it was transmitted. Afterwards there was an inquiry. Protests were made by hon. Members, on both sides of the House, about the way in which the programme had been made, and the same governors and the same chairman set themselves up as a court of inquiry to look into a programme part of the history of which was their direct responsibility since they had intervened at a late stage in the making, scheduling and showing of the programme and had made decisions about it as to what should and should not be shown.

It is this dual function exercised by the B.B.C. Governors which causes me some concern. The I.T.A. is to put proposals to the Minister in the next few days for a fourth channel—a second channel within the I.T.V. system. If it were to propose, as it might and as I think it should, that that channel should be run by a body analogous to Independent Television News directly responsible to the I.T.A. and not to the programme companies, and if this proposal were accepted, it would have a programme-making rôle as well as a regulatory rôle.

The B.B.C. is 10 times larger than it was pre-war when roughly the present mechanism for answering complaints through the agency of the governors was set up. It is now too large to carry out this function properly. I do not believe that the programme complaints commission which has been set up by the B.B.C. is any more than a political gesture. It can neither be seen to be independent, since its staff is to be provided within the B.B.C., and its initial three members nominated by the B.B.C., nor will it cover the whole of television since it will be responsible only for complaints against the B.B.C. and can deal with them only after they have gone through the normal processes of the corporation.

I agree that there should be a complaints commission set up independent of the present broadcasting organisations to do one thing only, and that is to investigate complaints of individual misrepresentation. I am not concerned about senior politicians who have other means of redress. I am concerned about people like the five workers in the power industry who were called, out of the blue, to appear on "The Frost Programme" in December last year and were subjected to a kind of kangaroo court by the producers of that programme after there had been serious misrepresentation of what the nature of the programme was to be, and with very little opportunity of redress after the cause which they had been brought in to represent had been muddied and misrepresented throughout the programme, and one of them had been physically assaulted.

It is from programmes like that much more than from programmes like "Yesterday's Men" that the need has emerged for redress for individuals who have been misrepresented and trampled upon by the broadcasting organisations. I do not think that such individuals are getting redress from the I.T.A. or from the B.B.C. Governors as at present constituted.

I should like to say a few words about what I think the nature of the complaints council should be. It should not be a nominated body like all the other nominated bodies we have in this country. We are far too frightened of the elective principle. I suggest that there should be a commission of 12 members with, in addition, an independent chairman of judicial experience, as with the Press Council. I suggest that there should be six members drawn from the broadcasting profession and six members drawn from the public. Four of them on each side should be elected and two nominated. The four elected should come from among the members of the broadcasting profession through their professional associations and trade unions, and four should be elected from the public, either by people who hold television licences or, as this is a regressive system and does not cover many people who watch television but do not hold a licence, by people such as students, old people and those who are not householders and responsible for the payment of the licence by other means.

In Holland people are deemed to be members of one of the broadcasting associations if they are subscribers to the programme journal of that association. We could merge the Radio Times and TV Times into a single programme journal for the whole of broadcasting and make the people who elect the public members for the complaints council the readership of that journal. That would be likely to give a pretty fair cross-section of the public represented. People like Mrs. Whitehouse could offer themselves for election precisely like anyone else and might well be elected. I prefer the elective principle to the nominative principle.

The Minister of Posts and Telecommunications (Mr. Christopher Chataway)

As I understand it, the hon. Gentleman is proposing a complaints council with exactly the same terms of reference as the programme complaints commission of the B.B.C. but composed, as to half of it, of employees of the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. Does he think that that would be regarded as a fairer tribunal of appeal than, say, the three people whom the B.B.C. has appointed?

Mr. Whitehead

Yes, I do. It would be a fairer tribunal of appeal for two reasons. First, it would not simply be a group of nominated, establishment, elder statesmen. Secondly, it would be able to call upon people who were genuinely representative of the public and of all shades of opinion in broadcasting. It is not true to say that all professional broadcasters are employees of the B.B.C. and I.T.V. companies. Thanks partly to the policies of the Government, a great many of them are unemployed. They are not employees of anyone, but they maintain their membership of their trade unions and, therefore, are still members of the broadcasting profession.

Given the nature of misrepresentation by television, and given what television editing can sometimes do, it is necessary to have television professionals on the commission to assess how well or how badly programmes have been put together and edited and what omissions have been made. Television professionals should be on it because I would expect—and this is one way only in which I would slightly extend the functions beyond those expected by the B.B.C. of its new commission—there to be complaints against the broadcasting organisations by broadcasters themselves. Journalists serve on the Press Council; it is entirely proper, therefore, that there should be broadcasters on the complaints council.

Finally, I would like the complaints council to be capable, therefore, of giving this second opinion, of providing a means of redress, by publishing within the broadcasting journals which we have in this country and also having the right to have its verdicts carried on the offending broadcasting channel. I feel that it would, over a time, build up a body of case law and that it would build up a code of practice for broadcasters, a code which, I regret, all too many broadcasters at present do not have. It would not be dangerous to the broadcasting profession. It would in some ways be an advantage to the broadcasters themselves to see themselves in this critical light, and it would certainly be of advantage to people who at present feel they are not getting adequate redress.

2.31 p.m.

Sir Harry Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)

I should like to begin by joining with the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Fowler) on having the foresight to put down this Motion on the Order Paper—and also on being astute enough to be here to move it when the earlier discussion dried up. So often one can be taken by surprise when an interesting discussion ends unexpectedly soon, and if my own contribution to this debate is not as polished as it ought to be I hope that hon. Members will understand that I was not aware that we were actually going to reach this Motion today. I would naturally have liked further opportunity to contemplate what I would say before I had to say it.

I should now like to examine in some detail what is contained in my hon. Friend's Motion. He says, quite properly, and certainly with my full support, that we believe in preserving the freedom of the broadcasting organisations". Heaven forbid that we ever try to put them under the direct, day-to-day control of Parliament. I am certain that that would be a terrible calamity, and the rapidity with which broadcasting would deteriorate in its several forms makes the imagination boggle. Therefore, the principal philosophy of this Motion is one which I would certainly myself warmly support; but then we come to that word "but". This is where "but" comes—as it is down in the Motion—because we are now getting into the field of reservations.

Let me say at once that one of the things which I myself applauded in my mind when my hon. Friend was speaking was the emphasis which, from the very beginning until the end, he put on fairness—fairness to those who are aggrieved. I am sure that this is something which we want to ensure so far as is possible, provided that we do not upset the preservation of the freedom of the broadcasting organisations.

