§ 4.20 p.m.
§ Debate resumed.
THE LORD BISHOP OF DURHAM
My Lords, I should like to look at this problem of the use and misuse of mass media in communication in its broadest setting. If I seem to make the matter more complicated and difficult, I think it only shows how far-reaching and serious is the whole subject; and, by implication, how grateful we all are to the noble Baroness, Lady Emmet of Amberley, for raising it as a topic for debate. In that context may I apologise, not only to the noble Baroness but also to the whole House, that urgent and unavoidable duties in Durham compel me to return there to-night and so to leave before the end of the debate. I hope that any apparent discourtesy will be understood and forgiven, and I am glad that my friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn will be able to stay until the end.
The problem before your Lordships is, I think, well put in a recent book, Ethical Values in the Age of Science, by a philosopher, Dr. Paul Roubiczek. I hope that your Lordships will allow me to quote briefly from page 249:Seen merely as a means of communication, television is an astonishing achievement of science and technology, a fact now perhaps too much taken for granted. But this aspect is not the only one to be taken into account; we should go on to ask which of its actual functions is truly useful. Should it be used only for the transmission of news or also of drama and music? Should it be a means of general or political education or of entertainment as well? What kind of information is useful and what kind of entertainment is valuable? Should criticism and the propagation of unorthodox views be encouraged or restricted?1219 Dr. Roubiczek concludes:Unless we define the means by its purpose and evaluate the purpose, we are in danger of becoming mere addicts of television as an end in itself, and then the lowest of the values—that is, the lowest kind of entertainment—will prevail, and the merit of every programme will be assessed on this level.My Lords, what I have to say may be seen as no more than a commentary on Dr. Roubiczek's remarks. This issue is surely one which reveals, like none other, the whole moral predicament of contemporary society.
May I put it another way? Like a magnificent bridge built with all knowledge and skill, all that technological development can supply for it, mass media can be used for that kind of communication which shares ideas and ideals, which exchanges goods and services—all that we need for the up-building of a healthy and enriched community. But, on the other hand, just as that same bridge can carry the tanks and machine guns of oppressive invaders determined to quench the spirit of man, so, too, mass media can oppress and destroy. How do we ensure their proper use? As with the bridge, how do we decide what mass media shall communicate?
The easy, the all too obvious and, as earlier questions have already made evident, the explosive answer, is to talk in terms of censorship: "Let someone decide who is to cross that bridge". I think few would want to defend censorship, except perhaps in war time. In a lecture on The Conscience of the Programme Director, Sir Hugh Greene, urging that we have to resist attempts at censorship, reminds us that Professor Hoggart distinguishes attempts at censorship which come respectively from what he calls "the old guardians" and "the new populists". The old guardians, we are told—and Bishops will probably get excluded—aresenior clergy, writers of leading articles in newspapers, presidents of national voluntary organisations and so on who like to think of themselves as upholders of cultural standards.The new populistsclaim to speak for ordinary decent peopleand to beforced to take a stand against what they call unnecessary dirt, gratuitous sex, excessive violence and so on.But notice, my Lords, where the criticisms lie. The guardians, in many cases, 1220 we hear, lack the qualities of intellect and imagination to justify that claim. The populists, we are told, have prior assumptions, anti-intellectual and unimaginative.In so far as they are successful they prevent artists and writers"—says Sir Hugh—from undertaking those adventures of the spirit which must be at the heart of every truly new creative work.But note, my Lords, that this still leaves us with the problem: how do we uphold cultural standards? Nay, more importantly, how do we legitimately foster new creative work of undoubted quality?
The proper use of mass media demands answers to those questions. In other words, whatever criticisms we rightly have of censorship, however much we may instinctively resist the tiresome pressures of guardians and even of new populists, let us not blind ourselves to the truth which in the end is at the heart of all their misplaced efforts. Let us not blind ourselves to the possibility, which their own restriction ironically might preclude; namely, that there can be no healthy society without some kind of moral consensus which holds together its technological developments on the one hand and makes its decisions coherent on the other—something which provides us with the right use for mass media.
The alternative traditional answer, rather than censorship, is, of course, tolerance—"Let all who wish to cross the bridge do so"—and then it is a built-in assumption that the best and the right will surely prevail. As we instinctively rebel against censorship, so do we instinctively applaud tolerance. We should certainly value the freedom of radio, television and the Press. We can, I think, be justly proud of a society in which there occurs the passage from the BBC Handbook 1971, written by Mr. Oliver Whitley, which was read by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd. If I may risk being impertinent, and even of painting Lord Shepherd's lily, I would say that the provocative note on which Mr. Oliver Whitley starts is almost enough to make his point:… since time immemorial, the prime purpose of governments has been to govern, not necessarily to tell the truth.Is it not significant that we can welcome here the freedom to say that?
1221 Again, there will be no proper use of mass media which neglects variety; not least, as was said by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, in the newspapers. And it is so tempting to say, "let mass media find their own level in a free-for-all".After all, one man's programme meat is another man's programme poison,says Huw Wheldon in an essay on B.B.C. policy. But what if one man's meat becomes 40 million men's poison? Even when we rightly value tolerance for the freedom and variety it brings, something else is needed to prevent this freedom from becoming just multicoloured licentiousness—that is, if we wish to have a society which will nurture the spirit of man.
I entirely agree with Mr. Oliver Whitley when he says in that same article in the BBC Handbook:Telling the truth in any news context… does not necessarily or always seem to make for peace, peace of mind in the individual listener or peace in the world. It does not necessarily or always seem to enhance the reputation of Britain or the British people. But it is still telling the truth and it is probably just at such times that the precious reputation is made or enhanced; that is when it looks as though it hurts—when the broadcaster tells of a ship sunk, a contract lost, a strike prolonged, a trade balance in the red, a people destroyed.And he continues:… after all plenty of pleasant things happen and are just as much facts as the unpleasant things': …And yet, holding that in our minds, must not true tolerance do something to balance those two approaches? Does not toleration, by the very derivation of the word, imply a true balancing of variety, so as to make for creative development? In other words, if toleration is to be more than an amiable and empty affability, there must be some kind of code of behaviour by which decisions—balancing decisions—can be made. The truth is that in all the possible variety of people crossing that bridge there has to be some principle of selection. Censorship by advertising revenue or by licence figures is no less censorship for being done by people other than the old guardians or the new populists and in a style rather different and with other criteria from the guardians or the populists.
In short, a battle for quality has somewhere, somehow, in some way to be fought. Even toleration demands that. 1222 And how will it be fought and where? The answer given to this problem is normally: leave it to conscience. But that word "conscience" in itself, like the more often used phrase "public interest", may be no more than a retreat from the problem into a euphoria of superficial agreement founded on vacuity. The appeal to conscience, indeed, brings my argument full circle, for it shows clearly where the heart of this problem is to be found, this problem of the use and misuse of mass media. The problem of mass media only underlines the general problem which haunts our society to-day. The Director-General of the B.B.C. may rightly say:The human conscience, responding to the principles of morality which are handed down from generation to generation, is the most stable element in a shifting scene and it is by this test we should judge ourselves and by this standard we should wish to be judged.But the human conscience is not for certain Heaven sent. It needs education. It is not some entirely independent tribunal with built-in certainty. It is not independent of the facts and features of the world in which it lives and by which it must be nurtured.
Let me put the point in another way. The mass media themselves can be and often are directly and indirectly the means by which moral standards are upheld and, even more importantly, modified, changed and developed. Conscience and mass media are far more interwoven than any easy appeal to conscience can allow. Some time ago I had cause to look at some of the episcopal visitation records for the diocese of Durham, dating back some forty years. As to-day, society seemed, at least to my predecessor, to be in a moral decline and the mass media of those days were already being blamed. Then it was the cinema and the newspapers, significantly not yet the radio. But one clergyman, it seemed to me, showed a welcome hesitation to draw too simple a conclusion from the facts around him for he recalled that the very same argument, that they fostered moral evil, had been used a generation before about the comics which he had enjoyed innocently as a boy. It will always be difficult (if I may keep my claim modest after the words of the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles) to argue for comics, cinemas, radio, T.V. and contemporary newspapers corrupting the public. There will always be enough 1223 complexity about the matter to be sure to keep members of research teams permanently in jobs. What seems undeniable, however, is that comics, cinemas, radio, television and contemporary newspapers are features of the social scene which broadly reflect, as the noble Lord, Lord Eccles, himself said, the mores, the consensus, the moral atmosphere from which society gains what coherence it has.
What then is my conclusion? It is that the problem of the use and misuse of mass media in communication is basically a problem of conscience itself. It is no harder or easier than the problem of finding a moral consensus in society. Indeed, the battle is not a battle but a campaign for the very survival of our society, for culture not anarchy, if I may repeat the noble Viscount's phrase. It is a campaign with which every religious faith, Christian or any other, must be entirely involved. It is a campaign which no humanist, Christian or any other, needs any persuasion to join. And if I may declare an interest, I am glad to think that the Social Morality Council, on whose Executive Committee the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, and I serve together, is alert to the depth, complexity and importance of this problem of discovering, somehow, some way, a moral consensus to give coherence to society, that which is a sine qua non for deciding moral problems and the use and misuse of mass media in particular. In that very broad setting, may I make a final suggestion? Sir Hugh Greene, in the lecture I have already mentioned, spoke rightly of the importance for the proper use of mass media of the personal attitudes of producers, programme chiefs and directors—who depend upon their own beliefs and upbringing—and, we may add, editors and columnists, and also that the use or misuse will depend on the proper sensitivity, as he said, of production staff.
Could there not be organised on some kind of national basis professional groups composed of these very producers, programme chiefs, directors, editors, columnists and production staff, but also having in those groups those who in various ways have shown themselves alert to the moral predicament of society—social workers, moral philosophers, Ministers (may I suggest?) and clergy? The only condition of membership for 1224 such groups would be good will, sensitivity, willingness to listen, a readiness to change and, even more importantly, to contemplate novel possibilities and embrace novel conclusions. If such groups could become a permanent feature of our national life, the use and misuse of mass media would be but one problem in our present predicament which we might hope could be eased. Even more widely, we should the more reasonably ensure that this present moral turmoil does not, if I may take up the point the noble Baroness introduced in her opening speech, herald the end of a second Roman Empire, but is rather the travail heralding the birth of a new era where technology and morality are aptly matched: or, if I may phrase it in perhaps a more explicitly Christian way, and one not very different from that which T. S. Eliot once described, where we should find a combination of "the deepest scepticism and the profoundest faith".
§ 4.41 p.m.
§ BARONESS BURTON OF COVENTRY
My Lords, as I have listened to the speeches which have preceded mine I have been coming more and more to the uncomfortable conclusion that what I want to say is completely different, and I can only hope that the generosity of your Lordships' House will conclude that what I have to say may perhaps be one small facet of this Motion that we are discussing to-day. First of all, I should like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Emmet, for what I would call her erudite exposition to start the debate. If I may say so, I thought it was exactly right, and one admires very much something that one is not capable of doing oneself. I am most grateful to her. I want also to thank the noble Lady for the width with which she drew her Motion, because I hope there will be others like myself who will perhaps (I do not mean to offend) be taking a more practical view of some of the near problems, as well as those who have spoken and have taken a philosophical view. I think that possibly there is room for us all in this debate.
I would expect that most people to-day would believe that television is the outstanding mass medium of communication. I had the pleasure of coming to your Lordships' House in 1962, and my second speech here was in July of that year in 1225 a debate on the Pilkington Report. From 1964 to 1969 I was a member of the Independent Television Authority, and of course I was debarred by the Addison Rules from taking part in debates in this House on broadcasting. So far as possible to-day I want to avoid mentioning programmes of personal preference. Once one becomes involved in personal likes or dislikes one is lost—at least, I think so. Personal taste can be very engulfing. What I want to do to-day is to put up for discussion and consideration certain aspects of television. I do not propose to include sound broadcasting. I am particularly hopeful that the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, with his vast experience in television, will be able to help me when he comes to wind up at the end.
The first matter I want to raise is, I think, one for Parliament. I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, that many of these matters have to be settled by public opinion; some I think have to be settled by the television organisations: but my first one is a matter for Parliament. On finance, I believe that the special tax (or levy) on television advertising should be abolished. In its place there should be a special tax on television profits. Your Lordships will remember that the Report of the Prices and Incomes Board in October last was precluded by the terms of reference from advocating the abolition of the tax (or levy) on advertising revenue. It rejected the idea of an excess profits tax, because it thought this would be difficult to administer and would discourage efficiency.
Sometimes I think people forget that the television industry has to bear costs that have been forced upon it by public policy. That policy, so far as Independent Television was concerned, was to set up a number of programme companies and separate them on a regional basis. Opinions may differ as to what is the right number of regions, but the regional set-up itself is public policy and has to be paid for: it was not invented by Independent Television. When people attack Independent Television for making enormous profits, I think at times that the argument tends to get out of all proportion. Certainly at the present time nobody could make the attack on grounds of enormous profits. But I have always felt that it was a trifle unfair to criticise 1226 the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, for his immortal phrase about "a licence to print money", because I doubt whether anybody else would have been willing to put up money to form Scottish Television at that time. It seems to me that sometimes people forget this. More recently, everyone must acknowledge the contribution made to our export trade by Associated Television and their two Queen's Awards in recognition of this achievement. I think this is widely known to-day.
I have mentioned the Report of the Prices and Incomes Board of October last. Included in it was a suggestion to ensure the putting out of the best possible programmes, and that the Independent Television Authority might be required to consider, so far as the contracting companies were concerned, a system of,two warnings, and the next time you are out".I do not want to comment on that particular suggestion, but it leads me on to what I want to say next—and it is something that I think can be said only by someone who has been a member either of the Independent Television Authority or of the Board of Governors of the B.B.C. As I have said, I was a member of the I.T.A. (if I may use the initials) for five years from 1964 to 1969. I enjoyed this enormously, and I learned a great deal.
First of all, I should like to say something about the two Chairmen. We hear such a lot of "sniping", and about the Chairmen being members of political Parties. Personally, I have no objection. I think it is nonsense to talk about their being influenced by their own Party in Government. I am supporting the two I am talking about, not because I am a politician but because I have had one from each major Party and I never discovered a hint of bias from either; nor any different treatment towards either from the Government of the day. I would say also that they happened to be first-class Chairmen—and I think that everybody in this House knows what it is to suffer under the reverse.
Before leaving this point, I should like to say one thing more. Although he is not here, I wish to make one comment about the noble Lord, Lord Hill of 1227 Luton. He must know this, but not everyone does, and there are certain things that should be said in public. We—his colleagues—were devastated when he left the I.T.A. Noble Lords may not know that his departure was as sudden to him as it was to us. The noble Lord has had a rough ride since he left the Independent Television Authority, and I personally should like the House to know in what esteem he was held by his colleagues.
May I now come back to the Prices and Incomes Board suggestion of a warning system to the contracting companies? As I said, I do not want to comment on this suggestion, but during my five years I did learn that there were certain things—I thought important things—on which one just could not win. Perhaps we might look at advice to companies. A programme is shown which causes offence, and there is an outcry. What does the Authority do? It warns the company, but the programme has already caused the offence, and you cannot get it back. Why does the Authority not stop the programme from being shown in the first place? Surely it must have some idea of what is going on the air? Yes, my Lords, it has. But your Lordships do not need me to say that scripts do not always indicate exactly what is going to be shown on the screen. And I need tell nobody that so far as the critics are concerned, if you stop something from being shown you are narrow-minded and dictatorial: who are you to decide what the public should see? If you have not stopped it, you should have done. That really is true, and I have come to the conclusion that you "cannot win on this one." Certainly you get to know who may be the likely offenders, but public taste is a peculiar animal.
Let us now come to the contracts and whether or not companies should be warned before losing their contracts. There is a lot of self-righteous indignation about all this—and I say that most feelingly. If the House will take its mind back to 1967, when new contracts were awarded, I wonder if your Lordships—and I am sure you will—remember the outcry in the Press that it would be no use any company, other than the existing holders, putting in an application; that 1228 it was all cut and dried; that the noble Lord, Lord Hill, and his colleagues (of whom the critics and the Press took a pretty poor view) would certainly not deprive any company of its contract. For this we were condemned in advance and at length, daily, weekly and utterly.
