HC Deb 03 February 1977 vol 925 cc732-4
12. Mr. Frank Allaun

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will discuss with the Chairman and Vice-Chairman designate of the Commission for Racial Equality complaints of racialist propaganda on the media.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

I look forward to consultation with Mr. Lane and the Commission for Racial Equality on all matters concerning race relations.

Mr. Allaun

Should not a distinction be drawn between freedom of political speech for Left, Right or Centre and racial propaganda? Therefore, will my right hon. Friend consult the main parties on this proposition, that if the National Front or any other racialist party publishes election material or an election manifesto containing racially objectionable matter, it should not be granted television or radio programmes as at present?

Mr. Rees

My hon. Friend was good enough to discuss this matter with me in recent weeks. As he knows, party political broadcasts are a matter not for me but for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, in consultation with other parties. I must not interpret the law and get into hot water on that, but I understand that the incitement provisions of existing legislation, including those yet to be brought into effect, apply in this area to anyone who does the kind of thing that my hon. Friend has described under the guise of doing it electorally.

Mr. Evelyn King

Has the Home Secretary observed prejudice by the BBC in the context of Rhodesia? Is he aware that the observations, the lightest word, of every black President or even of the most notorious guerrilla receive maximum billing, while the perfectly natural anxieties, whatever the blames of Government, of the European population—and, as it seems, because they are European—receive no adequate expression?

Mr. Rees

I cannot agree. With my responsibilities for the BBC, I observe that there seems to be a subjective evaluation of what comes over the media. On the basis of the same information, some people say that it goes one way and others that it goes the other way. It is rather like the statement on the flyleaf of a book about the American Civil War, which said "This is an objective account of the American Civil War from the Southern point of view."

Mr. Ford

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the British public are well able to exercise common sense on these matters, and that if we were to take specific action or legislative steps it would be likely to produce an undesirable reaction?

Mr. Rees

I am not in business to censure the media. That would be a move in the direction of the road to dictatorship, whether of the Left or of the Right.

Mr. Whitelaw

Does the right hon. Gentleman remember that the provision on racial encitement in the Race Rela- tions Act was strongly opposed by the Opposition and that I predicted that it would have dangerous effects and might infringe the freedom of speech—an aspect of the matter to which the right hon. Gentleman referred? Does he agree that there is a great danger that this will continue to happen? Will he bear that in mind?

Mr. Rees

That provision, which amends the Public Order Act, is not yet in force. I have carefully examined the matter, but I think the best thing to do is see what happens when the provision becomes law.

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