My hon. Friend then goes on in the Motion to some of the things which might possibly be grounds for complaint, and on which we have to ensure that there is fairness in enabling the complaints to be ventilated and dealt with. He goes on to speak of people who. believe they have suffered damage or distress by the activities of broadcasting organisations or … believe programmes have contained errors of fact". Although I would go along with him to a certain extent. I have a certain qualification about the last part of that quotation because, strangely enough, there can be absolutely genuine differences as to what is fact. I would hesitate to be quite as sweeping as my hon. Friend has been. In saying that if anybody believes that as a result of wrongful presentation of fact he has suffered damage or distress by the activities of the broadcasting organisations we say there is prima facie, automatically a case that such complaint ought to be ventilated, provided that we can arrive at the right machinery for doing so, but when it comes to challenging whether fact is a fact or is not a fact we get on to very dangerous ground indeed in setting up an organisation deliberately to look into that sort of matter.

I would only say that if a libel is committed there is a remedy. Moreover, sometimes facts can be so arranged as to worsen the libel more than if the libel were only the result of gross misrepresentation. I am not a lawyer, but I know that the hon. and learned Member for Barons Court (Mr. Richard) on the Opposition Front Bench is. However, I would say that it is not always inevitable that a libel is not based on fact. A libel sometimes is. I would say that the cleverer and more imaginative the arrangement of facts, the grosser is the libel which may be committed. Therefore, we must be very careful not to set up something which will replace what is ordinarily the process of the courts and within the procedure of the courts. I do not think we want to do that, and if we were to do so we should come on to a very dangerous area indeed in considering, as my hon. Friend suggests, errors of fact which have shown bias, or have shown errors of taste as his Motion says.

I really cannot go along with this. I am absolutely convinced that if the Governors and the Director-General and the main producing staff of the B.B.C. or Independent Television are the men they ought to be we have got to leave it to them if we are to preserve the freedom of broadcasting. By all means let us express our opinions, but do let us be very careful before we start setting up a separate organisation to deal with matters of this kind.

The B.B.C. has published a bulletin, of which I have a copy, entitled B.B.C. Record, No. 76, published in October this year. The B.B.C. sets out clearly what it has in mind in setting up the complaints commission.

I thought the hon. Member for Derby, North a little uncomplimentary about these distinguished men who have been selected to serve on this commission—Lord Parker, a former Lord Chief Justice, Lord Maybray-King, a former Speaker of the House of Commons, and Sir Edmund Compton, the former Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration—the Ombudsman to most people. I think the hon. Member was a little unfair to them. I would have said that anyone who has sat on the bench for years, as Lord Parker must have done, has a pretty good idea of what life is about. I would have said that Lord Maybray-King, having been Speaker of this House, knows well the varieties of things which can stir the emotions of men and women frequently. Who could know better? As for Sir Edmund Compton, there could hardly be a better expert in dealing with complaints about administration by the Establishment. I would say that these are very distinguished figures, and I am quite certain that they will be capable of carrying out the rôle which has been given to them.

We have to be very clear what the B.B.C. has in mind in the terms of reference of its commission. Paragraph 4 of the terms of reference is the one which interests me particularly: The complaints which the Commission will consider and review are complaints from individuals or organisations claiming themselves to have been treated unjustly or unfairly in connection with a programme or a related series of programmes as broadcast. Unjust or unfair treatment shall include unwarranted invasion of privacy and misrepresentation. That seems to me a very substantial point, which is made in my hon. Friend's Motion. It is accepted by the B.B.C., and I do not see why the Independent Television Authority could not contrive an organisation similar to that.

I think, however, we have to make one very clear distinction between the Press and the B.B.C. There is no governing body of the Press, whereas there is a Board of Governors of the B.B.C. This inevitably greatly undermines the argument which says that because there is a Press Council we must have a comparable body to look at the B.B.C. which is independent of the B.B.C.

I happen to believe that the Press Council has been a dead loss. I do not think it has made very much difference. It may have helped to restrain somewhat the invasion of privacy which had taken place before the Council was set up, but not much If all that we are aiming at is a body comparable to the Press Council to look after the B.B.C., heaven help us.

That is not what is required at all. If we have a board of governors it is as well, if a complaint arises, first to go to those who are supposed to be in charge, and commissioned to be in charge as a result of legislation. I draw a very clear distinction between the B.B.C. and the Press. Therefore, the case has yet to be made for producing machinery to enable people to go straight to that machinery before even going to the people who have the statutory responsibility for seeing that the B.B.C. behaves honourably

My experience of broadcasting is a little limited and out of date. I first started producing radio programmes after I was incapacitated in the Greek campaign in 1941 and had six months' recuperation thereafter in Cairo. I wrote and produced a series of programmes, ten in all, and four scrapbook programmes dealing with years 1926, 1927, 1928 and 1929. I also participated in their presentation.

We were then operating under a pretty strict censorship—perhaps I am the only hon. Member present who has produced a programme when full censorship was in force. Luckily, our type of programme was not one which would very often run that gauntlet, but there were occasions when historical representations could have done damage to the morale of our own people or encouraged enemy morale, so we had to keep that in mind. Nevertheless, it is not very nice to feel someone breathing down one's neck all the time.

As I said in the debate on the Compton Report on Northern Ireland, I detest the word "censorship" probably more than any other word in the English language and I do not want to see any form of it brought into broadcasting. But we must ensure that channels of communication between listeners and viewers on the one hand and the B.B.C. or I.T.A. on the other hand is as good as we can make it without infringing that vital principle of the freedom of the broadcasting corporations which my hon. Friend puts in the very forefront of his Motion.

It would be well worth the while of hon. Members to study the very excellent speech by Mr. Charles Curran, Director-General of the B.B.C., delivered at the Edinburgh Broadcasting Conference on 23rd March of this year. The hon. Member for Derby, North quoted Edmund Burke, and Mr. Curran also had a very appropriate quotation from Edmund Burke, who said: The degree of restraint it is impossible in any case to settle precisely. But it ought to be the constant aim of every wise public council to find out, by cautious experiments and rational, cool endeavours, with how little—not how much—of this restraint the community can subsist. For liberty is a good to be improved and not an evil to be lessened. It is not only a private blessing of the first order, but a vital spring and energy of a state itself which has just so much life and vigour as there is liberty in it. I cannot think of a quotation that is more appropriate in the context of our debate.

I should like to use some of Mr. Curran's own words as well, which set out with extraordinary clarity the B.B.C.'s position in matters of this kind. In page 10 of his published speech he says: That B.B.C.'s position is one of quasi-judicial impartiality. Just as most public law reflects the general will of the public, and just as some law reflects not simply that minimum standard which the public wishes to protect, but also what it would like to see as an ideal, so the B.B.C.'s programme philosophy seeks to display what the world is like, and to present what might be. Our judicial rôle is perhaps more like that of the Supreme Court in the United States than that of courts in this country. Judge-made law here tends towards conversation of what is written within the statute. Judge-made law in the Supreme Court, especially under a Chief Justice like Marshall, tends to expand the philosophy which led to the writing of the Constitution. In that respect, I suggest, the parallel with the B.B.C. is to be found more in the philosophical attitude of the Supreme Court. But both concepts call for an educated citizenry. Just as ignorance of the law is no excuse for committing crime, so the B.B.C. must argue that public ignorance of its programme intentions constitutes no basis for taking offence at what they contain. And that places on the B.B.C. a formidable responsibility for proclaiming its intentions to the audience in the clearest possible terms. Those are profoundly wise observations, and we may make inroads by Parliament or by setting up other institutions independent of the B.B.C. at our peril.