Well, my Lords, we did make changes. And never have I known the Press so completely wrong and so completely misled by their own certainties. I well remember one Sunday—leading up to the public announcement—reading such a firm, authoritative statement in a paper of standing that I rang up the relevant quarter to see whether something had happened of which I, a member of the Authority, was in complete ignorance. When the news broke, the Authority was wrong for having made any changes. My Lords, you just cannot win. If you sit on the Authority, or the B.B.C. Board of Governors, you might as well face that to start with. While I am on the contracts awarded, I should like to say that I have not changed my mind. They may have worked out well or they may not, but given 1967 over again I would stand by the same decision.
May we now deal with the question of alternating exclusive coverage of major sporting events. The area may be widened to include all events of national importance. I am not so widening my remarks for two reasons: first of all, I know more about sport, and secondly, there is an agreement that some events are of such national importance that they should be shown on all screens and be open to all. But I would not accept—and I should like to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, has to say on this point—that even these events should involve double expenditure on men and materials, although I think they should be shown on all screens. For example, Coronations, "splash downs", the Investitute of the Prince of Wales would all come into my category. Before dealing with the actual point at issue, I feel, and perhaps the House will feel with me, that it is not much use examining the viewing figures issued by either the B.B.C. or the I.T.A. I am not accusing those who compile these figures of dishonesty, but it is apparent to us all that they differ so much that both cannot be right, and I should have thought we all would have agreed on this 1229 On this particular aspect of which organisation provides the "better" service on sport, perhaps I may make several points. For many years the B.B.C. provided the better service and thereby acquired, quite rightly, a reputation for doing so. Any argument on this aspect always provoked, and provokes to-day (and I would emphasise those words) a reaction from the B.B.C. to the effect that it is known that they do sport better than I.T.V. A letter from Mr. Huw Wheldon, published in The Times on May 13 last, said:On any big sporting occasion which is covered by both networks some people naturally watch it on I.T.V., but invariably two or three or four times as many, sometimes more, prefer to watch it on B.B.C.".As I have just said, the B.B.C. had this reputation in the past, but I do not think that Mr. Wheldon's figures are acceptable to-day. To my mind I.T.V.'s coverage of sport has improved out of all knowledge. I think they do some sports better than do the B.B.C., and vice versa. It has been a difficult road to travel because of this ingrained belief in the superiority of the B.B.C. I want to avoid personal preferences because they tend to obscure facts, but, speaking for myself with reference to the last World Cup series, I found the B.B.C. commentating on actual matches more enjoyable; but the I.T.V. discussions here in the studio were quite outstanding and different. As a matter of fact, I thought they made the B.B.C. look old-fashioned and out of date. I would say to the noble Lord that surely it would have been better to have both—which brings me back to the main point of this section of my remarks.
My Lords, I love sport, and I personally have no objection to saturation on all channels. But equally I should have the strongest objection to similar saturation on other subjects. First of all, I am sure that, so far as the viewer is concerned, the House will agree, that he should have an alternative at all but the most exceptional times. I should not think there is anybody who would disagree on that matter. Secondly, concerning finance and resources, surely it is a waste of both to have this duplication. I believe that the B.B.C. spent £750,000 on the World Cup series, and I.T.V. spent more than £300,000. I want to suggest detailed consideration of alternating exclusive 1230 coverage of major sporting events. We cannot continue on the basis of past reputations. I could give the House very different figures from those of Mr. Wheldon, but they would have as much, or as little, validity as his. One point to be taken into consideration of course, would be how many viewers could not receive B.B.C.2 or I.T.V. What I am after is alternative viewing for everyone. This is acceptable to the I.T.A. but not to the B.B.C.
Following on from this simultaneous showing of sports events, I want to draw attention to another aspect where I think the viewer comes off pretty badly; and I think that this opinion is shared by many people in this country. For a long time I have wanted a proper co-ordination of the two services so that the whole field of television could be considered. In this way we might arrive at some sensible arrangement whereby clashes between similar categories could, so far as possible, be avoided. Surely planning could be improved from the viewpoint of the consumer.
It is true to say that in this country we have networks planned on a complementary basis, such as I.T.V. or B.B.C.1 and B.B.C.2; and we also have a competitive one with the B.B.C. and I.T.V. in competition. My complaint—it is one that I have voiced for years outside this House, and I think I may be permitted to say that I have voiced it also as a member of the Authority—is that the viewer has a raw deal sometimes. To be honest, I have never made any progress on this, and possibly I should not expect to do so. Because one organisation is financed by public licences and another by advertising, it may be that I am crying for the moon. But that is no reason for not trying.
My Lords, if we take current affairs—we have "Panorama" and "World in Action" on the same evening, at the same time, although they are of varying length. Why are they screened at the same time? Not because of public interest, but in an attempt by both organisations to siphon off from the rival body those viewers interested in current affairs and who (and I would stress this) would wish to see both programmes. Is it impossible, when one organisation has to depend on the ratings and the other should not—and I underline "and the 1231 other should not"—so to arrange these programmes that a clash is avoided? Does the viewer not count at all?—and I am very much hoping that the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, will "buy that one" when he comes to reply to-night.
It is just the same with old films. Some people like them; some do not. I should think most viewers would consider that we have a surfeit. Perhaps I may leave the point with the simple observation that frequently old films seem to dominate both channels at the same time. I want to know: what about the viewer who does not like old films? This is not one long moan: I get a lot of enjoyment from television, but we do at times have an excessive choice in excellence and an equally excessive one in mediocrity. On some nights there is so much to see on both channels; on other nights there is nothing, on either channel. Sometimes I wonder why on earth I pay my licence, and another time one night's viewing is worth a whole year's licence.
But the question I want to ask—the question that I feel the Government must answer—is: must competition produce this stalemate for the viewer? We all know that if one main channel has a success, then the other one tries to lure away viewers by putting on, at identically the same time, a programme of equal attraction; or the time of, for example, the News is altered so as to detract from the rival showing. I know that this is competition. I know equally that the viewer suffers; and I need not tell the House that I am convinced that the consumer always loses in these battles. Instead of two excellent programmes either at different times or on different nights—after all, "Panorama" and "World in Action" do not have to be on the same night, never mind at the same time—we get duplication of excellence, or of interest, and on other nights duplication of aridity.
I know that what I am asking for is difficult, and I know equally that no arrangement is going to satisfy everyone. But I still believe that a more rational solution could be arrived at, given the will and the machinery. I think also that the will and the machinery could well look at two irritations, irritations to a majority of viewers. First, repeats. I 1232 do not wish to attack repeats as such. Some are necessary; some are recognised as inevitable; some are desirable. I just think that we have too many.
My noble friend Lord Shepherd mentioned interviewers. This is a topic about which most people have strong views, and they are views damaging to the industry; and whichever lunch table I sit at I usually hear people who have something to say about interviewers of the previous night on television. No company and no organisation can do anything about the news interviewer who has lamentable taste and intrudes on grief or notoriety. He can of course be removed, but he has already committed the offence. This is not, I think, the major aspect. We have first-class interviewers. They must regret as much as we viewers those who damage their collective reputation. But what infuriates the public above all else is the interviewer who knows it all and who will not allow his unfortunate subject to get a word in edgeways; or the type, as my noble friend Lord Shepherd said, who insists on putting words into other people's mouths, when the questions are much longer than the answers ever have any chance of being.
Recently (I do not propose to identify further, but possibly other noble Lords will know to what I am referring) I saw a discussion between three distinguished people and an interviewer of international reputation. These three people had been asked for their opinion on important and related aspects of the matter under discussion. They were world figures. But the interviewer was not happy because he did not get the answers he so obviously wanted. So he kept on. It was not going to be sensational or good television, in his opinion, if things were developing smoothly or better than expected; if the trouble and bickering he had envisaged were not there. He got no change from his experienced visitors. But in the fade-out at the end he gave his version, and I honestly wondered why he had had the three distinguished visitors there at all. I may have been slightly unfair in those remarks, but I am quite sure the House will take the point.
Then there is something which is not the fault of the interviewer. When will T.V. organisations learn that two to three minutes, or even less, is no proper time 1233 for discussion and interview? How many times do we just get going on some topic of importance for which people have been invited when we hear the phrase—and we can all repeat it—from the person conducting the discussion, "I am sorry, we have to leave it there. Over to you XYZ"? I would ask the B.B.C. and the Independent Television companies to look at this area. It is up to them to put that right. It is not a problem for the interviewer.
May I now come very briefly to the ratings? We pay a licence for the B.B.C. programmes. Until we pay a similar one for Independent Television we cannot complain either of advertising breaks or of the ratings. Advertisers pay the I.T.V. licence money instead of we viewers, and advertisers are decided by the ratings. It is as simple as that. On advertising, I should like to pay a compliment to the control exercised by I.T.V. In my view, it is outstanding, and most people would agree that it is infinitely better than the control exercised by the Press. But what disturbs me—I do not know whether other noble Lords feel this—is that the B.B.C. has now been caught up in the ratings race. Why? And another disturbing factor which has emerged out of this ratings race is that this competition has produced, not variety, not alternatives, but similarity. So we get current affairs, old films, musicals, sports, all at the same lime on the main channels.
I am not suggesting that Independent Television pursues numbers to the exclusion of good television: that would be both nonsense and untrue. Obviously, however, I.T.V. must consider that ratings influence advertisers. But what is the B.B.C. after? This is what has been worrying me. Why should numbers be the objective of the B.B.C.? I think the tendency of the B.B.C. has been to try to get more viewers than I.T.V. has, and this tendency has over-reached itself for a public corporation not dependent on advertising. I feel that the more numbers are pursued on both main channels, the more isolated becomes the minority of viewers who want some alternative, rather than similarity. I believe that that minority is growing, and that it is growing because of this obsession with ratings.
Have the Government, or has the Minister responsible (who I appreciate is 1234 not the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham), have the television organisations, any idea of the size of this minority and the way it is developing?—a minority that believes that a public service corporation and a commercial one could work together to produce a balanced, competitive programme with an alternative choice where we have a reasonable share of peak-hour viewing for more serious programmes.
My Lords, I said at the beginning of my speech that I would try not to mention programmes of personal preference; but in conclusion, and in all fairness, I must. For my part, when I think of Lord Clark's "Civilisation", "The Power Game", "The Six Wives of Henry VIII", "Portrait of a Lady", "The Life and Times of Lord Mountbatten", "Softly, Softly," "The Forsyte Saga", "The Avengers" in their early series—when I think of what we are offered on opera, and on ballet; when I think of the World Cup, of Wimbledon, the Olympics, the Commonwealth Games, then I say, "Thank you" to television. I owe it an immeasurable debt for my pleasure, for my developing frontiers, and my education: and it is because of this debt that I want to see the best use made of what I consider to be the best television service in the world to-day.
§ 5.9 p.m.
§ LORD HARVEY OF TASBURGH
My Lords, in asking for your Lordships' customary indulgence, I should like to say that in my case it is no mere formality as I have little hope of matching the recent maiden speeches that have been made in your Lordships' House, or the quality of some of the speeches made this afternoon. In fact, on seeing the list of speakers I thought that such a wide range of wisdom and experience (and, I would now add, wit) would be most awe-inspiring to a newcomer to your Lordships' House. Nevertheless, the subject under discussion is so important, and one on which I feel so strongly, that I could not let slip this opportunity of saying a few words. For that I am most grateful to your Lordships, and in particular to the noble Baroness, Lady Emmet of Amberley, whose devoted work in the service of international relations I have admired for so long.
The point I should like to make is a simple one and in fact has been touched 1235 on this afternoon by one or two of your Lordships with more eloquence than I can command. The potency of the mass media as an instrument in the hands of Government needs no stressing. We have only to look back to Nazi Germany, when Goebbels' propaganda saturated the air, or to Soviet Russia to-day, where stability depends largely on keeping the populace misinformed, to understand how powerful is the strength of the mass media as a weapon in the hands of a totalitarian Government. Yet in these two instances the mass media are confined to radio and Press alone. How much more powerful is television—television which is far more influential than the Press and so much more burningly significant that there is hardly any comparison. That is the reason why in a television-orientated society such as our own I feel it is of such crucial importance that the principle of impartiality should be maintained.
The Press once had great political influence when it was the only purveyor of news to the public. This influence has now been considerably reduced. The newspapers to-day make no secret of their political bias, and I imagine that most readers can find a newspaper to suit their own particular opinion. In any case, there is a long tradition of correspondence, critical comment, cartoons and so on which make it difficult for the reader to be protected against being exposed to differing points of view. There is also the fact developed by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, that a newspaper can be kept and referred to later; and this again is a protection against its being able to get away with a totally misleading account of the events of the day.
With television the situation is rather different. With the authorities holding the ring, there are a number of programmes all claiming to be impartial, and I should have said that in the straightforward partisan sense of the word that claim was justified. At the last General Election my impression was that if in one week there was a tough interview with one Party leader combined with a soft one on his opponent, the next week the position would be reversed. The television bias does not lie along these lines. It is a much more subtle and more insidious one, and likely to affect attitudes to political issues in a way that can only be damaging 1236 to the functioning of our democratic system. It is to some extent shown by the issues chosen for discussion. These often seem to be questions over which there is no clear Party political line but rather an ideological division between Left and Right. For example, programmes dealing with the domestic affairs of another nation on which there is no British Party political standpoint are often coloured in this way, as are issues dealing with humanitarian and racial problems.
To give an example, a programme on American politics in 1970 was illustrated by scenes of the killing of four students at Kent State University, followed by an emotive appeal by the father of one of the students. Another programme dealt with Cambodia in a critical manner and was followed by an interview with antiwar activists. This monolithic view of American politics seems to be common among American commentators. It is rare that an administration spokesman is likely to have a chance to defend Mr. Nixon's policies or that there is a hint of a different logical and coherent point of view to which millions of Americans can subscribe.
The essence of democratic politics is dialogue, and those who passionately take sides on a burning issue, such at Vietnam or South Africa, must be given the opportunity—or face the experience—of arguing clearly and fully against an opponent equally free to present his views. In this sense, the bias of television is not so much political, favouring one Party as against another, as sensational or emotional. Clearly, the hitter words of the dead student's father had much more human impact than the reasoned explanation of a public official.
Perhaps South Africa is an even better example, where programmes seem to take for granted the inherent evil of apartheid and little attempt is made to present the South African point of view which, however mistaken it may be, clearly exists. This over-simplification, in the name of humanity—or perhaps of human interest—can only be damaging to the quality of our politics, and is aggravated by the absence of the continuing and critical comment that the Press provides.
Television in this country enjoys, rightly, a very high reputation for freedom 1237 from political control or Party bias, but there is this other bias, that of sensationalism and over-simplification, which could prove destructive precisely because of the high standard of impartiality which television enjoys. It is absolutely vital to make known to the public, through the medium of television, all sides of the complex and sometimes apparently remote problems that face the world—otherwise they will lose their freedom of choice and will see a considerable reserve of power going into the hands of a sincere but non-responsible élite.
My Lords, I realise that in attempting to say a few words on this large and complicated subject I myself am guilty of over-simplification but not, I hope, of sensationalism. I am grateful to your Lordships for your forbearance in allowing me to make a rather unsophisticated point, on which I hope my fears will be set at rest.
§ 5.19 p.m.
§ BARONESS ELLIOT OF HARWOOD
My Lords, it is a great honour to be the speaker following the noble Lord who has just made his maiden speech. Many of your Lordships will remember his father and the very distinguished career that he had in the Foreign Service, and we are delighted to welcome his son here on an occasion when he has made a very wise speech. As I listened to him, my mind went back to the days, twenty or thirty years ago, when dictators were present in Europe and the power of their monopoly of mass media was so great that the countries under them were overwhelmed by it.
