HC Deb 03 March 1983 vol 38 cc360-1
8. Mr. Meacher

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department on how many occasions he has exercised his powers under section 29(3) of the Broadcasting Act 1981 relating to Government control over the broadcasting of certain matter.

Mr. Whitelaw

None, Sir.

Mr. Meacher

Is the Secretary of State aware that there is no effective way at present of securing balance and fairness in the media and that serious misrepresentations, such as constant recent incorrect references to unilateral disarmament, go uncorrected despite regular complaints? If letters to the director general do not have any effect, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the only effective way of securing balance and fairness is by instituting an explicit right of reply? Will the right hon. Gentleman institute an explicit right of reply, subject, of course, to the judgment of an adjudicating body?

Mr. Whitelaw

No, Sir. The arrangements that we have made, through the governors of the BBC and through the IBA board, to deal with problems of balance and fairness have worked better than arrangements in any other country in the world.

Sir Dudley Smith

Quite apart from using his full powers, will my right hon. Friend consider writing to Central Television about its programme this week on nuclear warfare and disarmament, which was wholly biased and one-sided?

Mr. Whitelaw

That is naturally a matter for the IBA to consider. When I hear complaints coming from one side of the problem and then from the other, I think that it is better that we should distance the House from such complaints.

Mr. Hattersley

I know that the Home Secretary is anxious to maintain the visible impartiality of the BBC, but will he help that process by assuring the Opposition that they will be consulted before he appoints a new chairman?

Mr. Whitelaw

No, Sir.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

Since the principle has always been that Home Office Ministers will not interfere with the independence of the BBC, will the Home Secretary publish somewhere the number of times that members of the Government have been in touch with the director general to persuade him to take a different line on matters of political controversy?

Mr. Whitelaw

No, Sir. Nor will I seek to publish, even if I had the information, the number of times that members of previous Governments have done the same thing.