It is worth recording that the ideal which my hon. Friend has mooted here was considered in some detail in the original Pilkington Report. Paragraph 426 says that the task of such a council would be part of what the governors and members were appointed to undertake but with the difference that: … the Council could not expect to acquire the same intimate knowledge of the organisations, or to enjoy the same confidence of the executive. Again, we read in paragraph 432: The proposals for the creation of an external censorship throw into relief a crucial defect in all the suggestions for the creation of new organisations, whether intended to regulate, or to admonish and encourage, or to censor. All these suggestions involve the separation, in greater or less degree, of responsibility for standards from the creative function in broadcasting: that is, the function of planning the service and producing the programmes. Yet it is through the exercise of this function that standards are made. Only, therefore, when the two aspects—responsibility for, and creation of, standards—are contained in an organic whole can there be a complete and perceptive understanding of the nature of the responsibility. We have yet to disprove those words. They still obtain very forcibly today, and I do not think, with respect to my hon. Friend—and I fully appreciate that he condemns censorship just as much as I do—that his case for the investigation he seeks is yet made. I therefore ask him not to press his Motion. He has done the House a great service in raising the matter, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications will take note of what is said this afternoon, as, I am sure, the B.B.C. will also take note. I also hope that it will be noted by the I.T.A., because that body is just as much involved.

2.48 p.m.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins (Putney)

The hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) had no need to apologise for lack of preparedness in his speech. What he has said has been very much to the point, and I confess myself perhaps slightly astonished at the degree of agreement which exists between him and me on the subject. He has recently been the subject of a very rude attack in a weekly journal, and I think that after his speech today it would become that journalist, who has hitherto been regarded as responsible, to apologise to him.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Jenkins

The hon. Member referred to the Pilkington Report. I am not prepared with that Report, but I recall that the paragraph preceding that with which the hon. Member concluded his quotation referred to the confusion which existed in the minds of people who wanted such a body of control. There were those who wanted a censor, those who wanted to regulate, those who wanted to plan and those who simply wanted to criticise and complain. Those differences, which were detected by the Pilkington Committee in 1962 and which caused the Committee to throw out the proposal, still exist today.

I do not differ from those who have congratulated the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Fowler) for introducing this subject because it needs to be ventilated. There is a superficial attraction about it. One has a natural reaction that something should be done, but the question then arises, what? The more one looks into it the more doubtful one becomes. After the "Yesterday's Men" programme, the National Committee of the Labour Party thought that something should be done and gave provisional approval to the notion of a broadcasting council. I hope that on consideration it may be thought that more harm than good would be done by this step. I hope also that the Minister will not weaken in the view that he has hitherto expressed that this is something which no Government should or could support.

The problem basically stems from broadcasting not being as various as other media of communication. Goodness knows, there is not enough variety in our Press, but at least there are weekly journals to save this side of the House from total extinction. We sometimes feel that we do not get a square deal from the daily papers. In the television and broadcasting media the balance which is struck is not in our favour. It is, perhaps, a balance of the middle of the House, but more a balance on the Government side.

Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)

We have the same idea about the Opposition side of the House.

Mr. Jenkins

We have the feeling that there is such a thing as the Establishment.

The hon. Member for the Isle of Ely saw nothing wrong with the commission which the B.B.C. proposes to establish, whereas my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) could see a great deal wrong with the three-man commission. The difference between the two is that those three estimable gentlemen are establishment figures.

Mr. Burden

The hon. Gentleman has made an important point. It is, perhaps, an indication of the fair balance that is held that hon. Members on the Opposition side of the House feel that the media are biased against them, and hon. Members on the Government side of the House frequently feel that the bias is the other way.

Mr. Ivor Richard (Barons Court)

The hon. Gentleman is wrong.

Mr. Burden

The hon. and learned Gentleman says that I am wrong, but that is certainly the feeling. If that is so, it indicates that a fairly level line is taken.

Mr. Jenkins

However that may be, the fact that these feelings are held indicates the difference between the nature of the broadcasting media and the newspapers. When one picks up a newspaper one knows what to expect. When one picks up The Times, The Guardian, the Morning Star or the Sun one knows that one will get a particular line of comment. Television and radio are expected to be all things to all men, and in that they must inevitably fail. Within their general programmes they try to give a fair balance of opinion, but since they must have a persona and character of their own, they cannot entirely succeed in that object. The programmes become B.B.C. fare or I.T.V. fare.

We can get over this only by creating in the other media the variety which exists in the Press. Incidentally, we are in danger of losing the degree of variety we want in the Press. It would be a grave situation if the Press became more and more a single voice. We think in terms of broadcasting being a duopoly, in which there has never been a complete separation of responsibility between the corporation and the authority. No one can suggest that anybody, even the Press Council, is responsible for what appears in the newspapers. Separation is what we want to achieve.

The Minister is taking a Bill through the House—or attempting to do so—to extend sound radio broadcasting. One might think that this would give us the additional authority we need, but no, it is to be under the control of the I.T.A. which is to be called the Independent Broadcasting Authority. So the point of responsibility, which is what counts, will still be the same for the local broadcasting stations. This is why I took the view that B.B.C. local radio should not be under the control of the B.B.C. but that more variety should be possible. I am not in favour of the B.B.C. monopoly, although I differ from some of my hon. Friends in that.

The hon. Member for Nottingham, South said that we must do something about bad taste. I am horrified by that suggestion. Today's bad taste is tomorrow's orthodoxy. If the hon. Gentleman succeeded in eliminating bad taste, he would eliminate much of the flavour which necessarily goes into controversial programmes. What is bad taste to one person is not bad taste to another, and I agree with what has been said on the other side of the House on that.

Mr. Raison

I understand the hon. Gentleman's point about bad taste, but it is more difficult than that. Racial observations could be made which are the height of bad taste. There are other matters which could be clearly offensive to many people. Does the hon. Gentleman think there should be no attempt at restraint?

Mr. Jenkins

No, Sir, and the hon. Member brings me on to my final point. Having criticised what is now being said, I am about to say what should be done. I believe that what has gone wrong is that we have allowed the authorities to create their own advisory bodies. The B.B.C. Advisory Council is appointed by the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. Advisory Council is appointed by the I.T.A. This means that they are advised by their own creatures.