It was at that time that the noble Lord's father was in the Foreign Office and, no doubt like many others, was warning the world of this particular danger. Alas! we heard it too late. But to be reminded again to-day by the noble Lord what a weapon the mass media can be in the hands of absolutely ruthless people is valuable: it is something which, in our free society to-day, I think we are apt to forget. We are in the fortunate position of not having to worry about bias or wrong usage of mass media—a battle which, even to-day, has to be fought in other countries where freedom of speech and freedom of the Press is not allowed. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Harvey of Tasburgh, will on many occasions take part in the 1238 discussions in this House. I am quite sure that, if he does, he will be able to make an excellent and wise contribution. I congratulate him very much on his maiden speech.
My Lords, it is not my intention to speak for long—in fact, it will be for only a few minutes. I want to make one or two comments on a subject which has only been touched on, and which I think is of importance. When I was Chairman of the Consumer Council, I remember very vividly the problems which arose quite often over the power of advertising, either in television or the Press. I am a strong supporter of advertising: it is vital to industry; it is vital to our lives, and at no point would I be against advertising. There is both good and bad advertising: some advertising is extremely good and some not so good. It is on this question of advertising that I would like to say a very few words.
When Independent Television started, there were a great many people who were very much afraid of commercial advertising on television. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, that these fears were unnecessary, since the way in which the Independent Television Authority managed its advertising arrangements was so good that it did not at any point worry us. Nevertheless, there have been occasions when the advertising of certain articles has perhaps been not quite as accurate, let us say, as one would like it to be. I remember very well some occasions when, for instance, the advertising of pharmaceutical products, or of cures for this or that complaint, was in question. I also remember occasions when advertising of goods—not any words in advertising in the newspapers—was perhaps not as accurate as one would have liked. That led one to be anxious that the descriptions of goods sold to the public should be extremely accurate.
That anxiety led, as we know, to the Trade Descriptions Act, which went through under the last Government, and has I think been enormously valuable in this field of description, so that the buyer, the consumer of goods, is not misled when buying an article. I wonder whether there is a case for considering whether this influence of the Trade Descriptions Act could be carried through to the advertising on the mass media, on the 1239 television and in other mass media. It has been suggested, and I only put it forward tentatively, that it might be a good idea to have a Council, similar to the Press Council, to which reference could be made of advertisements that were felt to be not up to standard. Just as we know that certain cases are referred to the Press Council, and dealt with by quite independent people on the Council, so it might be a good idea, when there is any question about advertising not being accurate, or of its being exaggerated, or not telling the public exactly the true facts about the goods the advertisers are trying to sell, to refer the matter to some other authority who could be consulted. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Burton, that this sort of case might arise only very seldom, but there were times in the course of my experience when I was working with the Consumer Council when such a reference would have been rather valuable. So I think it would be a good plan to consider having something in the nature of an Advertising Council, rather on the lines of the Press Council.
THE EARL OF ARRAN
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Baroness for one moment? There is in existence something called the advertising control of the Independent Television Authority.
§ BARONESS ELLIOT OF HARWOOD
My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right; but that is controlled by the television people. The people on such a Council as I propose would not necessarily be in television at all; they would be chosen as simple outsiders with a completely unbiased view. That was the point I wanted to make.
I agree very much with what both the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, said, and certainly what the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, said, about the great importance of the media we are talking about and about the great importance of ensuring that it reaches as high a standard as possible. There is one other point, not exactly a complaint, but one other comment, that I would make about the way in which certain programmes are presented. In order that people shall look at them and be attracted by them, very often the producers concentrate on the more violent aspects of a programme 1240 rather than on the interests of the programme itself. I am not myself in favour of great demonstrations, but it is a fact that demonstrations about particular subjects are sometimes justified. But when, in these demonstrations, people pick out photographs of people attacking policemen or behaving in a rough manner, and single them out as the events of the afternoon, it may completely obscure the fact that the incident shown was a very small issue; that there was very little violence during the demonstration, and that in fact there may have been a very good reason for the demonstration. I am not saying that I am particularly interested in encouraging demonstrations, but the example I have given is an illustration of the fact that you may lose the point of a thing by concentrating only on the violence.
What the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, said on the subject of students is a very good example. I entirely agree with him. I suppose that 95 per cent. of the students in this country are very law-abiding people, working extremely hard and very anxious to get their degrees. But very often the pictures of demonstrations are descriptions of a tiny percentage of violent students, and it is reported as typical of all our students. I am perfectly certain that it is not. I have a number of nephews at university to-day. They do not demonstrate at all. I once asked them why they did not do so and they said they did not get the time, that they were busy doing other things, learning or taking part in sport, and they could not be bothered with demonstrations. I am sure they represent the majority of the students in this country to-day, and that to give another picture concentrating simply on a very small proportion of the students gives a very false impression.
I was interested to hear the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, make the comment about trying to raise, or to keep up, the standard of both theatre and television, and to leave out some of the items on both which can and do shock people very much. I quite agree that this is not exercising any kind of censorship. We do not want any kind of censorship and we do not have any kind of censorship. But if public money is to be spent on things which shock people very much, I think it is quite right that there should be a group of people who 1241 would discourage public money being spent on these things. If people want these things, it is up to the commercial interests. Personally, I do not like it. There are people who want these things put on, and in a free society one must allow them so to do, but I welcome the suggestion that there might be cooperation between the Arts Council and the Government on the question of good taste and responsibility for public taste in productions in this country to-day.
I was interested when the noble Viscount mentioned the development of the small theatre, the small concert hall, the desire of small groups to do things for themselves—to act in or to write plays. I am sure that this arises directly from the interest which mass media brings to people who otherwise would not have opportunities for seeing, hearing and viewing matters which, in the old days, when we were young, would have been beyond our comprehension.
If one thinks of the era before the development of mass media, television and radio, one realises how infinitely restricted it was compared with to-day, and how incredibly fortunate we are to live in a world in which we can see great programmes. As the noble Baroness, Lady Burton, has just mentioned, there have been several great programmes on television which we have all been able to see. In this we are immensely fortunate. However, it is most important that our good fortune should not be abused, that we should not see a lowering of standards when the opportunity for raising standards is so great. Therefore, I greatly hope that as a result of this debate new ideas will come into the minds of those in charge of our mass media, and that we shall not see any lowering of the standards or of the freedom which we enjoy now and which I personally think is vital for the country to-day.
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ BARONESS BACON
My Lords, this is a very wide subject which we are discussing to-day, and consequently there is the temptation to roam in many fields. This is a sphere in which over the past few years there have been many changes and developments, and had this debate taken place 15 years ago I think it would have been an entirely different debate. 1242 To-day, we have fewer newspapers and there is the greater influence of broadcasting, particularly by way of television. Fewer newspapers means that power is concentrated in a few hands, with less competition. As we all know, there are to-day rumours of more amalgamations and closures. Over the last few years the News Chronicle, the Star, the Sunday Chronicle, the Sunday Dispatch, the Empire News, the Sunday Graphic and the Sunday Citizen have all closed down. Together they had a total readership of 22 million. Even with the newspapers which we have to-day there is a loss of profits. This is not only happening at national level but at provincial and local level; and in areas where we had two or three provincial newspapers some years ago, to-day we have only one, thereby creating a monopoly.
THE EARL OF ARRAN
My Lords, I must interrupt the noble Baroness. Is she suggesting that there are enormous profits forthcoming from the national newspaper? If so—
§ BARONESS BACON
No, my Lords; I said exactly the opposite. The noble Earl may not have heard me. I said that there was a loss of profits in those newspapers which were still in existence. That is what I actually said.
§ BARONESS BACON
My Lords, I said that there had been a loss of profits in some of the national newspapers that are in circulation to-day. That is what I said, and I think that is true.
TEE EARL OF ARRAN
I beg the noble Baroness's pardon. I thought she was saying that such profits, as it were, were in the pipeline and in the future. If she said that there have been losses, that is quite a different matter.
§ BARONESS BACON
My Lords, perhaps the noble Earl will read what I said in to-morrow's OFFICIAL REPORT. I think that the sphere of newspapers is one area in our national life where competition is a good thing. It would indeed 1243 be a sad day if we were to end up with two or three newspapers controlled by a handful of individuals.
We have to-day heard many criticisms—I will come to some of my own in a few moments—of some of the programmes on television and on radio, but particularly on television. Up till now in this debate the newspapers seem to have got off "scot free". I should like to remind the House of some things in our national newspapers that I deplore very much indeed. I do not want to talk about political bias or editorials or anything of that kind; but I think there is a tendency in the newspapers to-day, in addition perhaps to television, to publish articles by criminals and, in the publication of their life stories, to give the idea that criminals are heroes. I feel I ought to say that because television seems to have received all the criticism up till now. I do not know the answer to the problem facing our national and our provincial newspapers, but I think it is a serious problem to which we shall have to give a great deal of attention.
Now may I come to the expansion of television in recent years. To-day, television has tremendous audiences. The average amount of viewing by each member of the population is over fourteen hours a week, and the average amount of listening to B.B.C. radio by each member of the population is eight-and-a-half hours a week. Millions listen to some programmes. Even where the viewing interest is not so great, I think there is an instance in the BBC Handbook which illustrates the power of television to-day. The example given in the BBC Handbook is that 1 million people watched the opera Aida when televised from the the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. In terms of viewing audiences, 1 million is not a great number, but 1 million people watched Aida. This figure equals the attendance at 460 actual performances in the theatre. Since the Opera House opened in 1876, there have been 385 performances of Aida. Therefore, in that one programme on television more people saw that opera than in the whole history of the Opera House at Covent Garden. I think this illustrates perhaps better than anything else the tremendous power of television.
1244 I know that some people would argue that television has been a bad influence, that people watch instead of doing things. I believe that the advantages of television far outweigh any of the disadvantages. It brings the world into our own homes. We get the news as it happens. We all remember, a few months ago, sitting in our own homes and watching the destruction of the hijacked aeroplane standing in the desert. Television not only brings the world into our homes; in these days it brings the universe into our homes. A few years ago we should have thought it impossible for man to land on the moon. How much more impossible should we have thought that we could sit in our own homes and actually watch the event as it happened.
Then we have the current affairs programmes, the school programmes, and now the excellent programmes in further education and the Open University. There is a great deal of educational value in many programmes which are devised for entertaining. "The Six Wives of Henry VIII", "The First Churchills" and similar series have made the history books come alive. As the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, said, there has been a great demand for books of the stories that are serialised on television. I know that to-day there are a few inverted snobs who say that they have no television set, because in their homes they want to have intelligent conversation with their families. I must say that those who think in that way are really missing out, and their families are missing out, too.
But we must also admit that there are some undesirable things on television. A newspaper, as has been said in this debate, is a personal thing. One reads the newspaper, but television is for the family. In most homes in this country there is one general living room and, if the television is on, everybody watches. I know that what is acceptable to some families is not acceptable to others, and it is very difficult for the television companies to devise programmes suitable for everybody.
I think that the programmes for the tiny children are really excellent. There is a whole new series of fairy tales and fairy tale characters, and a tremendous amount of work must have gone into producing them. I am not so sure about some of the series for the older children, 1245 and I wonder what has happened to "Dr. Who" recently, because many children must have gone to bed and had nightmares after seeing the recent episodes.
A great deal has been said about violence on television. I suppose there will be violence on television, and not only in the actual programmes, for there is also a good deal of violence in the news these days, which I think is unavoidable. There is violence in the world, and it is inevitable that some of that violence will get on to the television screens. But I deplore sheer brutality on television; the kind of beating up that sometimes comes in some of the plays and serials. It is not necessary for there to be brutality to attract a wide viewing audience. We all know of series that do not depend on that kind of thing at all.
But what I believe is really bad on television—and it does not happen often—is bad taste. I will give three examples of what I consider to be bad taste. I think that these are all worse than sex or violence on television. I have no difficulty at all in recalling what I think was the worst possible interview on the television screen. It took place in the summer of 1969 in Northern Ireland at the height of the trouble in that country. A television interviewer—I forget whether it was B.B.C. or I.T.V.—stood with a microphone and a camera near at hand as children aged 8 to 10 came out of 1he schools, and those children were interviewed. I remember distinctly what was said. The interviewer said to a little boy, aged about 8 or 9, "What do you do when you see Catholic children? Do you throw stones at them? Why do you do that? Do you hate them? Do you not like them?" We then went on to a Catholic school, and the same questions were asked about Protestant children. This was breeding hatred, intolerance and violence in an area where there is already too much. That is worse than any frontal nudity or sex programmes that we have on television.
Then there are interviews with criminals and drug pedlars which make them appear as heroes. I regard this as bad taste. I also regard as bad taste the increase in books about homosexuality. I voted to reform the law on homosexuality. I voted to legalise homosexual 1246 acts in private between adult males, but I want it to remain in private, and it makes me squirm when I see men kissing and embracing on some of the prograrnmes on television in order to get laughs.
Mention has been made to-day about interviewers, particularly in political programmes. When politicians go on television they must, to a certain extent, be able to look after themselves. If I go on television I do not mind what questions are asked of me provided I am given the time and the opportunity to answer them and am not cut off or faded out in the middle. Where I think there is bad taste again is in regard to the interviewing of not well-known people but lesser known and unknown people. It may be that the man or woman who is being interviewed for some reason has never faced a camera or spoken into a microphone before. These very inexperienced people are sometimes made to say things which I am sure they must often regret after the interview is over.
I believe that, on the whole, competition between Independent Television and the B.B.C. has been a good thing, but I entirely agreed with my noble friend Lady Burton when she said that she wished that this competition gave the viewer a choice. She and I must have been thinking on similar lines, because I have written in my notes "'Panorama' and 'World in Action' and old films." It is a fact that there is no choice for the viewer to-day because the programme producers go for the same type of programme at the same time. "Panorama" is at the same time as "World in Action"; "Coronation Street" at the same time as "All Gas and Gaiters". Old films are shown at the same time; hymns on Sunday are at the same time; Sunday discussions are at the same time. I know it is a difficult problem to provide programmes, but this policy is very annoying to the viewer, who wants to have a choice.
Now I come to what I regard as very important at the present time, and that is the future of local radio. My noble friend Lord Shepherd, in opening, said that he would not say much about this to-day because we were awaiting the Government's White Paper. I have a hope—it may be a forlorn hope—that what we say to-clay may still influence 1247 what is in that White Paper. Local radio is comparatively new, and the Labour Government opened several of the 20 stations which have been planned. I know that some of the 20 have been opened since the General Election, but at the present time there is great uncertainty about their future. We are all wondering, and they are wondering, what is going to be in the White Paper. The 1970 Conservative Election Manifesto said:We will permit private enterprise radio under the general supervision of an independent broadcasting authority. Local institutions, particularly local newspapers, will have the opportunity of a stake in local radio, which we want to see closely associated with the local community.What is the present position? The local stations which have been in operation, even though for a very short time, have been tremendously successful—those at Leeds, Sheffield and Nottingham in particular. "Participation" is today an "in" word. Local radio is enabling the local community to participate in programmes in a way which is impossible on either a national or a regional basis. Since up to last June I represented Leeds in Parliament, I know a little about the Leeds local radio station. It has a weekly arts programme and a weekly musical programme, run by the arts and musical societies of Leeds. The noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, said to-day that young people were going out of the house, slamming the door and leaving their elders to watch television because the youngsters wanted to participate. In local radio they are participating. There are special programmes for schools with the pupils on the air. In Leeds there was a teenage week, ending with a council elected by the schoolchildren of Leeds holding a meeting in the actual Council Chamber at Leeds. During that week 1,000 teenagers broadcast on Leeds local radio and 20,000 helped behind the scenes. There are special programmes for the blind, for immigrants and for hospitals. There is a Saturday morning children's show, where children walk in and say anything they wish into the microphone. Indeed, the whole aim of Leeds local radio has been to encourage people to walk in and talk, and put their points of view. That is something which is very valuable and ought to be extended to the rest of the country.
1248 At the present time local radio is confined to V.H.F., but it is very popular in those areas where there is a local radio station, and people are coming to think of it as "our station". But what is going to happen? Are we still to have the 20 stations, or are they going to be sold to commercial interests? If they remain in the hands of the B.B.C., what about the other cities and towns? Are they to be allowed to have B.B.C. local radio stations, or are they going to have commercial stations? Commercial local radio is not like commercial television which is on a national and regional basis.
