HC Deb 28 February 1985 vol 74 cc448-9
3. Mr. Alexander

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will consider introducing legislation enabling him to ban media coverage of terrorist activities; and if he will seek the co-operation of other countries in similarly preventing terrorists gaining media coverage for their aims and opinions.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Giles Shaw)

No, Sir. Section 4 of the Broadcasting Act 1981 requires the IBA to ensure that its programmes include nothing which is likely to encourage or incite to crime or to lead to disorder, or to be offensive to public feeling. The BBC accepts the same obligations under its 1981 licence and agreement with the Home Secretary. Within this framework it is a long-standing principle in this country that the broadcasting authorities and the press should have full editorial responsibility for the content of what they broadcast or publish.

Mr. Alexander

Is it not precisely what terrorist organisations require when they commit such outrages that, immediately they do so, the media tell the nation that those organisations committed them? Is it not surprising and even ludicruos that in the Republic of Ireland, which has tried to cut the publicity given to IRA extremism by not allowing any comment on television, viewers can simply switch to British channels and discover precisely what is going on and which organisation is alleged to have committed the offence?

Mr. Shaw

I understand my hon. Friend's point. As to the first part of his question, the Government and the broadcasting authorities accept that the latter are appointed as trustees of the public interest in broadcasting and that they must carry a large measure of responsibility for what they do. As to the second part of his question, my hon. Friend will be aware that in the Republic of Ireland there has been a long tradition of media censorship in one form or another, which I am sure he would agree would be unacceptable in this country.

Mr. Janner

Although I accept fully what the Minister said about editorial responsibility, is he nevertheless aware of the enormous that exists in India as a result of the coverage of the murder of Mrs. Gandhi, and especially the coverage of the views of those who support the organisation which was apparently responsible for the murder? Will he consult his Foreign Office colleagues and the Attorney-General to see whether the law can be strengthened so as to deal with what may be incitement but what is at present impossible to prove as such?

Mr. Shaw

I appreciate the hon. and learned Gentleman's remarks, and I am aware of the sort of programme to which he refers. This is very much a matter for the broadcasting authorities rather than for the Government. However, I should make this observation: what is broadcast in the United Kingdom may be perfectly acceptable here, but if others seek to use it elsewhere, it may have different effects.

Mr. Meadowcroft

Although I accept the good intentions of the hon. Member for Newark (Mr. Alexander), does the Minister agree that it is dangerous to treat the symptoms of the disease rather than the cause, and that we must achieve political settlements of those issues to prevent terrorism in the first place?

Mr. Shaw

That goes extremely wide of the question, but I understand the hon. Gentleman's point.

Sir John Biggs-Davison

May I ask my hon. Friend, who was a Northern Ireland Minister, whether, without resorting to censorship, there should not be consultations between the two Governments and the broadcasting authorities to see whether they can keep in step in any action to counter what Dr. Garret FitzGerald has called the "common enemy"?

Mr. Shaw

My hon. Friend will be aware that discussions on all sorts of issues between the Governments of the Republic and of the United Kingdom have combined effects. My hon. Friend's question seeks to change the remit for public service and all other broadcasting in the United Kingdom, and I believe that we should take care before we do that.