The Minister of Posts and Telecommunications is proposing in his Bill to create a series of advisory councils at all levels, which is probably a good thing in principle. Each local radio station is to have its own little advisory council and if an Amendment which has been tabled to the Bill is agreed to, I hope there will be a general advisory council; but such a general advisory council should be appointed not by the Independent Broadcasting Authority but by the Minister. If it is to have an independent voice and is to be answerable to anybody, it should make an annual report to the Minister which could be published and debated by this House. If this were done, we should get away from the danger of the creation of an all-over blanket body which may succeed in damping down what we do not want damped down. By all means let advisory bodies exist, but let them be independent and let them publish an annual report which can be debated in the House.

This would appear to be the lines on which we should move and it would give some assurance to hon. Members on both sides of the House who have felt the need for assurance, without falling into the dangers which some hon. Members have discerned in the present proposals. I should be sorry to see the creation of what we thought would be a guard dog only to find that what we had acquired was a ravening wolf with a tendency to devour our liberties.

3.2 p.m.

Mr. Timothy Raison (Aylesbury)

I have listened to the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) with considerable interest, and I hope to cover some of the ground covered in the hon. Gentleman's concluding remarks. I wish to apologise to the House since, owing to a prior engagement, I shall have to leave the debate at 3.30.

Whenever I listen to people talking about such outrages as the programme "Yesterday's Men", I find myself in the same sort of situation as my wife does when she attends a cricket match—I never actually see it. Just as she never sees the batsman hit a six, I never get to see the programme that arouses all the controversy. I have a sneaking feeling that a great many of us do not see many of these programmes which are criticised. I am not sure how we can since we are closeted in this place for many long hours; and, although there are television sets lurking somewhere in the building, I gather the attendance is not all that great. It reminds me of what happened during the General Election campaign. One was always being asked what one thought about a particular party political broadcast, but since one had been working hard in the constituency one had not the faintest idea.

My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Fowler) put forward an interesting case, although not a case with which in the last analysis I find myself in agreement. He said he believed in the need for a council to which people could complain and which would cover errors, omissions, bias and lapses of taste. He also thought that such a council should from time to time put forward declarations of principle which should govern the nature of broadcasting. I hope to deal with this matter a little later in my speech.

We all know that abuses in broadcasting occur from time to time, as they do in any organisation. I have the feeling that a number of these abuses occur in the more obscure programmes rather than in those which attract high viewing audiences about which a large number of people will complain when something goes wrong.

I was struck the other day by what happened in a programme in which I was taking part. The programme went out at a non-peak viewing time and, I assume, to a limited audience. I was invited to appear in the programme as a spokesman for the Government. Since the topic touched one of the more emotional problems of the moment, there was a spokesman on the other side of the case. The programme itself was not too bad, but I was a little taken aback when the interviewer said to a lady who was leading a delegation in protest about this particular aspect of Government policy: "Good luck to you. I hope you are successful with your campaign."

There was a rather interesting sequel. A few days later I was telephoned by the people who put out the programme and invited to appear again. They said that the programme had produced an overwhelming response in letters from viewers. I went along prepared to be savaged and hammered but, to my amazement, when I got there the letters were all on my side. This was encouraging.

But the form that the programme took was roughly as follows. First of all, quotes from a number of letters were read in what I can only describe as a very silly voice, no doubt designed to show that the people who had put forward their points of view were silly, blimpish and reactionary. Then one of the writers, a lady, was invited into the studio. I am not completely sure, but I took the view that she had never appeared on television before. She was subjected to a very tough grilling. I should not have minded if it had been me, obviously, since I am a politician and a communicator, but I felt that it was a little hard on her. There followed an interview with a Labour councillor, who was served up with a few of the easiest half-volleys that I have every experienced. I felt that this was a bit much, and I made it clear that I did. Happily, the person invited to appear with me as my opponent shared my views and said that he thought that it was outrageous. I suppose it will be said that I should have complained. I am afraid that I was too idle, though certainly I complained to the people on the spot.

My experience suggests that perhaps these abuses exist in the more obscure corners of television and radio rather than in the more publicised ones.

Having said that, I do not believe that a council is the right answer. Abuses exist, I have no doubt. But I suppose that somewhere in me there is a glimmering of my predecessor as the hon. Member for Aylesbury many years ago, John Wilkes, and the feeling that we have to uphold liberty in the way that my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) described so eloquently. I doubt whether a council would do that. I also have doubts about the "declaration of principle" point, but I shall come to that in a moment.

My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South said, I think correctly, that the Press Council has proved successful. I am a member of the Press, and I believe that already the Press Council has raised the standards of journalism and has performed a public service. But the situation that we are discussing is a different one. Happily the Press is made up still of a range of reasonably dispersed owners. We have not yet reached the state of monopoly or duopoly. In television programmes there is a different situation. Each of the two major providers of television programmes has a governing body.

I suggest that there is an interesting difference between the Independent Television Authority and the B.B.C. which may explain partly why it appears that the B.B.C. incurs more complaints than Independent Television. This has to do with the nature of the management of the programme companies. In the Independent Television Authority there is a governing body which is separate from the managing bodies. There is the I.T.A. and the programme companies, and they have separate managements. What is wrong about the B.B.C. is that the two have become fused, and this has become especially true in the last few years.

In the past, the B.B.C.'s governing body stood further apart from the programme makers than it does today. I suspect that the present Chairman, Lord Hill, has become rather too much of a manager and that this has had a little to do with the B.B.C.'s present problems.

Mr. Whitehead

The hon. Gentleman is reinforcing the point that I tried to make. It is that, since Lord Hill has an executive function, an appeal to him for the redress of a grievance cannot be made with the confidence that existed 10 years ago, when the Chairman of the B.B.C. had a different and regulatory function.

Mr. Raison

I accept that. I think that the answer is for the Chairman to revert to his original rôle. Of course, that cannot happen overnight. I think that the way to run the Corporation in future is to have a greater separation of powers than exists at the moment.

The B.B.C. needs to go even further—it has made some progress in this—in defining who is responsible within the hierarchy for any programme. Anyone who has entered a television studio must have been struck by the extraordinary chain of command which exists. I cannot remember their titles. They are all bureaucratic fantasies. There is a string of them going up and down the scale, and it has been difficult to know who is responsible for a particular programme.

The answer is emerging slowly but belatedly. We are moving towards a clearer definition of somebody who is the editor of a programme. We are moving towards the stage where one man is the boss of a programme just as one man is the boss of a newspaper. I believe that that system, which means that there is intervention about programme content at different levels, is harmful. It is up to the Corporation to develop further the idea of having somebody in charge of a programme.

The B.B.C. ought to acknowledge the duty to provide transcripts of programmes to people who complain. This is not a new point; it has been raised frequently. However, I am sure that if that principle could be established we would have a better situation. I hope that these points help to support the case against having a broadcasting council, though I should not argue that it is not well worth discussion.

3.11 p.m.

Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)

As I implied when I interrupted my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Fowler), it was to point out that under the terms of reference of the Press Council anyone—he does not need to be the person specifically aggrieved—can refer a complaint to the council for investigation. This is not so under the constitution of the complaints commission set up by the B.B.C. A Member of Parliament cannot, as a watchdog—he has a duty to perform in this sense—refer complaints. The notion of having a broadcasting council would allow persons, not necessarily those aggrieved, to take up complaints.

I conveyed in a letter a number of complaints to Lord Hill some time ago. Correspondence is still going on. His reply to that particular letter displayed the truculent and arrogant attitude which ordinary viewers receive when they make complaints to the B.B.C. When a complaint is made we have a display of outraged innocence on the part of the B.B.C., and ordinary people have no one to whom they can complain and have their complaint dealt with properly.

I shall restrict my remarks to the B.B.C. Although I.T.V. occasionally makes mistakes—we all do—it has none the less been consistently responsible in its coverage of the situation in Northern Ireland. The B.B.C. must take greater care in reporting the situation in Ulster. We do not want to censor the B.B.C. Broadcasting House is largely responsible for the publicity which the bogey about censorship has received. Nor do we want the B.B.C. not to report the facts fairly. It is its duty to report the facts. My complaint, and that of many people in Northern Ireland, is that the B.B.C. treats allegations as facts and broadcasts those allegations without checking them. This is causing grave danger in a sensitive situation.

We all know that television is a powerful medium. Television interviewers are household figures. I understand that in many homes television reporters are regarded almost as members of the family. People watching television in their homes comment on changes in their clothes, their hair styles and whether they are gaining or losing weight. Everything said by a particular B.B.C. reporter is accepted as gospel truth. If he puts a slant on the reporting of a particular incident or shows himself to be critical of the person he is interviewing, people watching that programme immediately accept the stance taken by him.

The impression which I have gained over a long period is that the B.B.C. tends to go for people who knock the Ulster Government and the Army operating in Northern Ireland. It also tends to present as fact statements which are really propaganda. We know from an interview given to a reporter on The Times by the Irish Republican Army in July of this year that the I.R.A. are Almost indecently eager for publicity, they admit frankly that 'propaganda is two-thirds of our battle'. This is a danger which I believe the B.B.C. has not fully realised, even after three years of trouble in Northern Ireland.

There was to my knowledge, and I have complained specifically of it to Lord Hill, the reporting of the riot at Long Kesh internment camp, when a Mrs. Stewart gave an interview. She was described as the secretary of the Civil Rights Association, but what the B.B.C. failed to tell viewers was that she was also a prominent member of the Communist Party of Ireland. One would have thought that viewers should have been given that information if they were to be able to test her credibility.

Despite the fact that the Northern Ireland Government had given the B.B.C.'s office in Belfast earlier that afternoon a statement of the events at the camp, the B.B.C. did not broadcast the facts set out in that release. Instead, Mrs. Stewart was allowed to state that about 300 troops had brutally treated the internees and that 65 of them had been taken to hospital, the inference being that they had been severely injured. In fact, instead of 300 troops being deployed, only about 80 soldiers were used to deal with an extremely dangerous situation—the internees had armed themselves with staves and were holding four warders as hostages--and only five internees received superficial injuries, and they were all released from hospital within a matter of seven days.

There was also the incident, of which I gave Lord Hill notice, of the interview after the shooting of two sisters in the Falls Road area of Belfast, when the Army major in charge was crossexamined—I do not think that to use the word "cross-examined" is to put it too strongly—by a B.B.C. reporter. When the alleged driver of the car in which the two sisters had been travelling was interviewed, he was allowed to give his statement of innocence without any challenge whatsoever. That is the sort of reporting which I strongly resent.

Mr. Richard

I saw the televised report of that interview, and that incident perhaps illustrates more than anything else the great difficulty of what we have been debating this afternoon. My impression was utterly contrary to that gained by the hon. Gentleman. The major who was asked questions came over on television as an honest, forthright and very clear individual, and at the end of his interview he was, I thought, very convincing, whereas in my opinion the driver of the other car was extremely unconvincing.

Mr. Kilfedder

I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman for that comment. None the less—and I do not think the hon. and learned Gentleman can challenge this—the B.B.C. reporter accepted what the alleged driver of the car was saying—

Mr. Richard

indicated dissent.

Mr. Kilfedder

—without treating him in the same hostile way—perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman would regard "hostile" as too strong a word, but it is the one I choose to use—as he treated the Army major when he was giving his version of what took place.

Let us consider another example. Only yesterday on the B.B.C. Radio 4 programme "The World Tonight" Mr. Hume, the Republican Member of Parliament at Stormont, was interviewed about proposals coming up at his sham Parliament at Dungiven. He was given freedom to say whatever he liked and no one else was present to challenge his views. This is a situation which all hon. Members would resent. If a member of one party appeared on any programme in this country, the opposing party would demand representation. But that did not happen in this case or in many other cases.

Over the past three years the B.B.C. has given the Stormont Republican Members of Parliament, such as Messrs. Hume, Cooper and Currie, so much time on radio and television, particularly over the Northern Ireland media, that it has built them up into national figures. The same applies to the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin). She has only to say something outrageous and, at a stroke—perhaps that is not a phrase I should use on this side—she is invited to appear on television.

Sometimes a member of my party, the Unionist Party, is asked to give proper balance to the programme, but as often as not either the Republican Members of Parliament are allowed to give their views and make wild and often vicious allegations or else the B.B.C. invites someone who is not a Government representative or spokesman and who lacks the skill to counter the nonsense uttered by the Republicans. Sometimes the Republican Members of Parliament are matched against private individuals whose views are extremist, or else they are tricked into sounding extremist. Then, of course, that is supposed to represent the views of the majority in Northern Ireland.

I remember one programme broadcast nationally half of which was devoted to a deferential interview with Mr. Hume, with scenes of his activity in Londonderry. He was portrayed as a moderate. The remainder of the programme was filled with an interview with former members of the B Specials, who were placed in a row and plied with loaded questions. I still do not understand why a member of the Unionist Party was not inivited to counter what Mr. Hume said. Certainly, that situation would never be accepted in England, Scotland or Wales.

There is another incident on which I should like to comment, which took place today. On the Northern Ireland news media, a report was given that the Home Secretary had said in the House yesterday that the sooner responsibility for security is transferred to Westminster, the better. This was a mistake not of the B.B.C. but of the Press Association, but the release would have been received by the B.B.C. in Belfast yesterday afternoon. Was any attempt made to check with the Home Office or the Northern Ireland Government? None whatever.

I should have thought that such an important alleged statement should have been checked so that the views of a Government representative could be put out over the radio. As it was, it was a false report which aroused deep anger in Northern Ireland. That just shows the danger which the irresponsibility of the B.B.C. creates in Northern Ireland.