A very interesting booklet on local radio has been published to-day by the 76 Group. All the articles in it are by individuals working in broadcasting. They are not all pro-B.B.C.—indeed, some of the remarks they make will annoy some people in the B.B.C.—but all condemn local commercial radio. A point which is made, and with which I wholeheartedly agree, is that there can be local radio and there can be commercial radio, but there cannot be true local commercial radio. That is for the simple reason that commercial interests will want a market bigger than a single town, and it will be very difficult indeed for any commercial enterprise to run a local radio station in the way the Leeds local radio station is being run to-day.
A true local radio station is not one which operates in a town, playing all "pop" music and occasionally saying, "This is Radio Leeds", or "Radio Sheffield", or "Radio Nottingham". A local radio station must serve the community. There must be participation by the community, not forgetting minority interests, and I have grave doubts whether commercial radio can provide that. A few minutes ago I read an extract from the Manifesto of the Conservative Party, in which it was said that they were going to have commercial radio and give local interests, including local newspapers, an opportunity to buy shares. But we all know that local newspapers to-day have a monopoly in their own local areas and it would be monstrous if, in addition, we allowed them to take over the local radio. This must be watched very carefully.
This is a very useful debate on the use and misuse of the mass media and I 1249 join in the thanks and congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Emmet of Amberley, for initiating it. I do not want censorship in any way—I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, on that—but I believe that this debate will have been useful if it encourages the good and discourages the bad in our mass media of communication.
§ 5.54 p.m.
§ LORD GORE-BOOTH
My Lords, I am sure we are all most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Emmet of Amberley, for initiating this debate and for confronting us with what I think I would call the compliment of an impossible challenge. I think all of us who participate, and many of us who do not, have inside us a speech of at least an hour and a half. But we are all exercising a heroic self-restraint which I am sure will result in some suggestions arising from this debate which will be most useful, both to the Government and to the media of information themselves.
Owing to a number of matters arranged a long time ago, one of which was arranged about 60 years ago or more, I shall not be able to stay to the end of this debate and I apologise both to the noble Baroness and to the Minister who will wind up.
I should like to join with the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Harvey of Tasburgh, on his maiden speech. I do so both for the lucidity and for the courage with which, in talking to us for the first time, he went straight to the point of some problematic and sensitive matters. I also welcome him very warmly, personally, for his close connection with a very distinguished able colleague and a good personal friend. I hope that we shall often hear from him again.
I propose to direct myself mainly to points which concern the media and not very much to items which concern Government. But there were two points made earlier in the debate which concern Government on which I might allow myself a brief remark. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, suggested that it might be expedient if the expense of the B.B.C.'s World Service were to go on a Vote other than that of the Foreign and Commonwealth 1250 Office, because that might emphasise the genuine independence of the B.B.C. service. That is an interesting idea which deserves study. But it occurs to me that if this were made publicly very clear, it might give rise to the feeling that there were two Foreign Offices inside the Government, which might have a slightly equivocal effect.
On the other governmental point, there is the very difficult matter of using taxpayers' money for cultural manifestations which might be felt by a number of people to be objectionable. I assure your Lordships that this is a real question. At the time when I was still in Government there was a proposal to make a special grant to the production by a British company in a foreign city of a play by an author from another foreign country about the wickednesses, generally considered pornographic, of a citizen of a third foreign country. This is a real question over which a Minister must have liberty to have some authority. In case anybody is inquisitive, I may say that in the end the question did not arise because the resulting controversy caused the company to look elsewhere for money. I do not know whether they found it.
If I may now come to the points which I want briefly to discuss, they are in the main, first, the use by the media, or through the media, of information about our external affairs. This is a rather special problem on which a special word may be useful. I should like then to go on to a brief reflection on the matter of bias; and then, finally, to turn myself from a foreign affairs specialist into the ordinary citizen and mention at least two points on which I think there is a relationship between the media and the ordinary citizen which is less good than it ought to be, and which it is in the power of the media to correct.
But first, just as the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, paid her tribute to the standard of our best television programmes, with which I should like to associate myself, I should like to pay my own tribute as a former public relations officer to the great corps of Press and other correspondents. We realise something of their enterprise and we sometimes resent their inquisitiveness, but what we do not always recognise is their extraordinary endurance and the hours and hours of boredom which they 1251 have to endure waiting for a non-story; and the fact that there in that profession is great, quiet heroism, as well as the things we do not like so much. I should also like to say that, during the four years when I was a public relations officer, no member of the Press ever betrayed a confidence which I gave to him or her.
If I may define the basis of external relations, I would say that it is a knowledge of what has happened, an understanding of what is happening and a sound judgment of what may happen. External policy has to be conducted all the time by Ministers and civil servants against a background of an age which is getting very much used to things being instant. There is a demand for instant news, instant action and instant reaction, and then an instant decision on the instant reaction. These two manifestly contradict each other very much. The question is, how to put to the public the essence of the rather slower and more thoughtful process which really is necessary if one is to understand as well as conduct our external affairs.
This situation has a curious effect on one's judgment of the media as they are now, because on the whole it makes radio more relevant than television, and it makes the considered article in the newspaper or the periodical more reliable than the news flash or the television programme. This is because, of course, one is resisting not only the tyranny of the instant but also the tyranny of the visual. The problem is that, as at present understood and practised, television is bound to concentrate on the dramatic and the photogenic, and that is not always the essence of the situation around the world. But the medium is, so to speak, the master of its practitioner in this respect, and I felt very strongly for the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, when he described his own feelings at the presentation of the crisis in Nigeria at the time when he was a Minister and I was doing my best to assist him.
Like other speakers, I have a wish to avoid quoting favourite or unfavourite programmes, but I am going to make one exception. I should like to award my private Oscar in this respect to the B.B.C. programme, "From our own Correspondent". In that programme an experienced correspondent resident on the spot 1252 —and I include the diplomatic correspondent—is given five minutes in which to develop his thought, his summary of a local situation or a current crisis; in five minutes you really can give people a balanced, a real judgment of what is happening—a judgment in respect of which a person can then go away and say that at least in that small part of our foreign relationship he understands from an expert what is happening, and why. I feel much sympathy with the noble Baroness, Lady Bacon, who objected to this habit of cutting off that kind of thing on television after, say, a couple of minutes of confrontation or interrogation. The kind of programme that I have mentioned is so much superior to that. I think it is going to be the task of those who manage television to see whether they cannot contrive not the same sort of programme as "From our own Correspondent" but something which at least gives people with a respected knowledge of a particular country or of a particular situation a little more time to develop a view before that develops itself into a discussion.
Then, my Lords, that takes one naturally to the great problem of bias. Like other noble Lords, I do not intend to analyse that in great depth, because, as the noble Lord, Lord Harvey, said, it is a very subtle and difficult problem. But perhaps it would help if I just quoted an incident on how bias can arise—and it is entirely topical. When the first news came of certain operations which we still do not know about probably in NorthWestern Vietnam and possibly on Laotian territory, the immediate reaction was to call this an invasion of Southern Laos. That territory, which hangs like a sort of Christmas stocking between most of Cambodia and most of South Vietnam, has been under invasion by the North Vietnamese for six years, and the intention of some people with strong views on this subject, of course, would be to conceal those six years within the use of this word in the present context, as though the "invaders" were the people who had been there for two days, if they were there at all, and not the people who had been there for six years. That is a classic analysis of how bias arises; and I am glad to say that, by and large, the media, having begun with the word "invasion", have toned it down to use words like 1253 "offensive" or "operation", or whatever it may be, instead of the word "invasion". I quote that, not as an accusation against anybody but simply as a classic case of a possible bias arising in the whole presentation of a particular incident.
That takes me on to points on which, as an ordinary citizen, I think that the media may do a little more to help us to appreciate them and also to help society. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, mentioned, for instance, the common occurrence by which you read a headline and then find the article does not say what the headline says it is going to say. He took, I think, a slightly lighthearted view of this, as indeed one has to, because it happens so often. I have asked editors frequently, "Can you control this? Why does it happen?" It seems to me to be professionally slovenly. I am always told, "No—the headline is put on later by a different person in a hurry, and we cannot help it". I really must insist that if a Government Department were asked that question and came out with an answer of that quality, they would be chased out of their skins in your Lordships' House and in another place, and more especially in the Press. One really must insist that in this day and age there should be a conscious effort to solve this problem which is so widespread in the Press. One knows, of course, that the headline is an eye-catcher; and one knows the difficulties. But standards are standards, and I am sure that something could be done about this if there were real pressure.
The other point is a more serious one, and it refers to the problem of selection, to which many noble Lords have referred this afternoon. I think that many ordinary members of the public get disturbed, if not even further irritated, by what I would call selective indignation. We are all tremendously indignant in the Press, on the radio and on television about snobbery, and I am sure all your Lordships join in this very heartily. There is no harm in this; it is very fashionable: so a great crusade against snobbery goes on all the time. Now this is not a really very serious thing to be indignant about, and I should like to see indignation about some things on which it is not so fashionable to be indignant.
1254 I should like to see a little more indignation about what I would call "thievery", and I would venture to tell your Lordships a little story to explain why. I am not being indignant about this because I happen to have lost by this process a certain number of objects of high sentimental value. I bring it up because I was in a small radio shop about a week ago and a young lady of clearly no particular affluence came in and said: "Do you happen to have a second-hand radio, because our flat was burgled last Friday night?" The man behind the counter said, "Join the club—we were burgled last night". These were two honest people, not privileged at all, and the fact that I happened to hear that conversation must mean that there are thousands of people all round the country who are hearing similar conversations.
This country, my Lords, is getting a really terrible reputation in this respect. This is not Robin Hood stuff: this is skilfully, professionally organised greed, at the expense of people who cannot afford to have greed organised against them. I should like to see a little more indignation about that kind of thing, which perhaps it is not fashionable to be indignant about. I know it is important to try to discover the fundamental causes why diese things happen; but, none the less, they are bad things. So I should like to appeal to the media to make sure that we do not have selective indignation but that an attempt is made to castigate not just some of the things but all of the things which need getting after if society is to improve itself.
That brings me to my last point. Of course the organs of publication, whether they be radio, television or newspapers, are in a state of very considerable competition, and there is therefore no particular inducement for any of them to be modest about its attainments. You cannot expect too much of this, but precisely because these organisations are the only means of publication, naturally if any of them has a weakness there is nobody to announce it or spread it abroad, or even to criticise it, because, clearly each organisation will not criticise itself unduly. I should like to think that, just occasionally, the organs of publicity would feel able not to indulge in the sort of early-Communist-period type of public confession, which is 1255 nauseating, but in a little self-criticism so that the public could feel that that process does, in fact, go on inside them. I have heard that in one famous daily newspaper there is a meeting every morning under the title of "What was 'lousy' about yesterday's edition'?" I hope that this is true; and if so, I think that we should know about it: it would give us a little more feeling that the people who handle these things are human about themselves as well as about us.
My Lords, perhaps I may conclude on this basis. When I was doing a public relations job I used to have a perpetual reminder over my desk in the form of a cartoon which depicted a very fierce senior officer obviously rebuking a very "small-beer" public relations junior officer. Underneath it was written: "There's no reason for it, I tell you. Its just our policy!" That was my warning; and I should like to feel that in these organisations, over the desks of everybody who has any responsibility, there was the Cromwellian saying which we all know well:I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, to think it possible that ye may be mistaken.
§ 6.11 p.m.
§ LORD AUCKLAND
My Lords, my noble friend Lady Emmet of Amberley has given the House the opportunity to debate constructively a matter of vital contemporary importance. It is a subject which is frequently commented upon idealistically, and exaggerated viewpoints are made public particularly with reference to the permissive society. I have a marginal interest to declare in this subject as a director of a very small firm of management consultants specialising in the art of communication with commerce and industry, and also, in another sense, as a trustee of a repertory theatre to which I shall refer in a moment.
The nub of the whole question seems to me to be this. Are the mass communication media responsible for the very small portion of the citizens of this country who indulge in acts of violence, stupidity and crime, or is this due, as I believe it is, to lack of parental and home control? The mass media are blamed for a number of things. We have had examples this afternoon of selective interviewing. I can give one example complementary to that of the noble Baroness, Lady Bacon. I was 1256 in Northern Ireland last August and I happened to be in the Falls Road area, with its appalling slums, so often the scene of fighting. What the mass media do not show is the fact that a quarter mile away from the Falls Road some quite considerable housing schemes are being implemented. I concede that these are probably a drop in the ocean in relation to what is needed; but all too often the other side of the coin is only half turned up, if turned up at all. This seems to me to be an example of where the mass media fall down on their job. It was Saint Augustine who said:It is better to doubt what we do not know than to insist on facts that are not proven.There are a number of ways in which the mass media can be the subject of misuse. We have heard of misleading advertising which sometimes leads to what are, technically inaccurate claims; but consumer legislation enacted by both the main political Parties has largely overcome this—and housewives, contrary to what some people think, are not stupid people. As has been pointed out in a number of speeches, one observes the over-publicising of militant students, militant trade unionists and so on; one sees the fighting, the militant and irresponsible side of it; but one sees all too little of the highly-responsible students, the highly-responsible trade unionists, school teachers and others. These are the kind of people who, in any case, would not wish to be highlighted.
Television is to-day the main item of mass media communication and we have had examples of many of the programmes shown: educational programmes, historical programmes, and so on. I would mention also some excellent communication programmes showing how management works, how industry is run, how there are consultative discussions between management and the shop floor. There is one particularly admirable programme on exports—a word of which we hear a great deal. It is shown just after lunch on a Sunday. I refer to the programme "Made in Britain", which shows how a great many firms, in this country, small and large, export their goods. It is shown clinically—shall I say?—and occupies a very brief period of time. That is the kind of programme which the mass media do extremely well.
1257 My Lords, I turn to radio. I am one of those who on many occasions likes to listen to radio; I like to hear the spoken word as well as to look at pictures. I would nominate two broadcasters as outstanding to-day: Alistair Cooke and Andrew Cruickshank, two masters of the Queen's English. I think that the Alistair Cooke broadcasts, in both content and intonation, are an example to all, and certainly a contrast to the rather slovenly speech that one hears too often to-day. Who can fail to be lulled, perhaps into a sense of sublimeness, by the voice of Andrew Cruickshank?—particularly when he is taking part in a religious programme. In these days of progress and technology—to which I subscribe as much as anyone—I believe that there is still time to listen to the quiet, restrained voice of people such as these,
It has been said that the theatre has been overtaken by television as a means of mass media communication. But has it? I believe that a good play can still bring in a large audience; and the repertory theatre at Leatherhead, where I live, is an example. We play to audiences which average a 92 per cent. capacity. And why?—because there is a very wide and discriminating choice of play and a high quality of production. People will leave their television sets to obtain entertainment and instruction from other types of mass media. I do not wish to sound anti-television—far from it. All I wish to stress is that there are other means, and very advantageous means, of mass media, than the television screen. I believe that there is no better means of involvement than the theatre. Take a play like R. C. Sheriff's Journey's End, perhaps one of the finest plays of all dealing with the subject of war. I saw this at the old Leatherhead Theatre and I felt almost personally involved in the play. It was the essence of efficient communication. It will be a sad day if the theatre, and particularly the small repertory theatre, disappears. Not all of us live in London or one of the other big cities and many people go to the small theatres for entertainment and for education.
Finally, my Lords, there is the gramophone, a medium which has not yet been mentioned in this debate. The sale of gramophone records is still on the increase; not only records of popular music, 1258 as it is called, but also of classical music. There are times when we like to shut ourselves off from international affairs, from violence and from all one might call matters of news, and to listen either to a fine speaking voice from the stage, recorded on a gramophone record, or to one of the splendid choral works or a symphony; or, indeed, to what one might call light romantic music. This is still very much in evidence. I hope one thing will emanate from this debate: that while we must progress with technology and the computer age, there will still be time to listen to the great voices of the past, both in music and also in drama.
§ 6.23 p.m.
