HC Deb 10 March 2003 vol 401 c13
9. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire)

What steps she is taking to strengthen the public service requirements for major providers of commercial digital and satellite broadcasting services. [101462]

The Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting (Dr. Kim Howells)

Through the Communications Bill, the Government are extending the requirements for subtitling, signing and audio description on digital terrestrial television services to digital cable and digital satellite services. Furthermore, all licensed broadcasters who meet threshold conditions will be required to promote training, equality of opportunity between men and women and between persons of different racial groups, and the fair treatment of disabled persons in relation to employment with them.

David Taylor

Further to the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan), should not the Government introduce a ratchet requirement so that as the audience share of commercial, digital and satellite broadcasting services increases, so too should their public service obligation to produce a high standard of quality and content? Otherwise, are we not likely to be submerged in a tide of dire and facile transatlantic pap—plenty of Scooby-Doo, but a paucity of serious drama and substantial documentaries?

Dr. Howells

I do not agree with a word of that. If my hon. Friend cares to examine the wonderful magazine Broadcast, which I believe is weekly, he will see that the entire top 50 programmes were made in Britain and broadcast on terrestrial channels. Whether my hon. Friend likes it or not, they are the most popular programmes in this country. There is an almost complete dearth of the kinds of programmes that he mentioned—which I understand him to assume are made in America or Australia.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West)

On the subject of public service requirements on digital television services, can the Minister do anything about the size of the picture that is transmitted on the BBC Parliament channel on the freeview service? It takes up only about a quarter of the screen. At any time, there must be dozens of people around the country who are watching the Parliament channel. They would welcome the opportunity to see hon. Members in full widescreen.

Dr. Howells

Seeing hon. Members in full widescreen would at least keep children away from touching the screen.

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