It is no use saying that the B.B.C. tries to be fair. I do not believe that it is fair on every occasion. I remember one occasion when a B.B.C. reporter went from London to Belfast to interview Brian Faulkner. He went merely because there were stories that the backbench Unionist Members at Stormont were in revolt against Brian Faulkner. When the revolt did not take place and Brian Faulkner told the reporter, the reporter said, "I am not interested in having an interview with you now" and he left. He was interested only in something which was what I would term bad news or controversial news. It is a very sad situation that that should exist.

May I end on a personal note? I have often complained about not being invited to appear on the B.B.C. I said this to a B.B.C. reporter in Belfast, a senior man. He said, "If you say something outlandish, you will appear on television". Two months after that I said something which, as it turned out, was outlandish and I immediately appeared on "Talk-back". There must be a moral in that story.

3.25 p.m.

Mr. Peter Hardy (Rother Valley)

I did not intend to take part in the debate when I entered the Chamber, but it has proved so interesting that I wish not only to take part, but to congratulate the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Fowler) on moving the Motion.

I feel impelled to speak to tell the House of a personal experience extremely relevant to the debate. In my constituency, as some hon. Members know, we have a number of slag heaps. In the area of Dinnington there was a high slag heap and the local community secured my help in making efforts to get a reduction in its height. I exchanged letters with the county planning officer on the subject.

A local newspaper reporter asked me for a quote and I said, perhaps in a mood of excessive lightheartedness, that I wanted to see all slag heaps cleared, that I wanted them grassed, afforested or contoured in order to improve the environment. I said that we should get it done quickly, with urgency and with energy and that if anyone wanted to argue about it, we could leave one slag heap in Britain standing, just one, but that if one was to be left standing, it should not be in my constituency. Then in a partisan way I suggested that it should be left in any coalfield constituency which was silly enough to have returned a Tory Member. I suggested that it might be best of all situated in Bournemouth, where there is the constituency of the Minister who is responsible for the mining industry.

Shortly after that I attended the Labour Party conference. On my return I found that the B.B.C. television in Yorkshire had put out a programme—it later refused me a transcript—in which it was said that the Labour Member of Parliament for Rother Valley had demanded that slag heaps be kept as historic monuments. The B.B.C. even sent a radio van around South Yorkshire to interview people for their comments—and the comments may be imagined. In view of the army of B.B.C. employees who appear at party conferences, it would have been relatively simple to check with me but no one attempted to do so. I found my agent and a number of my active workers a little perturbed by the comments which I had apparently made.

I rang up the B.B.C. and asked for a transcript, but I was refused and I was told that it was a balanced programme, the balance being apparently provided by a lady who informed the interviewer—I understand that the slag heap was close to her home—that it kept the wind from her back yard. I expressed great anger about this incident and I was finally told on the telephone that the B.B.C. realised that something should be done to correct the impression which had been created, that it recognised my deep interest in improving the environment and that it proposed to put the matter right by inviting me to take an important part in a programme which it was to prepare on the environment. That was last November or December, and I have heard nothing since. Very few Members from South Yorkshire ever get the chance to appear on B.B.C. television or radio, except the interesting local radio at Sheffield.

As the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) said, politicians should not be too sensitive, and I have learnt one lesson—that one should not be excessively flippant and lighthearted, although that is evidence of a dull future for British politics. I was therefore not terribly worried myself, but I am worried that individuals who do not particularly relish publicity, who are not particularly at ease in the media, can be put into a position where they risk that sort of distortion. For that reason, I regard this debate as important, and I hope that the Motion will not fall on deaf ears.

3.31 p.m.

Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)

No matter how persuasive my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Fowler) may have been in putting forward this Motion, I hope that my right hon. Friend will not take very much notice of it and will not pursue it any further.

The whole subject was summed up by the exchanges between the hon. and learned Member for Barons Court (Mr. Richard) and my hon. Friend the Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) when there was complete disagreement on the interpretation of an interview on television news with regard to something that had happened in Northern Ireland. To put it in a nutshell, the fact is that most of the disagreements which could occur are likely to arise during news reporting. But to have any impact at all news reporting must be immediate and of a situation which arises quickly, in which there is little time for the interviewers or those being interviewed to be aligned on party lines or on their different representations. The whole essence of this Motion, as I understand it, would be to control and inhibit the most vital thing in television and news broadcasting—the immediate impact and the quick interview.

How would it be possible, in those circumstances, before the interview takes place to ascertain whether there had been errors of fact in regard to the interviewer, who is, after all, a highly individualistic person just as is often the case with the person being interviewed? How would it be possible to ascertain beforehand whether what was going to be said was likely to be misleading or biased?

Mr. Fowler


Mr. Burden

I regret that I cannot give way. I have very little time, only a couple of minutes, and the Minister will be replying.

How will it be possible to ascertain beforehand, and, indeed, if it were ascertained afterwards, what good would it do? It would inhibit such interviews in the future. It would make newscasting almost impossible.

Mr. Fowler


Mr. Burden

It is no good my hon. Friend losing his temper and saying "Rubbish". Of course it would. These interviews are highly personal and they are taken on at a few moments' notice; they must be topical and quick. It would be impossible to edit them beforehand.

Now the question of "errors of taste". Many people have widely differing views. What an extraordinarily difficult thing the council would be faced with. It would have an impossible task. Above all, news broadcasting would be relegated to a quite impossible and ridiculous position. I hope that my right hon. Friend, on that basis, will turn the Motion down and leave matters as they are.

3.33 p.m.

Mr. Ivor Richard (Barons Court)

I am conscious that the whole of this debate now has only some 27 minutes to run. So I shall be brief, and I shall not have the opportunity, perhaps, of answering all the points raised.

It has been a somewhat unusual debate for one main reason. One would have expected on seeing this Motion on the Order Paper that there would have been a large number of speeches critical of broadcasting and television media. One would have expected, for example, that the hon. Member for Dorset, South (Mr. Evelyn King), who has been very active in these matters, would have given us his view of the errors of taste which the Corporation makes continuously, so he said. On the contrary, the only person who has made what one could call an openly partisan, critical speech has been the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder). I would say only one thing to him: the function of the B.B.C. is not to be an official medium of propaganda for the Unionist Party in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Kilfedder

I never said that.

Mr. Richard

That is what it virtually came to, with respect, because what we had from the hon. Gentleman was a series of complaints that if only the B.B.C. had presented a certain set of facts in a different way it might have looked different on the screen. Of course, it would have looked different on the screen, but, with respect, that is not the function of the British Broadcasting Corporation in reporting what happens in Ulster.

Mr. Kilfedder

I am not suggesting that. I emphasised that I was not arguing that the B.B.C. ought to act as a propaganda medium for the Unionist Party or for the Army. All I am suggesting is that it should not present allegations as facts.

Mr. Richard

With respect, I understand the burden of the hon. Gentleman's point about the interviews which Mr. Hulme is supposed to have given on television—

Mr. Kilfedder

They should be balanced.