§ LORD GOODMAN
My Lords, I must apologise to the House for speaking at a relatively late stage in the debate, and without having attended to hear the earlier speeches, but I was engaged on public duties and had not the opportunity of doing so. In fact, it was not my intention to speak in this debate, except that I received—it was a very courteous gesture—an extract from the speech which the Minister for the Arts proposed to make which made reference to the Arts Council; and this suggested to me that it would be appropriate if I said a few words. I do not intend to make a long speech, and I am sure your Lordships will be heartened to hear that. There are 19 more speakers to come, and I think it will require noble Lords with a very special passion for the subject to assimilate more than 19 speeches on the subject.
Also, if I may say so to the noble Baroness who introduced the debate, and did so most valuably, there is a slight danger in its very wide character as a Motion; because we are likely to receive generalisations, and on a topic such as this there is nothing more dangerous than generalisations. It is the detail that matters, not generalisations, and that is really what I want to talk about.
Perhaps, my Lords, I ought to declare an interest, but if I started to declare all the interests I might have relating to this particular theme, you would indeed be in fear of a speech lasting for some hours. All I will say is that at the moment I speak as Chairman of the Arts Council: I have other incidental interests which would be relevant to this debate. As Chairman of the Arts Council I should 1259 like to touch on one particular theme; but first I would say that I understand there was an objection that an observation made by the noble Viscount, the Minister for the Arts, the Paymaster General, in his speech was in some sense politically inspired. It is not necessary for me to pay tribute to the Minister for the Arts. I, of course, have had a very special, almost a unique, opportunity of observing his activities, and it would be wrong if I did not say this. He has now been controlling our activities for some months, and I have never detected in what he has done anything remotely related to the faintest tincture of political animation. I think it would be absolutely wrong if I did not start by making that observation, as one who is uniquely placed to make it.
The second remark I should like to make is this. We have had certain discussions on a theme which I think legitimately exercises the Minister's mind. It would be wrong to say that we have seen totally eye to eye on this exceptionally difficult matter; but I believe that it would be a very sad day if the Minister for the Arts and the Chairman of the Arts Council saw eye to eye on every particular subject. The point of having a Minister is that he can invest us with a new direction and bring to our notice matters which we may have omitted to notice when we are operating so close to the ground. But there is no doubt that the question of the control, the purported control, of artistic and creative activities is one of such exceptional difficulty that it should be approached with the greatest reserve and caution.
I think it right to see the area in which we are involved because I believe that one may exaggerate the extent of this problem. At the Arts Council I receive, I should think, not more than six letters a year from people complaining that one or other of our activities is, in their view, obscene, or indecent, or pornographic. It is very rarely, I may say, that there is not some basis for what is written in the letter. Nearly always, when I receive a letter, my intention is to write a fighting reply. When I send for the file on the matter almost invariably it becomes extremely difficult to provide a fighting reply. I should like to give one instance which I was proposing to submit to some magazine that has literary competitions 1260 inviting the readers to suggest the sort of reply which might be furnished in the circumstances, because I could not think of one.
This was the case of an extremely progressive and most valuable theatre which had decided to put on, for the attendance of children, a play which hitherto had been presented for adults—a perfectly proper and highly appropriate activity. But for the purpose of the children's production they had decided to salt the play with a number of obscenities that did not appear in the adult version. I should like to invite the readers of the New Statesman, or some other literary magazine, to supply the Chairman of the Arts Council with a defensive reply that he could send in respect of that particular operation.
The other side of that coin is that when I dipped my pen in vitriol in order to write a letter to the organisation concerned—and indeed we wrote a very forthright and fighting letter—the reply came that there had been no complaint from any parent of any child who attended.—This I think is a highly relevant consideration. We have to remember the audiences with which we are dealing and the circumstances in which these productions are presented. We have to remember that, whatever our views may be on this matter (my views are very simple: my favourite author is Jane Austen, and undoubtedly my favourite dramatist is the late William Shakespeare), the fact that we may have rather simple tastes does not mean that they are universally shared.
Invariably, my Lords, when I go to the theatre to-day to what may be called an avant garde play, I observe a very startling phenomenon. I am invariably shocked—my hair stands on end more than it normally does—but I observe that while what is being said is, to me, highly shocking, no such reaction is produced on any other member of the audience. I look to the left and to the right, and I see that they accept with absolute composure what are, to me, highly disagreeable utterances. I was brought up in a household where it was absolutely wrong to use even such a mild word as, "bloody". I never heard that word used within the confines of my home. Yet I find myself sitting through plays in which the most vigorous physiological 1261 obscenities are uttered, minute by minute, by every character, and I find that I am completely attuned to them. They no longer strike me as being in any way startling or unusual, or as having some special feature.
It is clear that, with habit, practices can change. But is it necessarily the case that in more repressive societies one necessarily has the better morality? I have a recollection that in the home town of the Mahdi, the gentleman who got involved with General Gordon, there was the agreeable position that any kind of marital infidelity was punished by death. Yet I do not think that people searching for the most moral community in the world would have chosen that particular one. It has always been presented to the world as an instance of hideous immorality. So it is necessary for us to reflect very carefully before we embark on changes in areas which are extraordinarily delicate and difficult. It would be absolutely wrong, as the Paymaster General said, to use public money for public corruption. As a simple axiom, this cannot be the subject of dispute. But how can one operate this? The circumstances in which one decides that activities are corrupt present problems of great difficulty.
The noble Lord, Lord Gore-Booth, made reference to a situation which apparently in his professional diplomatic life he found difficult. A play was to be presented which might be an affront to some other Power. My feeling about this is that the best way to avoid these difficulties is to disentangle the Government totally from any such activities. The Government should never have to feel that they have a responsibility for a play that is being presented. They should feel that if it does not infringe the law of the land, if it does not come within the Official Secrets Act or the Obscenity Act, its presentation is not a Governmental responsibility.
§ LORD GORE-BOOTH
My Lords, I think the difficulty was the additional one that, as the play was becoming published, the particular presentation might be considered in the country where it was going to be presented as a specimen representative of British culture, and many people felt that in that respect it would be unfortunate. That was an additional complication.
§ LORD GOODMAN
My Lords, I would not dispute that there may be exceptional circumstances. Obviously, people should be discouraged from presenting particular plays in particular places. I should not myself regard a presentation of The Merchant of Venice as the wisest play for the National Theatre to take to Tel Aviv. But this is clearly a matter of individual choice. The principle I am trying to establish is that the more remote the Government get from these activities; the more they proclaim their determination not to become involved, the less likely they are to be subject to embarrassment on that score.
It is a problem of great difficulty. I do not wish to detain your Lordships, but this is an important topic which we debate rarely, and there are one or two things that I should like to say. In the Arts Council we set up a working party to investigate the obscenity laws, and I may say that it was a salutary experience to see how it developed. We called together a conference of many people concerned with writing, publishing and literary matters, and I presided. I recommended strongly that the one thing the working party should not do was to recommend the total abolition of the obscenity laws, on the practical ground that nobody was going to abolish them. Nothing could have acted as a greater encouragement to the working party than that admonition, for their report emerged as a forthright recommendation that all the obscenity laws should be abolished. We received a very cogent and splendidly written report, demonstrating that, in the view of the working party which prepared it, the obscenity laws were inappropriate, served no useful purpose and in fact were positively vicious. We read the report and it is fair to say that we did not go all the way with it. Obviously it made a prima facie case, but we felt that this was a matter which needed a good deal more evidence to be adduced.
Much importance was attached to the fact that in Denmark the abolition of the obscenity laws was alleged to coincide with a material decline in convictions for sexual offences. I must confess that I found this a little difficult to credit. It may be the case in Denmark, but I find it difficult to square this with the fact that in many grave cases of sexual 1263 offences in this country part of the evidence adduced is that the man convicted was in possession of a considerable quantity of obscene literature. It is difficult to square that fact with the belief that the abolition of the obscenity laws and more easy provision of obscene literature would produce fewer sexual offences. In any event, my Lords, the report was a serious and mature contribution to the discussion. The Council decided that we would not adopt the report but would send it to the Home Secretary and ask him to have a look at it, to see whether it was appropriate to set up a fuller investigation to take wider evidence on a wider front. Nothing has happened in the matter.
It is my view that the premature abolition of the obscenity laws would cause difficulties not envisaged by the working party. Their thoughts naturally turned to what one might call serious literature. I do not believe that if the obscenity laws were abolished in respect of the publications of serious and responsible publishers, anyone would come to any harm. But what they had forgotten was that there are large areas of potential danger elsewhere—even, for instance, in the newspapers, of which I can speak with a little authority.
My Lords, I do not think that anyone seeing the newspapers of to-day would say that it was wise to abolish the obscenity laws and leave everyone the right to publish what he liked in newspapers which appear on everyone's table without any thought of control or any sort of regulation. Certainly it could not be wise to do it without grave and mature thought, and with rather more deliberate calculation than our Committee had been able to give. I mention this as the sort of difficulty to which this problem gives rise, and I again emphasise the desirability of making sure that the problem is not accentuated by premature action. It is a small problem. The Arts Council subsidises some 70 repertory theatres. The complaints received amount to about six letters a year, and no more. It is evident that the problem is not merely trifling but almost insignificant as a serious aspect of the work we have to do. That is not to say that it ought to be ignored, but it certainly should not be exaggerated.
1264 I should like to say a word on one other topic with which we are enormously concerned in connection with broadcasting in general. There is, I think, a much more important matter to be considered than the question of pornography and obscenity. There is, I believe, a view spreading that programmes should be presented according to the whim and desire of the producer, without any serious or special regard to the truth of the matters that are being presented. These are not being presented to the public as something which is casual or haphazard or accidental. It is a deliberate trend of opinion to-day, quite deliberate and honourable, which says that the presentation of a matter according to the viewpoint of a particular individual is defensible and should be permitted, provided that an opportunity is given for an alternative point of view to be presented at some other time. I regard this as both nonsensical and dangerous. I do not think that we can abrogate truth because later someone may be given an opportunity to nail the lie. As I say, I regard this doctrine as both nonsensical and dangerous; I think it is a preposterous doctrine to enunciate. I have had an opportunity of expressing my views in correspondence on the subject. But it is a fact that this view is widely spread, and it is a growing point of view.
This same view is associated with another point of view which is equally dangerous, and that is a spurious claim for liberty. There is of course a claim for liberty to express a man's view on a particular subject, but that claim becomes something else if it becomes a claim for the liberty to express views presented in whatever form he chooses to present it, so that, however vulgar, however cheap, however gross or however stupid the presentation may be, the author of this presentation argues that it should not be stopped and he should not be controlled because that would be an interference with his personal liberty. My Lords, there is no liberty of any kind to violate the public screen with presentations of a vulgar, gross, coarse, and repulsive character. This is an unknown liberty, and the claim that is now being made for it is an unknown claim that should not be encouraged.
To conclude, I believe that the value of this debate is that the views of wise 1265 and informed people will go out to tell those who are responsible for presenting their productions on these media in what fashion and to what extent we think they should have better programmes and better presentations to conduce to a better world. I believe that if we realise that the effective way of achieving what we want is by persuasion, and not coercion, we shall have achieved something of great value.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ BARONESS GAITSKELL
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Emmet, deserves our gratitude for initiating this important debate. First of all, I must declare an interest, in that I am a member of the board of Yorkshire Television. Then I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Harvey, on his maiden speech: I hope that we shall hear him often in the future.
This is a vast subject, and despite the admonitions of my noble friend Lord Goodman I am afraid I shall be a little general and not always speak in detail. I will limit myself, however, to challenging some of the myths that the mass media during this technological explosion have incurred or created for themselves, and if I appear didactic or dogmatic it will be in the interests of brevity. I believe that a healthy democracy is insatiable for diverse means of communication, constantly seeking information and enlarging our experience.
It is not surprising that television, the most recent medium, should inspire a certain wonder and reverence in us. The very fact that kings and "pop" stars, Prime Ministers and actors are scrambled together on the screen, really shakes up our social values. I believe that the influence of television has been much exaggerated. This is not to denigrate its power: I do not wish to do that. The most exciting thing about television is that it has made life much more interesting and entertaining, extending our vision in the most marvellous way.
I am concerned here to touch on the presentation of news, where television competes with the Press—that is, television journalism. The television medium deals in crude visual headlines, thriving on action pictures. Ideas and 1266 intellectual arguments are better tackled in newspapers, despite such programmes as "Panorama" and "World in Action", good as they often are. The B.B.C. are expected to be neutral; but to be neutral does not always add up to being objective. Here I should like to quote a sentence or two from the speech of Sir Hugh Greene, when he said:In talking about the B.B.C.'s obligation to be impartial I ought to make it clear that we are not impartial about everything. There are, for instance, two very important exceptions. We are not impartial about crime … nor are we impartial about race hatred.Seeing is believing, my Lords, but seeing is not always understanding. It is not surprising that in South Africa there is no television.
Television has not supplanted books, newspapers, et cetera, but has stimulated a greater interest in all other media, including the theatre, music and the arts generally, particularly in the expansion of new plays by young playwrights, because it costs a great deal of money to put on a play on the stage and it does not cost quite so much to put it on television. Television produces instant feeling and emotion, and, no matter how ephemeral this may be, it demands from those who work in it a great responsibility, integrity and fairness. Personally, I have found a great awareness of this sense of responsibility towards the public among many of those who work in television, and this in spite of some of the abuses in the medium which have already been mentioned, such as the seeking out of violent action and excitement and the exaggeration of it. I feel that television will eventually free itself from the traditions of the less reputable Press reporting. After all, television has not succumbed to the gossip writing of certain newspapers.
I should like to mention two fields in which television has not succeeded in influencing opinions. I am told that there is a great deal of religious broadcasting on television and radio, but it does not seem to have increased church attendance. Both the B.B.C. and the Independent Television Authority have, to their credit, taken a liberal attitude on race relations and problems connected with this subject. Yet they have not had any great effect on the prejudice which exists in this country or on changing the attitudes of people 1267 to race. Television, for all its power, does not seem capable of doing this. As my noble friend Lady Burton of Coventry suggested, there seems to be no reason why in the future this should not be done.
So far the advent of television, though it has injured the circulation of some newspapers, has not been able to do what newspapers do. The fact that the competition of television has made the position of some newspapers extremely bad is due to what is known as the lunatic economics of the Press, with its subservience to advertising and its monopoly structure. We get our newspapers too cheaply in this country, though even a rise in price for some newspapers would not save them. There is much talk these days about the vulnerability of the Guardian and the Daily Mail. I should be extremely sorry to see either of those newspapers go out of circulation.
Ideas for saving the Press have been advanced, including Government action or taxes on advertising. Government action is always interpreted as Government control. I personally do not see that these two are the same thing. Something needs to be done, because a further dose of monopoly in newspapers is not healthy for democracy: and it is not individuals who decide which newspapers shall survive but the big advertisers. We cannot disinfect our mass media and make them bias-free. One of the good developments of reflective journalism is the spread of the investigation in depth into society's problems, started, I believe, by the present Editor of the Sunday Times and now spreading through all the other Sunday and daily papers. This lifts journalism on to a better and more serious plane.
I should now like to say a word or two about the fears on the permissive society that have been quite genuinely expressed. Both the B.B.C. and Independent Television have reasonable and strong codes on violence, sex and morality generally. They are well aware of the objections expressed on the subject, because, after all, the public are their clients, so to speak. They would, however, as I should myself, like some definite proof of the effect of showing these things on television. Scientific proof seems either lacking or disputed. I have heard audiences, when questioned on the evil 1268 effects of scenes with violence, put the effects of violence third place after sex and bad language. I am very much opposed, for several reasons, to the kind of propaganda promoted by Mrs. Whitehouse. She assumes that the public is more vulnerable and can more easily be corrupted by scenes of this kind than she herself is. It is a condescending attitude to morality and shows that she has not caught up with the electronic environment. She claims a consensus for her views which I do not believe exists—though I must say, my Lords, I found distinct echoes of it in the debate to-day from noble Lords on the other side. Goodness knows!, there was enough hypocrisy and corruption in the previous industrial environment. To-day we have much freer speech about morality. Television reflects this freedom. When we examine the social effects of all the uses of literacy, we need to examine our own opinions at the same time.