Mr. Richard

Of course, they should not be, and could not be, balanced. The Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and other Ministers and Members go on television daily in this country, but no one suggests that if the Prime Minister goes on television my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition must go on with him. That must be nonsense, and, with respect, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows it.

I turn now to the serious part of the debate. In recent months, there has been great public concern about the way in which the broadcasting media have been behaving. It is undisputed, I think, that there has been more public expression of disquiet within the last 12 months than, perhaps, for many years before that. This Motion, I suppose, is in one way an expression of that public concern and disquiet.

I realise that to a certain extent that concern and disquiet has been expressed, somewhat vigorously perhaps, from this side of the House. Undoubtedly, the programme "Yesterday's Men" aroused extremely strong feeling and emotions among Labour Members. Unlike some hon. Members opposite, I had an opportunity to see the programme. The B.B.C. kindly put it on so that I could go and see it. I confess that immediately after I had seen it I left in a state of mind, of temper and of temperature such that if this Motion had been on the Order Paper for debate that day not only should I have spoken for it but I should have voted for it and done my best to persuade my party to go along with it as well. Fortunately, the Motion was not on the Order Paper that day. Perhaps more sober counsels and wiser thoughts have prevailed, at least in my mind, since then.

My first observation in response to the Motion and the speech of the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Fowler) in moving it is that there is an enormous distinction between an error of fact or a misrepresentation which can or cannot be established, on the one hand, and a judgment which is necessarily subjective about matters of taste, bias or balance, on the other.

To return for a moment to the hon. Member for Down, North, I know not how one can establish the balance of a programme other than in most general terms save by a subjective judgment, which in itself must be based upon the view of the individual who is looking at the programme.

As the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) said a few moment ago, we had a good example in the case which the hon. Member for Down, North brought up. The hon. Member for Down, North saw that programme. I saw it. He saw it critically, and he thought that it was slanted, biased and unbalanced in the wrong direction. I came to a conclusion utterly contrary to his. In my view, the Army came out of it much the clearer, much the more convincing, much the more cogent of the two sides, and, from my point of view, much the more accepta ble.

Mr. Burden

Perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman started out with considerable sympathy towards the Army.

Mr. Richard

The hon. Gentleman may well be right. Perhaps I did start with considerable sympathy towards the Army, and, therefore, perhaps, my view of the programme was biased on that account. But the point which emerges from that example and many others which one could give is that it is utterly impossible to lay down, save in the most general terms, objective standards of balance. It is even more difficult, I suggest, to lay down objective standards of what is or what is not bias. If one goes on to try to decide what are or are not errors of taste, the job is utterly impossible.

I do not know what an error of taste is. Someone said that today's errors of taste or extremes of taste are perhaps tomorrow's orthodoxy. If one reads an illuminating book called "The Third Floor Front" which Sir Hugh Carleton Greene wrote after he ceased to be Chairman of the B.B.C., one sees clearly emerging from it that he did not consider that it was possible to lay down objective standards of taste by which a corporation like the B.B.C. could be run or should be judged.

Who is to judge what is good taste against which one can decide whether an error has been made? The thought of substituting Mrs. Whitehouse's view of what is or is not good taste for that of Mr. Charles Curran or Mr. Huw Wheldon is not a prospect which I view with a great deal of equanimity, and I should not have thought many other people would either. Mrs. Whitehouse wrote a book published recently which hon. Members may have seen which, in this context, had a very apt title—"Who does she think she is?" I can only echo that title when it comes to matters of taste. Why should I trust her opinion, or anybody else's opinion, more than the opinion of the Director-General of the B.B.C. or the chief of television?

Mr. Fowler

The hon. and learned Gentleman is developing slightly the guilt-by-association kind of argument. Matters of taste are considered by the Press Council. Does he not agree that programmes which show, for example, violence in perhaps an extreme way or racial prejudice would come within this area, which is a much more important area than the hon. and learned Gentleman suggests?

Mr. Richard

I am not even sure about that. The fact that I would find certain things said on racial matters not only extremely offensive but in thoroughly bad taste does not entitle me to say that the B.B.C. or I.T.V. should not broadcast them or that a newspaper should not print them. If one believes in the freedom of the medium, as I do passionately, one must accept that occasionally freedom can be abused. What is much more important is whether we can devise, within the existing structure of the communications media, a way of ensuring that they do not get so obviously out of line as the hon. Gentleman has suggested.

The programme complaints commission of the B.B.C. is subject to a number of obvious defects, the main one being that it is confined to the B.B.C. However, the idea of having such a commission to which members of the public who feel themselves aggrieved by a decision of the governors can go is desirable rather than undesirable. If it is considered by the governors and the governors say, "We think the complaint is justified", there is no point in having a complaints commission. It is like postulating that a successful litigant in the court of first instance should appeal against a judgment given in his favour to a higher court of appeal. The commission is likely to be desired or used only if the governors were to turn down the complaint made by the member of the public. Provided that the complaints commission—which should be extended to the I.T.A. as well as to the B.B.C.—is confined to considering questions of fact which are capable of being weighed and established and is debarred from considering such questions as balance, taste and bias, then I am in principle in favour of it.

I wish to make two comments about the existing commission. I am slightly unhappy about its size. It seems to me too small. I am slightly unhappy about its composition. There is some substance in the criticism that, on the face of it, it consists of three elderly, establishment statesmen. Clearly, they are highly respected and estimable individuals, but whether they are the sort of individuals who are likely to increase public confidence in the communications media is another matter. I should like to see a larger commission and I should like to see a younger commission and certainly I should like to see a woman on the commission. It seems to me a little strange to have three elderly males considering some of these questions. [An HON. MEMBER: "Mrs. Whitehouse?"] No. Not Mrs. Whitehouse. I am bound to say that I think I would not place her on any such commission.

Therefore, I conclude on this Motion that I also should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Nottingham, South upon raising it. It is a subject which has had a good airing this afternoon in what has been a very interesting debate, but the great problem about the way in which it is framed in the Motion and the way in which the hon. Member presented his case is, that it is almost impossible to try to develop a body of case law on the lines he would wish, and to which his Motion would inevitably lead, about matters which are really essentially subjective. We shall, I think, get into as great a mess in this field if we try to do that as, frankly, the courts have been getting into recently in trying to define what is or what is not obscene. There is little doubt to my mind that one is almost inevitably in the realm of subjectivity in relation to that as one is in judging matters of taste. I do not want the media in this country to be regulated by a sort of non-intellectual Soma, a body which would not annoy anyone but on the whole would keep the people happy. I believe they should be stimulating and exciting, and they can be neither of those without being provocative at some time.

3.46 p.m.

The Minister of Posts and Telecommunications (Mr. Christopher Chataway)

I think that everybody who has sat through this debate will agree that it has been an extremely interesting one. There have been from both sides of the House very thoughtful contributions to a discussion which has been going on a long time. I should like to join in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Fowler) upon giving us the opportunity to debate the broadcasting council today.