In conclusion, my Lords, may I say that I am in favour of more newspapers and more television. May I end also, on a slightly frivolous note. I read in the Advertising Quarterly that the average male can identify a shapely nude in a hundredth of a second, though it may take him one-tenth of a second to recognise his favourite brand of cigarettes. When we speak of democracy, taste and pleasure, we have to take note of that bit of research. Mr. Rupert Murdoch has taken note. I do not read the Sun, but he has put in a blow for democracy, which is not the genteel, cloistered mass of human beings that noble Lords opposite have painted but a much more robust and even dangerous body of people.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, may I ask her a question? Did I understand her to say that Mrs. Whitehouses's morals have net caught up with the electronic environment? I cannot attach any meaning to that, but perhaps the noble Baroness will say what she means.
§ BARONESS GAITSKELL
Well, my Lords, a lot of us have not really caught up with the facts of electronic environment. Although I do not pretend to understand Marshall McLuhan when he says that the medium is the message, that actual phrase, if one really reflects on 1269 it, is true. It is a different society to-day from what it was 20, 30, 50 or 100 years ago. We have much freer speech; we discuss things much more openly. All the things that we discuss happened in the Victorian age, but nobody spoke about them and a lot of people pretended that they did not exist.
THE EARL OF ARRAN
My Lords, may I also ask the noble Baroness a question before she sits down? She spoke enthusiastically about the Sunday Times.
§ BARONESS GAITSKELL
My Lords, I think I can explain, but perhaps it would be wiser for me to explain it privately to the noble Earl.
§ 6.56 p.m.
§ LORD FULTON
My Lords, in rising to speak on what has been described as both an interesting and a vast subject, I should explain that for five years, which ended last September, I was a Governor and, for most of that period, Vice-Chairman of the Board of Governors of the B.B.C. As such, I have been, since joining your Lordships' House, precluded because of the Addison Rules from speaking on debates in this place about the Corporation's affairs. My period of office is so recently over that I think I should best conform to the spirit of the rules by refraining from commenting in detail, even if there was time, on the many points raised in the debate which have touched on the responsibilities of the B.B.C.
There have been a number of criticisms and many words of praise. I feel sure that the Corporation will take due note of the former and will be encouraged by the latter. The B.B.C., under its Charter, has as its object to provide a public service of broadcasting for general reception at home and overseas—I repeat, general reception at home and overseas. A term so wide in its reference as, "a public service of broadcasting" has inevitably been developed and interpreted over the period of nearly 50 years since the B.B.C. received its first Charter. That development has taken place under the 1270 influence of the great figures who have moulded its history. We would wish to mention, in particular, the Member of your Lordships' House, the noble Lord, Lord Reith, to whom the Corporation and the nation owe a debt which should never be forgotten.
Before and after the arrival of television, the work of the Corporation as a public service has had three chief components: information, education, and entertainment. No doubt the 1970s will have their own debate upon the meaning of "public service broadcasting", but it can be fairly safely predicted that the concept of public service broadcasting will continue to include the vital constituent of independence; and, equally certainly, another essential component, the mix between information, education and entertainment, will be debated again and again in the years ahead.
The fortunes, financial and otherwise, of the Corporation have their ebbs and flows. But in relation to to-day's debate, for which we have to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Emmet of Amberley, on the use and misuse of the mass media, what the Corporation has to show is that, as a result of its work over a period of time, the people of this country—and not only some part or element among them—are better informed, better entertained, and more generally enriched in their individual and social lives than they would otherwise have been. No doubt we all have our favourites and anti-favourites who appear for a season on the air, or on the screens in our homes. But who can doubt that in the lifetime of most present Members of your Lordships' House radio and television have opened up possibilities of new and richer experience which only the visionary of 1927 could have foreseen.
It would be possible no doubt to defend this statement at length, and in doing so to pay tribute to other forces which have been at work in their own provinces. All I will say now is that in the period of my working life among young people there has been a revolutionary change (if I may employ that over-used term) in the spread throughout our society of the appreciation of music. The evidence is there to see in the concert halls of our great cities, and in the widening opportunities, which radio, in particular, has developed, of listening, even in the heart 1271 of the country, to performances by leading world artists of the great works of music.
I would argue, too, that we as a people have opportunities to be vastly better informed to-day about our world and domestic affairs than our predecessors had in their time, and that broadcasting deserves a large share of the credit for that. We buy and read more books, even if they are paper backs, and it would be unfair to deny that the broadcasters have to take a great deal of the credit for that, also. Each mode of broadcasting—educational, entertainment, information—has its own problems of observing the primary rules of such a public enterprise, to keep due balance between the often conflicting claims of its different groups of listeners and viewers, regional against metropolitan; in the Arts, between the old and the new; between the tastes of the more and of the less sophisticated audiences; in public affairs, between the viewpoints of the major Parties; in the treatment of minorities and emerging groups; in the important and very tricky area touched upon so interestingly by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, about the projections of images or stereotypes. But these fields are not for me to-night.
In some ways—and I think this is the lesson from a great deal that has been said in this debate during this afternoon—entertainment is the area of the greatest difficulty and possible conflict for the broadcasting authorities to come to terms with. There is without doubt a very broad spectrum of tastes to be satisfied and a great complexity of levels on which to operate. If one thinks of opera, ballet, literature, music, the visual arts, the drama, one sees there is a range of material to be offered which is so bound up with the outstanding achievements of the human spirit that there is little risk of trouble—except possibly the financial trouble of the swiftly rising costs of producing the great things. Nor is there objection to catering for plainer and more homely tastes. Good music hall is good entertainment. The difficulties, as I see them, chiefly come about when what is offered in the field of entertainment appears to challenge existing ways of thought, currently accepted norms of behaviour. There is some contemporary drama, for instance, which seems to challenge the viewer to a course of action. 1272 Aida, Hamlet, or Lord Clark on "Civilisation", for all their memorable and delectable qualities, make few of those who have watched them rush out and embark on a controversial crusade. "Cathy Come Home" might do just that.
However that may be, the drama of ideas carrying social or ethical overtones provides most of the criticism that the media encounter. I suspect that Bernard Shaw, Ibsen, and for that matter Aristophanes, would have made a lot of trouble for the B.B.C. if they had been born a good deal later. Granted that there is conflict in this area of broadcasting, granted that people are entitled not to be offended gratuitously or without warning, what measures are taken? There are mainly three safeguards. First, there are clearly distinguishable programmes of contemporary drama each bearing its own hallmark. I do not know of many complaints, indeed if there have been any at all, about "Dr. Finlay's Casebook". The situations, the kind of problems, are well recognised in advance. But the controversial drama programmes of the last few years have been concentrated in "The Play for Today" and its forerunner "The Wednesday Play", and in regard to only a quite small proportion of them. These reflect the work of contemporary playwrights. They have drawn on the talents of writers acknowledged to be among the best of their generation. They have always been placed late in the evening, and their particular concern with contemporary writers and themes has always been made clear in the published programmes. These plays represent some 6 per cent. of television drama, which itself represents 8 per cent. of the total television output.
Beyond these signposts of identification are two main instruments of control which should be mentioned. First, there are for both radio and television specific pointers to action which are not confined to drama alone. Among these are a code on violence, directives on the handling of sexual themes, the use of language on specific subjects, directions about treating the theme of drugs or the degree of violence permissible In children's programmes. I could, of course, elaborate on these and similar measures of control, but I think I have said enough. Second, there is an obligation, understood and accepted 1273 throughout the Corporation, to refer up in cases of doubt, so that either the level at which the decision is taken is appropriate to the seriousness of the issue involved, or, if that turns out to be not the case, the question becomes: Why did the proper reference up not in fact take place?
I do not believe that it ought to be claimed—and I am sure the Corporation would not claim—that this is a Copper-bottomed guarantee that something will not go wrong or that it will always go right. But it is a sensible way of going about things in a situation which depends upon drawing from creative people who are the authors of what reaches us in our homes a high and improving standard of achievement. Broadcasting is a highly professional job. It must be done, if it is to be done well, by gifted, creative people; and one cannot put such people into straitjackets. That would lead only to a collapse of standards and a flood of mediocrity and triviality. That is why the two devices for control, as I have said, are the well understood and widely accepted principles to be applied in the areas of sensitivity and the obligation to refer upwards in case of doubt.
I hope I may be allowed to offer, very briefly, one or two further observations. I need hardly remind this House that this country since the war has been of immense interest to the rest of the world. We have, rather as the United States did in the past when it was the melting pot, thrown up, with a kind of volcanic energy, new social forces, new expressions of our human resources. It would be vastly surprising if the resulting rich diversification of our national life had not thrown up conflicts of taste, of mores, of standards, and even of values. Many of these are reflected, inevitably, in the output of the broadcasters. Your Lordships have shown yourselves well aware of these upheavals by the time you have given in recent years to the problems of the young. There is no doubt that there is estrangement, beyond the usual divergencies which occur between generations, between the young and their elders, and a dangerous loss of the power to communicate between them. This is, of course, a world problem. Perhaps it is not overdrawing the seriousness of it to remind ourselves that it was one of the symptoms of collapse in Weimar in the 1930s that 1274 young and old could no longer have a community of discussion. The tragic sequel was recourse to dreadful, hysterical, nationalistic emotions.
I have no doubt that we shall find our way ahead without such consequences, but it will not be done by excluding from the television screen, the radio or elsewhere items which offer the possibilities of renewed dialogue between the generations, even if hackles should rise in the course of it. If modern plays help to keep communications open between the generations, they are just as important, though for different reasons, as the revivals of great classics whose subject matter no longer, as it once did, kindles the flame of controversy. I have made a plea for reliance on the responsibility of the professional men and women who are the irreplaceable elements in the overall scheme of broadcasting if we are to keep, and even to improve on the tremendous national achievements of the past fifty years.
I should like to add, as I conclude, that what seems to me an essential condition of health is that the Corporation and its professional members should keep themselves informed about what is happening in society at large; what effects on different elements among us (for example, the very young) their programmes are having, and to feed that knowledge back throughout the Corporation. If the medium is to have as big a part in shaping the future as the noble Baroness, Lady Emmet of Amberley, believes, and as I believe it has had over the past fifty years, it must be not only responsible but as well informed as it can be. Its great machinery of consultation is a healthy indication that it realises this, but there are still areas of ignorance which have to be wrestled with.
It is sometimes said that television has too much power in modern democratic States. What sort of power has it? The only study I know is of the effect of television on the 1954 and 1964 elections, carried out by the University of Leeds. These showed, perhaps surprisingly, that it did not swing opinion from one side to the other but rather that people knew better at the end of the campaign, from the part played in it by television, why they stood where they did than they had known before.
1275 I know of one piece of work done on the vexed question of whether the television camera creates violence or merely reflects it. This problem needs a great deal more study, and much more study has to be carried out on many fronts. What is violence?—the Kent shootings in America or the bloodless shooting on the Western? What do these programmes do to the young at different stages of their development? And, as the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, has just explained, what has the religious programme on television done for the work and aims of organised religion? What has the B.B.C.'s positive policy on racialism done to the viewers' tolerance or intolerance? These and many other questions need to be pursued if the responsibility of the professional is to be kept informed, as it needs to be, in the environment of growing complexity in which it has to operate.
§ 7.14 p.m.
§ BARONESS LEE OF ASHERIDGE
My Lords, after listening in particular to the concluding passages of the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Fulton, to the extremely tactful and sensitive contribution made by the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, and to other speakers in this debate, I feel less alarmed than I confess I was when the Paymaster General, the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, finished his contribution.
I had to take notice of the fact that when the noble Baroness, Lady Emmet of Amberley, opened this debate—and we are all in her debt—it was very wideranging: we were dealing with radio, with television, with newspapers and the rest. But the Minister speaking from the Front Bench was the Minister with special responsibility for the Arts, and I think that when we read in the OFFICIAL REPORT tomorrow what he said to us this afternoon it will be seen that obviously he was greatly preoccupied with a small part of the territory for which he is responsible; that is to say, plays, in particular, which projected ideas and scenes that he found deeply distasteful. Of course we should all like to remake the world in our own image, and we all have our likes and our dislikes. But I hope that the remark of the noble Lord, Lord Goodman (whose responsible and generous leadership as Chairman of the Arts Council we all recognise), that this field which has been a particular concern 1276 this afternoon of the Paymaster General is trivial indeed, and is insignificant as part of the whole, will be accepted by all of us.
There was one thing I missed in the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles. He is invariably courteous and generous, but I wish that in talking about the theatre he had said a little more in thanks for the wonderful work that is being done by our playwrights, by our managers, by our actors, great and small. I do not know any field of activity which is adding more to the lustre of this country than the work that is being done by our playwrights and by our gifted actors. Therefore I hope we shall not have a mild "smear" campaign over the type of plays that have been graced by Sir Laurence Olivier, Sir John Gielgud, by Sir Ralph Richardson or younger artistes, and that we are not going to set up as superior judges of what is to be shown in our subsidised theatres and then of the terrific ability of the Peter Halls, the John Nevills, the Lindsay Andersons and others. One field we have not talked about much is the cinema, and that comes in directly with the theatre. That, too, is one of the mass media and appeals very much to the young. But the cinema, like radio and television, is one remove.
From this debate it has been apparent that there is an overriding concern with the quality of life in our country. We all feel that we want this country to be proud and great; we want it to be a pace setter, in matters of quality and matters of taste, to the entire world; and if we are to do that then of course the basis of the whole thing is education. At one point I was in total accord with the Paymaster General, and I very much appreciated his enthusiasm when, for a short time, he started talking about what was happening in some of our schools.
My Lords, have we not been rather too negative in this debate? Instead of talking about the little things that are wrong, we should pay more attention to what is right; and we should realise that a revolution is taking place in the field of the arts in our schools. I know the Paymaster General will now know the limited studies in the Arts, the drama, music and art that have been carried out. But we should recognise, when we are talking about what is and what is not 1277 permitted, that this is a different generation. I happen to believe that the younger generation is a puritan generation. I say that quite seriously. They want to bring everything to the surface and examine it. They want to bring all the dirt from under the carpet. Most of the really sophisticated people who have seen the really dirty shows in all the capitals and the seaports of the world w ill call them spoilsports.
This younger generation is above all a questioning generation. This younger generation is not concerned solely with the problems of one country or of one class. The effect of mass communication, of transport, of radio, television and the rest, is that the intelligent, sensitive youngster knows about the two-thirds of the world—more than half the world—that is starving; and many of them are concerned. They know that there is not much more sign of wisdom in those who are ruling the world to-day than there was in the days which preceded the first and second wars.
They have an enormous burden on their minds, and imagination and nerves; they see magic in the world, but they see also a great deal of menace. They want to know what is the meaning of cruelty, and therefore it would be a miracle if in our theatre we were still entirely in the age of Glamorous Night and Cavalcade. Indeed, we are still in that age. The commercial West End theatre is doing very well indeed. There is a time for everything. There is a time for spit and sawdust—,a time for other things. But the commercial theatre in the West End, with all its revivals of Noel Coward and the rest, is playing to packed houses. The commercial theatre has all kinds of opportunities, and I hope that nothing that has been said by the Paymaster General would for one moment suggest one standard of censorship for the subsidised theatre and another for the commercial theatre or commercial films or newspapers and magazines.
If you want dirty shows, you do not go to a repertory theatre but to Soho or Leicester Square, or a few other places. So far as I can gather, nothing has been said this afternoon that would in any way inhibit that under-the-counter type of activity. But there is only one way of dealing with it, and that is by a rising standard of education and opportunity. 1278 When you go into a classroom now, in the best schools the children are no longer sitting behind desks in rows; there is free movement, and a sense of colour and design; in their ideas, in their conversation, they are equally uninhibited.
As to radio and television, I am not entitled to talk as an expert. I have probably seen and heard less television and radio in the last six or seven years than almost anyone in your Lordships' House. Therefore I shall not presume to talk too much about what I do not know a great deal about. But surely the possibilities of radio and television are infinite. We are only on the verge of knowing what they can do, not only in themselves but in stimulating all kinds of activities in our art world, among poets, painters, musicians, theatre and the rest. In particular, I have a debt of gratitude towards Sir Hugh Greene, Mr. Huw Wheldon and others who, at the time when the Open University was being contemplated, gave most wonderful co-operation. They need not have done that. It was not the sort of thing they got praise for, or the sort of thing that brought money to them. If you really want to embarrass radio or television you have to ask them to give a greater amount of time and space to the type of programmes we have been talking about this afternoon. But I hope we are going to embarrass them in the right way and see that they get the necessary money so that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bacon, suggested, if there is a great play, a great opera or a ballet in Covent Garden, it will be possible for people even in the remotest parts of the country to share in those great productions.