I think it has been a surprising debate in that there has been so much opposition voiced to the notion of a broadcasting council. My hon. Friend must have been surprised about that. Perhaps he can console himself with the thought that perhaps the views expressed in this debate have not been wholly representative of the views of the House as a whole, and that, perhaps, had this not been a thin Friday he might have had more supporters. It has always seemed to me one of the disadvantages of the idea of a broadcasting council that it is argued for from so many different points of view. I have always been struck by the fact that some who want those working in the medium to have less control argue for a broadcasting council while others who want those working in the medium to have more control have equally supported the Motion. It has always seemed to me that there has been a great deal of confusion about what exactly the broadcasting council was meant to mean, and perhaps my hon. Friend may equally console himself with the realisation that in this debate there have been opponents of his scheme arguing on conflicting grounds.

I must confess that I would not go along entirely with the line of argument which was deployed by my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) and, to a certain extent, by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Barons Court (Mr. Richard). I do believe that someone has to make decisions about taste and about balance. I do not take the view that it is just too difficult ever to decide what is good taste and what is balance. It seems to me that we have got to lay a clear obligation in broadcasting upon somebody to have the ultimate responsibility in these matters. I do not think it would be reasonable to say that those who happen to be broadcasters, who happen to have at any one time the use of these scarce frequencies, should themselves have the right to decide what is good taste, what is balance. I believe our present system is a reasonable one. Under this system we place an obligation squarely upon the Members of the I.T.A. and the Governors of the B.B.C. They have to make decisions in these very difficult areas.

It is essential that one should be able openly and respectively to criticise them. My hon. Friend the Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) and the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) both made some tough criticisms of the B.B.C., and that is perfectly right. It is essential that one should be able to make such criticism without necessarily being charged with the desire for censorship. Our system works only if the Governors of the B.B.C. and the Members of the I.T.A. are firmly told from every quarter just what is and what is not appreciated, but under our present system it must be for them to sift and weigh the criticisms that come in their direction.

The case for a broadcasting council has been argued from many quarters, and was in part argued today by my hon. Friend, on an analogy with the Press Council. I have always thought this to be somewhat misleading, because there are some essential differences between the position of the broadcasting authorities and that of the Press. The Press is a collection of privately run companies responsible to their shareholders alone. They are not, as the two broadcasting organisations are, controlled by bodies which are already publicly appointed. They have no obligation to be impartial or to present balanced material. Most of them have conscious and identifiable editorial interests and policies. The Press Council, which is a self-constituted body consisting of representatives of newspaper trade organisations and unions under an independent chairman, has as its main function to deal with complains of unfair treatment of the individual by the Press. The Press Council does not, and I think would probably feel itself not fitted to, pass judgments on matters of editorial content.

My hon. Friend suggested that he would want the broadcasting council he has in mind to deal with questions of balance of editorial judgment, and the rest, but there is a fundamental difference between the position of the Press Council and the position of the broadcasting council he would appear to be suggesting. If someone were to complain to the Press Council that the Daily Express had not been fair in its treatment of the Common Market issue, or if someone were to complain to it that the Morning Star had been less than fair to the Conservative Party, the Press Council would be bound to say: "This is a matter of editorial judgment. We do not intervene." These newspapers are not pretending necessarily to present all sides of a case. They have an editorial opinion. It would be something fundamentally different that one would be asking of a broadcasting council.

Secondly, I do not believe that we could possibly model any broadcasting council's composition on the composition of the Press Council. If the analogy with the Press Council were followed, the broadcasting council would, for the main part, represent the broadcasting organisations, the programme companies and the trade union members who work in broadcasting. These would be the very people who were responsible for making the programmes. Their examination would, in general, be in one of two categories. They would be examining either the programmes of their own organisation, made by themselves or their colleagues—and who would expect them to be objective or even very critical of those?—or the programmes of their one competitor, the B.B.C. or the I.T.A. as the case might be. Either way, it would undoubtedly not be a very good basis for objective judgment. They would either be judge and jury or jury and prosecutor in their own case. So, whatever the merits of establishing a broadcasting council, I do not believe that the Press Council constitutes any very suitable model.

There has been in the debate a fair measure of agreement about the need for some special consideration of the aggrieved individual. Although there have been criticisms of the steps which the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. have taken to try to ensure that such complaints from individuals are judged, and are seen to be judged fairly, on the whole during the debate there has been a welcome for these measures. I have always thought that there was a case here for some special machinery. The B.B.C. has attempted to meet the difficulty by setting up the programme complaints commission, to which a number of hon. Members have referred. It is argued that it is a disadvantage of that commission that members of the public will not be able to complain directly to it. On further reflection, hon. Members may well feel that it is only sensible that the first complaint should be made to the B.B.C. so that an attempt can be made by the Corporation to meet it, and that complaints should then be referred to the commission only if the complainant has not received satisfaction in the first instance.

On that much I think there is agreement, a feeling that there is a need for some outside body to be seen to look at the complaints of individuals. It is when my hon. Friend goes beyond that that potential danger arises. He has suggested that a body over and above the Governors of the B.B.C. and the Members of the I.T.A. should be able to deal with complaints about general bias and errors of taste; in effect, about overall broadcasting policy.

If such a council as he suggests were charged with such a wide remit, surely that council and not the Members of the I.T.A. or the Governors of the B.B.C. will ultimately be responsible and be seen to be responsible. Almost inevitably, the governing bodies, the B.B.C. and the I.T.A., will be seen as second line management beneath the council, because on all major matters the public will be appealing to this body over the heads of the Governors of the B.B.C. and the Members of the I.T.A. Even if that body does not have power legally to enforce its decisions, it is almost unthinkable that the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. could ignore its views. I feel there is a danger of confusion of responsibility in the proposal advanced.

Of course, we must continue to look at the machinery which governs broadcasting. In 1976 the Charter of the B.B.C and the licence of the I.T.A run out. Prior to that, there will need to be legislation and discussion on this and other issues. My hon. Friend has performed a signal service in giving the House this afternoon the opportunity of discussing an important aspect of the machinery by which our broadcasting is governed. I regard the present arrangements, which give clearer lines of responsibility, as having very considerable attractions. Just these two authorities are responsible, and none of the developments thought of or planned in broadcasting is in the immediate future to alter that.

As the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) said, it is envisaged that commercial radio will come under the I.T.A., to be renamed the Independent Broadcasting Authority. Similarly, the I.T.A. is submitting proposals to me for a second I.T.V. service. I am not examining this proposal with any prior commitment to grant a second I.T.V. service by 1976. I have always made it clear to the public and to the Authority that there are real difficulties in the way. But the Government have not ruled out the use of the second channel in the years immediately ahead, and will examine the I.T.A. proposals with care. None of these developments alters the situation where two public bodies are responsible to this House for the programme content of television and radio programmes. I believe this is a system which has considerable attractions and which—

It being Four o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

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