I hope, above all, that we shall get positive participation. If we are concerned about the quality of life we do not want to have all the people sitting in their separate little boxes, fixated on the radio or television. That may appeal to the old; that may appeal to people who for various family reasons are not mobile. But certainly more and more the young, stimulated by radio and television, want to get out and do things, as was said in a speech from the opposite side. The young ones want the small cinema, the small theatre, to be involved, and to do things on their own, not to be passively 1279 sitting and listening. Therefore I hope that in considering what is good and bad in the mass media we remember not only the passive media, where we sit and look or listen, but also the active media. If we want our younger generation to fulfil their highest potential they must become involved. They must do things, they must experiment. Above all, just because there is a bit of roughage in the rich diet our artists have given us in recent years, do not let us meanly cavil.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ LORD SELSDON
My Lords, as the last speaker before "half-time", I too would join other noble Lords in thanking my noble friend Lady Emmet of Amberley for initiating this debate. I feel it is a subject which obviously will attract the interest of all the media, and I think they will welcome the airing of the views they will hear, as will their critics and promoters. But before giving my own view, I feel I should declare an interest, since the organisation with which I work is closely connected with the media industry and derives a large part of its revenue from media owners, and it is also located in Soho. It is, I believe, extraordinarily difficult to assess, even in general terms, the overall contribution which the mass media make to the quality of our life. That they have made a very substantial contribution, there can be no doubt. Our main concern must surely be to make certain that this contribution becomes more and more and not less and less beneficial.
If one uses purely personal judgment, it is extremely easy to criticise or praise any section of the media, but it is extremely difficult to determine, as the noble Lord, Lord Fulton, said, the good or harm which may result from a particular editorial or programme or advertising policy. It is almost impossible to determine the effect of the different pressures of the media upon the individual. In considering these pressures I should like, very briefly, to look at the vast areas concerned—in Press, television, radio and cinema. In the Press field, we are talking of something like 4,500 different publications each year. In television, apart from some 6,700 hours a year from the two B.B.C. channels, the independent companies have up to ten hours a day. In radio we have up to 23,000 hours a year, plus the local radio stations. In the cinema we have some 1280 1,500-odd cinemas, showing 450 new feature films a year. If we add to that the advertising, with over 8,000-odd new television commercials a year, of up to six minutes in every hour of television time, 225,000 poster sites, and the numerous tens of thousands of display and classified advertisements, the word "mass" becomes particularly appropriate and also somewhat horrifying. What we hope is that the individual sectors of the media, and the users of them, are behaving and will continue to behave in a responsible manner. It is very difficult to draw conclusions based on anything other than personal judgment. I should like to look briefly at some of the areas and make a few points.
Starting with the cinema, the film industry, as we know, is having a very rough ride, and if the rate of decline continues I think it may well lose the right to be classified as one of the mass media. It has suffered from rising costs and increased competition, particularly from television, and falling profits. I cannot help feeling that it may have been this plight, this squeeze, which set the industry on the course of greater permissiveness and the nudity explosion. All this, my Lords, in order to try to recapture a declining audience! I have no wish to criticise this valuable industry, but I cannot help feeling that it may have come very near to cutting its own throat. It certainly has the talent and the ability, and one hopes that it will be able to employ its resources better in the future. In particular I am thinking of developments in the videotape field. Proper use of videotape can drastically cut costs and increase output. But problems in the industrial relations field have prevented optimum use being made of videotape for feature and documentary films and television commercials.
We have great artistic and creative talent in this country, and we are good film-makers, whose films are widely respected around the world. But our industry needs to cut its costs and improve its industrial relations, and to make better use of the opportunities for production of low-budget films. I hope, too, that it will not be long before we see a swing away from permissive attitudes and nudity and violence. It is somewhat disturbing that, of the 450 new feature films every year, there is a continual rise in the number of "X" films; in the last year 1281 I think there were 212 "X" films out of a total of 289 "AA" or "X", and only 140 "U" films. This makes it very difficult for families with children.
I move to the Press. They, as we know, are having a very hard time. Readership of many newspapers has fallen quite dramatically. Costs are going up, and again industrial relations may hinder production and output. They face increased competition, in particular the growth of news and current affairs programmes on television; and the squeeze here may well have encouraged the change of attitude on the part of the media owners. I had always believed that newspapers and magazine proprietors and their editors held strongly that their first responsibility was to their readers. I believe, too, that they were often prepared to sacrifice the extra financial gain in order to produce publications of a high standard of which they and their readers could be proud. I believe that they had great loyalty of readers. Unfortunately, I think that the squeeze on them has meant that their attitude may in some cases have changed, and financial situations have understandably tended to encourage some companies to place their shareholders perhaps a little more in advance of their readers than they did before.
I do not suggest that that is wrong, for every proprietor and editor must naturally seek to boost circulation and increase advertising revenue. What I would hope, however, is that in attempting to do this the newspaper proprietor would not be encouraged to lower standards in any respect. Perhaps the disease (if I may call it that) of Wardour Street is spreading to Fleet Street, which a few years ago was certainly following the trend of universal education and raising the standard of the printed word. "Grub Street", as I believe it was called, was rapidly disappearing, but lately one wonders—and I have no reason to doubt this—whether the trend has not been slightly in reverse and one only hopes that Gresham's Law will not prevail and that standards will not be depressed still further.
I think that the Press in this country have always shown very great responsibility indeed—much higher than the Press in, I would say, any other country in the world. I hope that they will be allowed to operate with the freedom 1282 which they have had in the past. The current financial climate certainly makes it difficult for them to maintain the high standards which they had before, but I hope they will continue to have accuracy and honesty of reporting. Certainly at one end of the scale, if one looks at the international basis, The Times, the Financial Times and the Economist, are extremely well thought of abroad as highly responsible, informed and authoritative publications. In particular, I understand that the Financial Times now holds pride of place among businessmen and opinion leaders throughout Europe. This is just not as a British national newspaper, but rather as Europe's leading business journal.
I think there is no reason to assume that large circulation figures will necessarily be the thing of the future. I think we shall see a swing towards more specialised journals catering for individual tastes, such as the theatre and the cinema. I hope that this trend will continue. I think that possibly the Press will suffer from competition with television as a news journal, and there will always be the national newspapers who may wish to cash in on a particular mood which will lift their national circulation, perhaps even dramatically. But I think, even then, it will settle down to a decline.
From a production point of view, I understand that because of such problems as redundancy the Press proprietors are often unable to make full use of technological developments in the electronic area, such as computerised setting and additionalising. Better use of these developments would certainly cut costs, save money and time, and would increase output. I hope that in this area we shall see some improved industrial relations.
From the television point of view, I do not think they are having quite such a rough time. I have a high regard for almost all the television programmes put out in this country. I think they are absolutely excellent. I have been a regular television viewer in some 10 or 15 countries throughout the world during the past four years and our standards are remarkably high. My colleagues and friends who have come from abroad to this country and have spent time over here have also been impressed. There is a small point I would make. I should like to see more of our London hotels 1283 with television in their rooms so that when businessmen are over here and have no one to entertain them in the evening they can go into their room to watch television. There is nothing nicer.
In particular, I should like to praise the current affairs and news in depth programmes put out by both the B.B.C. and the Independent networks. These are excellent. Naturally, they tend to concentrate on the more exciting news and events, and those which tend to be associated with war, riot, violence and unrest in other parts of the world. If these are brought very close to home and added to our own problems and pressures, it tends to make our world seem a much more insecure place than it actually is. I have always welcomed these international programmes, but I would prefer to see a little more attention given to success and solution in other countries rather than problems and disasters. I think it was Milton who said:Good the more communicated the more abundant grows.There is one further point connected with the use of television. Although I feel that television interviewers behave in a very responsible manner, there is one point which raises a difficulty. In the Press you can always read what is being said, but if an individual or an organisation is criticised on television and they do not see the programme but wish to see it later, it is extremely difficult to get a re-showing of the programme privately. This makes it very difficult for anyone to assess whether they have been unfairly or fairly treated before considering whether to go to law.
Turning to another point, I support my noble friend Lady Elliot in regard to advertising. I do not think the industry has been particularly responsible for what has happened; it tends to follow consumers' behaviour and moods rather than to lead them. So far as the Trade Descriptions Act is concerned, there have been few prosecutions for display advertising. I believe that the industry, in a free and voluntary manner, has tried to raise its standards all the time. Obviously it cannot do it in every area. In connection with Press advertising, I should mention the work of the Advertising Standards authority supported by the British Code of Advertising 1284 Practice. This is a voluntary body which has been very successful in maintaining fairly high standards. Certainly there are occasionally advertisements which may cause offence, but these are few and far between; and our standards in this country are much higher than those in other countries. It is interesting to hear that a delegation from the United States industry will be here shortly to look into the free way in which we control things here with a view to adopting our system in the United States.
As to television advertising, I disagree with my noble friend, Lady Burton, in that the controls at the moment with the I.T.C.A. and the industry's voluntary body working closely together are very good. Of the 25,000 commercials in the period of a year, about 8,000 of which are long ones, only 15 per cent. ever need any alteration or adjustment at an early stage; and there are few complaints. I had a word with them the other day and they pointed out that they get only about 50 or 60 letters a year, which are mainly concerned with the medical area. I do not think that the advertising industry can be accused of lowering the standards of morality or taste, and I hope it will continue to weed out all the advertisements or advertising practices which cause offence.
Finally, I should like to touch on future developments in the media field. These are likely to change so dramatically over the next twenty years or so that the structure of mass media in this country will change with them. The main development area will certainly be in the technological field, with increased speed of communication and miniaturisation, greater efficiency in production, a greater use of all the audio-visual techniques that are coming up, and in particular video tapes, and video-tape cassettes which shortly may be available in the High Street, like any record, or newspaper delivered through the letter box.
I think that instead of the four or five separate mass media areas we shall tend to see a growth in overlapping interests, with more media owners entering into their competitors' field. Sometimes they cannot compete, in which event I suggest they should join each other. I do not think this will cause any undue unrest in the country or that people will be any more irresponsible than they have been 1285 in the past. Already Wardour Street and Fleet Street are getting closer together, and television is joining in with them. The groups of media owners will probably in due course cover all the audiovisual fields. The function of newspapers will change and the media owners will recognise that the most cost-effective method of passing news information and opinion to the public is the best medium. I hope, in particular, that the media industry in this country will solve its industrial relations problems and will put its vast know-how, experience and resources to optimum use. I hope too that it will not ignore the great international opportunities which are likely to arise in the coming years.
§ 7.40 p.m.
THE LORD BISHOP OF BLACKBURN
My Lords, we should all be grateful for the remarkable opportunities afforded through mass media, even though we may sometimes he critical of them, and those opportunities are open to us in this debate upon its use and misuse. The many words of wisdom being uttered here will be duly recorded, and some of them reported through the mass media of Press and radio. I personally, with many of your Lordships, have a great admiration for our friends in the Press Gallery for their ability to separate the wheat from the chaff in speeches that are made, and to present what is usually a fair résumé of noteworthy speeches made in your Lordships' House. They are highly trained—and I hope well paid—and I am immensely impressed by the code of professional conduct of the National Union of Journalists, which is accepted and normally practised by them.
Recently I came across a delightful jingle, the authorship of which I do not know. It runs thus:One cannot hope to bribe or twist,Thank God, the British journalist.But seeing what the man will do,Unbribed, there's no occasion to.The second part of that jingle is no doubt unfair to the majority of journalists, but there are occasions when one is bound to deplore the brash publicity that is given in some sections of the Press to what can only be described as salacious news. This adds fuel to the fire of moral permissiveness which is sweeping through the country and which needs to be damped down. We have 1286 entered upon an age when, by and large, any form of censorship is being frowned upon, and for the most part rightly so. But there is another side to this coin, in that some of those who are loudest in their demands for the lifting of censorship in moral issues are those who are imposing a censorship on good news, as opposed to what can only be described as bad news—which ironically, of course, is good news to them.
We are all aware of the situation of the varying ways in which news is presentecl in different papers—banner headlines, the pictures, the captions and sub-headings. I had intended to spare your Lordships any quotations, but I was very disturbed by what was shown to me to-day, and that was a four full-page advertisement by the Health Education Council in the Daily Mirror on December 29 advocating nine methods of birth control. I am not for a moment opposed to family planning. I believe it is wise, and I believe it is necessary. But to put an advertisement of this kind in the Daily Mirror, with its enormous circulation, to be read by children and young people, is, I believe, irresponsible in promotion of birth control outside marriage. I should like to know whether this advertisement was placed through funds specially raised for the purpose, or through the grants that are made through the taxpayers and ratepayers; because I, for one, would not wish the money to be spent in this way.
To return to this subject in general, we are told again and again that, "This is what the readers want." In a fiercely competitive situation, I can understand the point of view of the papers that they have to make their way, and that they have, with the competition of others, to be able to pay their way. In effect then—and let us carry this a little further to its logical conclusion—the populace is largely to blame, in that there are too many who take so great a delight in what is sexy, disreputable, and sometimes sordid. It is not for us only to condemn—I am very much against people who go about condemning and protesting the whole time. It is our place to promote, and I want to ask: are we paying enough attention to the development of what is good, honest, beautiful, and of real worth—the things of which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham was talking: the moral consensus? There are some papers, such 1287 as The Times, the Telegraph, and the Guardian, which devote space for this purpose. Could not every paper give at least one column to present regularly some positive and worthwhile article or report? People say, "moral uplift". Yes; and why not?
What additional financial assistance can be given to the Arts Council, and to the many agencies that exist for the improvement of society? Are the Churches—and I deliberately ask this question—doing all they can not merely to promote themselves (we are not concerned really with promoting ourselves, or in condemnation of others) but to use their resources in building a healthier order of society? It is my belief that there are many who are disillusioned by the present state of affairs, and who are looking and waiting for the right kind of moral leadership before we are forced into some kind of dictatorship. It is here that the mass media can help. There is news value in the great stories to be found in such agencies as the Samaritans, Community Service Volunteers, Outward Bound, Shelter. They are stories that are but rarely heard, but they could, and would, inspire others to come forward to give of their time, effort, and money. The Press and the radio should be as concerned to educate public opinion as to satisfy the whims of the populace. It may profess to be neutral but in point of fact there is no such position, and I quote the words of our Lord Jesus Christ who said:He that is not for me is against me.He that is not against us is for us: there is no neutral position.
Much has already been said about the influence of the radio and television—and here, compared with what your Lordships and I myself have heard and seen in other countries—is something for which we should be very grateful—and not least the Churches, for the generous amount of time which is given, day by day, to religious broadcasting. Your Lordships may like to know that the Church of England has just set up a Commission on Broadcasting to consider its structure, acceptable programme standards, religious broadcasting, religious advisory systems, and training for religious programmes, and we await with 1288 hope and interest this report that the Commission will make to our General Synod.
Personally, I find sound radio of a higher quality than television, which is obviously more limited. Reference has already been made to the developments in local radio stations, and I wish we had had a fuller emphasis on this, for they can exercise a very great influence on the life of the community which they serve, and can benefit by having the advice of the community given to them. The various advisory committees in each region can provide additional safeguards and guidelines, and I would lend my support to the proposal for the setting up of a Council in the field of broadcasting similar to the Press Council. There is no doubt that the impact and influence of television is very far-reaching, and a heavy responsibility rests upon those who produce and control its programmes.
Television is a miracle of this modern age. We hope that at about this time tomorrow we shall be viewing the landing on the moon, which will have world coverage on radio and in the Press. The world will marvel at the heroism and at the groping steps of two men on barren territory. But shall we go on to reflect that there are more important issues in man's life than that, and that the incredible technical skill, the fabulous sums of money and the utter devotion of dedicated men might better be devoted to the solution of the problems of world hunger, poverty, sickness and distress? It is the mass media which can help us all to realise this on a world scale, which might mean that something will be achieved. We all hope that this interesting debate will produce positive and constructive ideas, ideas that will make a real contribution to the better use of our mass media. Let the voice of this House and the voice of men of good will be heard; but for that to be done depends upon the Press and the radio.
§ 7.52 p.m.
§ BARONESS BIRK
My Lords, may I first add my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Emmet of Amberley, for initiating this debate? May I also add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Harvey of Tasburgh, who made such a very able maiden speech? I must confess that I came here as a journalist, ready, like Joan of Arc, to defend the Press, 1289 the freedom of the Press, and to reply to criticisms of the Press. But your Lordships have been so very much more tolerant than many people outside that until the last speaker, the right reverend Prelate, rose I had very little to put my teeth into and would myself have had to make criticisms and then answer them. An interesting point which has come out of the debate so far is the agreement between my noble friend Lady Bacon and the Paymaster General, on the question of full frontal exposure. They may be odd bedfellows, but I am delighted that they agree with me that it will not really lead to serious moral decline.
The right reverend Prelate referred to the Health Education Council's advertisement in the Daily Mirror. Here I am afraid that I have to change hats again, as I am also Chairman of that Council. The right reverend Prelate referred to that advertisement as irresponsible, but I would ask him as a man of the Church: does he not think it far more irresponsible for young people, both married and single, to have unwanted children and for abortions to be necessary? If the right reverend Prelate will look at the Report for last year by the Chief Medical Officer he will see that a great many abortions had to be done on girls of under 16. What we were doing was to give information.
The right reverend Prelate may not have liked the package in which it was wrapped—the Casanova motif—and many other people did not. But that was tried out on people of a young age group, both married and unmarried, and it was found that it was something to which they responded. In fact, it encouraged them to read the middle spread, which was the information on contraception that we felt—and I still feel this—was absolutely essential, if we were to prevent far greater tragedies in this country of unwanted children and abortions on young girls. If the right reverend Prelate had had the opportunity, which I have had in the last few days, of reading a great many letters sent to one of the magazines for young people, he would realise—and perhaps begin to change his view—that the amount of ignorance and anxiety is still very great. I am grateful that the Mirror took the advertisement, which it did after considerable thought and after deciding that it was right socially. It was paid for by Government 1290 sponsored funds, but it was inserted not by the Minister but by the Council of which I am Chairman.
A great many of the criticisms of the mass media—and this covers films, television, newspapers, magazines and theatre (which I should not have called quite as "mass" as the others, but it has been brought into the debate)—relate more to taste than to objective judgment. There is also the matter of age. The difference of view between the age groups is tremendously wide; in fact, it is wider to-day than it has ever been. I feel that if, under the Constitution of this House, there were any teenage Peers here they would make a useful contribution. Some of it would be puritanical, in the words of my noble friend Lady Lee of Asheridge, and they would be rather surprised about everybody else's excitement.
My noble friend Lady Gaitskell asked whether there had been any scientific evidence on the effect of the mass media. There has been a great deal of research, and some examples are the work of Halloran, head of the Communications Research Centre at Leicester, Joseph Klapper—who has done a long study of mass media in America—and also work done here by Hilda Himmelweit on the effect of television on children. The sum total of this work is that there is very little effect at all. In other words, when we are blaming the mass media we are often looking at the wrong ingredients in our society. I understand that the maximum deleterious effect of television is between 1 per cent. and 3 per cent., and that is on people who need medical treatment, anyhow. It is true (and I think that the Paymaster General also made this point) that the mass media do not create contemporary morality or moral problems. They very often get the blame for it, but they are in fact only reflecting what is going on in society. People read, see and hear what fits into the totality of their own lives.
I do not think this means—and I am now speaking as a journalist—that one is completely passive, certainly so far as the Press is concerned. Television has much more stringent controls on the expression of strong editorial views, but many of us who write—and certainly many editors—have strong views which are reflected in 1291 our newspapers and, to a lesser extent, in some magazines. There are to-day a great many problems for the Press and, without going into financial and economic details, one can say that one has to find a very delicate balance between laying down standards which one thinks are right, and selling the product. It is no good being left with the product on your hands, when all the words of wisdom which you feel should be conveyed to your readers just never reach them because they do not buy the paper or the magazine. This is bad social as well as bad financial accounting.
Neither can you improve standards at the expense of communication—and this I learnt very early on as a journalist. It is a great regret to me that Lord Francis-Williams (who died some months ago) is not with us to-night, because he taught me first as a journalist and I had my first job with him. I wrote a column called, "Here's Alma". It has been shown that some popular papers can improve standards, and the Daily Mirror (I hope the right reverend Prelate will forgive me if I refer to the paper he has just criticised) has been very successful at getting close to people and in establishing a communication link by speaking in a language that is understood and, in fact, raising the sights of its readers and educating them without being patronising or too obvious about it.
THE LORD BISHOP OF BLACKBURN
My Lords, I should like to point out that I was not criticising the Daily Mirror. I merely stated that it produced this advertisement.
§ BARONESS BIRK
I thank the right reverend Prelate. Anyhow, this is one of the things which the Daily Mirror has done, and this cannot be done in a patronising manner. It needs great skill; and I think this was expressed by some of the evidence given by Granada Television to the Pilkington Committee when they said:Never underestimate the public's intelligence, but always underestimate their knowledge.It is the giving of information with which I think the mass media, certainly the Press, are concerned, and, I feel, the opening up of vistas for people. The way I see a great deal of television, the more positive side of it, is that it encourages people to read further. People who 1292 have enjoyed the various series that have been mentioned many times this afternoon and this evening will very likely go to their libraries or buy the books, and then get down to reading the original version.
I think it also only fair to point out some of the positive things that newspapers have done and are doing. One of the most important things is the pointing out of injustices, and pursuing them until something is done about them. Here, the newspapers' freedom from Government control, or from any sort of control, is absolutely essential. Many instances have been given to-day, but a very recent one is the case that is being heard at the moment concerning the policeman, where it was through a reporter on The Times that the investigation began. In the Official Secrets case, which ended to-day with all the defendants freed with full costs against the State, the judge, Mr. Justice Caulfield, said yesterday:If the press is the watchdog of freedom, and if the fangs of the watchdog are drawn, all that will ensue is a whimpering, possibly a whine, but no bite".My Lords, it is very important to remember this side when people are getting rather excited because they feel that what is called the "permissive society" has gone too far. I think we ought also to be very careful when we talk about permissiveness, for what we may mean is simply a more liberal attitude. The noble Viscount the Paymaster General said that we cannot say we cannot recognise pornography when we see it. I must say that, as I see it, it is partly a subject-tive matter, and it also varies tremendously, as I am sure he would agree, with the particular time. Some years ago, Mrs. Warren's Profession was considered very highly pornographic: to-day it is not. Indeed, I would say that even to-day one man's literary eroticism is another man's pornographic poison. Therefore, I think we have to beware of confusing matters of taste and personal feelings, also combined with a particular age group, when making decisions that affect a great number of other people.
One part of the media which has not been mentioned to-day is that of consumer magazines. I think they play a very important part, because the four main weekly women's magazines have a combined circulation of 6½ million. My Lords, 1293 90 per cent. of women read one magazine a week, and 95 per cent. of young women—that is, women between 16 and 24—see or read, on average, three magazines a week. It is also becoming more and more common for men to have a peep at them, although they will not always admit to it. What is very interesting and important in the context of what has been said on the social, moral or ethical sides to-day is the number of letters received by these magazines. The four leading women's weekly magazines receive an average of 3 million letters a year. A great many of those seek practical advice, but a great many concern personal problems. I have read a great many of these letters, and the anguish, the lack of knowledge, the ignorance and the confusion of people which they disclose make it quite clear—and I hope the right reverend Prelate will take note of this—that there is a great deal wrong with parts of our society which the mass media, the Press, is doing what it can to remedy.
I feel that one of the reasons why some people get hot under the collar about some of the subjects dealt with in the magazines, particularly some of the magazines aimed at young people, is that until fairly recently magazines were several years behind their readers' interests; they were all slightly dated. Now we have the situation where there are a number of young magazines with titles such as Fabulous, Rave and Loving. They are not the most graceful or felicitous titles, perhaps, of which noble Lords would approve, but 1.6 million young people read these nine leading magazines. Here again, the question column (and I think this is the sort of thing which should be of great interest to the Church, among other institutions) shows the confusion, the lack of knowledge, the ignorance of many of these youngsters—and many of the letters are written in an extremely intelligent, articulate way. They are asking for advice. They are not all showing promiscuity; they want to do the right thing. They do not know how to deal with the choices before them as young adults, or even, some of them, as schoolchildren. They do not discuss these questions with their parents; they do not discuss them with the Church; they do not get the kind of sex education they should be having in the schools; and, therefore, the mass media, in this case the magazines and the newspapers, have 1294 to take over, if you like, as parent, priest, teacher substitutes.
That, I think, is something which we might look at; and when the noble Baroness, Lady Emmet, said that she thought this concentration on sex was a reproach to education, I hope that is what she was talking about. If we had the right sort of sex education in a context of healthy living, then I should like to tell the right reverend Prelate that there possibly would not be any need for the sort of advertisement we had to put in the Daily Mirror, because young people would be informed. They would know what to do, and they could make their choices both rationally and securely. The right reverend Prelate might not like some of the choices they would make, but at least it would be the right choice for them and they would not get into the terrible difficulties they do now.
I have heard complaints about some of the titles of these articles—and these are not magazines with which I have any connection—such as "Of course, you have not got V.D., have you?" I do not find it a very attractive title, but (here again I speak not only as a journalist but as chairman of the Health Education Council) if this means that many young people read this article and find out the facts about V.D., their chances of transmitting it and doing away with much of the myth and ignorance which they have, then all I would say to the magazines is, "Good luck! Thank goodness that we may have got somewhere with the campaign we are running against V.D." Other titles which have appeared in the last year in some of these magazines are: "Who killed God?" and "Is the Church keeping God off the streets?". I hope that the right reverend Prelate will agree that if this is a way of opening discussion on religion it is better than leaving it out of the magazine altogether.
We have this tremendous problem with—I hate to use the phrase, but it is there all the time—the generation gap. Young people are not as easily shocked, nor as sensitive as the older generation. My children—and I am sure that this applies to many children—discuss things with me and use the sort of language that I never used. And they seem no worse off for it. They seem to be aware of what is going on and are quite sure 1295 of themselves. Then there is the other side of the picture: there are the many youngsters who live in this sort of society and yet are ignorant and unsure and have no one to go to. This is where, in the ways I have been describing, the mass media does a tremendously reassuring and constructive job. Perhaps some of the horrified arrows which are flying around, not just in this House but outside, should really be aimed at our educational system, and at our means of helping people to form human and social relationships.
My Lords, finally I should like to say this. When talking about the future of the Press, there are some people who feel that there should be perhaps more control. I would say that it would be a great mistake to do anything to jeopardise the freedom of the Press in this country. Anything that even faintly smells of censorship we should try to avoid, except on the strictest security or obscenity grounds. Voluntary self-control in the form of a Press Council (which applies equally to newspapers and magazines) seems to me to be the right approach. Personally, I should like to see a television council on the same lines. But although I know that some of my friends would like to see this happen, I certainly should not like to see any part of the Press nationalised. While regretting very much any diminution in the number of newspapers I should not like to see a newspaper supported by Exchequer funds. I think that the danger to freedom of the Press is far too great if this sort of process once begins.
Finally, I believe that anything we can do for the freedom of expression of individual opinion must be preserved even if that means that those of us who are not in our teens or early twenties find sonic of the reading matter hard to take, some of the television difficult to view, or some of the films unbearable. All I suggest is that perhaps we should switch off and find alternatives. We should let the young get on with building their own lives.
§ 8.14 p.m.
§ BARONESS MASHAM OF ILTON
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for having invited us to take part in this debate. Over the years I seem to have had my share of encounters with the 1296 Press, television and radio. I hope that this has been considered a use, and not misuse, of mass media communication. Years ago when I was point-to-pointing, I rode a horse called "Underneath the Arches". Next day it was reported in the local Press that I had got "Overneath the Arches" under the last fence for third place. I am pleased to say that if any of your Lordships wanted to find out my correct age from my Press cuttings it would be a difficult job: one popular newspaper has always quoted me as two years younger than I really am. Therefore, from my experience I cannot always praise the accuracy of what is termed the "popular Press". I realise that these people who work in this competitive field are trying to bring news to the public, and very often take great risks while doing so. This was brought home to me when a great friend of mine who was a freelance journalist was shot in the back and killed in Cyprus some years ago.
My Lords, I should like to take the opportunity of thanking all those who are concerned with mass media communication for the many benefits they have helped to bring to disabled people throughout the country. Some of your Lordships may remember that I once spoke of two paraplegic men who were not receiving treatment in the correct place. It was due to the Press and television that they were transferred and are now progressing satisfactorily. To many people who have to struggle against discrimination and insurmountable problems the Press seems to be their last resort and safeguard. Many of us who are associated with social aspects wish that The Times newspaper, which is held throughout the world in high esteem, would report as fully on these subjects as does the Guardian.
The local Press, I think, on the whole is excellent, and I have always found this particularly so with the Yorkshire Post and the Yorkshire Evening Post. On January 21, the Yorkshire Evening Post started a campaign to persuade Leeds Corporation to reconsider their decision to close the shopping precinct to invalid carriages. By January 23 it was made clear that this has been done. On January 26 a letter to the paper was printed which ended: 1297I am glad the Evening Post barked. It is comforting to know that our local newspaper is on guard.Then at Scarborough, a few months ago, the mother of a nine-year-old spastic child whom she took to the cinema was told, "You cannot have that thing in here". The Press were on to this at once: they helped to educate the ignorant.
Disabled people will make use of the Open University. Many people who are house-bound and have no transport, but are intelligent and want education, find this service invaluable. The field of the disabled is wide. To get the information of the facilities available to them is difficult, but could be made easier if there were a regular programme on television. Lack of communication so often seems to be the cause of misunderstanding and lack of progress. The most useful programmes to the disabled seem to be those dealing with positive cases, showing how people manage to cope and to overcome their problems. The mass media communication can be so important in helping people to help themselves.
There exists, for old persons' residential homes, the old persons' home licence, which covers the use of television and radio sets by residents in their own rooms, and the fee is 1s. a year for each person. This licence does not cover sets in communal rooms or sets owned by the warden and the staff. These still need to be covered by licences issued at the standard fee. I cannot understand why badly disabled persons resident in residential homes, such as Cheshire Homes, cannot be given the same concession: at present they are not. Their situation is almost identical to that of those old persons, except that I feel that the disabled person is worse off. After all, retired people of pensionable age have lived their lives; they have many memories to look back on and reminisce over. A disabled person suffering from such a cruel disease as disseminated sclerosis has probably been struck down in the prime of his life. He may have had to leave his home and family. He has been cut off from the world. His television set brings the world to him. It may be the only pleasure left to him.
These disabled residents generally have only their sickness benefit of £5 a week, out of which £4 goes towards their keep 1298 in the home. They are left with £1 to buy all the things they need, such as stamps, soap and other essentials. Many are so badly disabled that they spend a great deal of time in their beds; and often the communal sitting room is not big enough to accommodate all the residents, if they use wheelchairs. Therefore it is beneficial to the home if they possess their own television sets.
If the Government will study and compare retirement pensioners, and the disabled pensioners who live in homes such as I have mentioned, perhaps they will reconsider extending this special licence, which the Minister now says is contrary to their policy. This is a very deprived group. If the Government did as I suggest, it would be greatly appreciated by those who, unfortunately, are unable to help themselves, however much they want to. This, I feel, would be making good use of the mass media.
§ 8.21 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF CORK AND ORRERY
My Lords, I should like, if I may, to tell you, in case you do not know, of a foreign nobleman who was introduced to an English lady, to whom he disclosed that he had a wife and six children. These children he enumerated in the following terms. "First," he said, "ve haf tvin boys. Then ye haf two girls, they also vos tvins. Then ve haf von of each, von girl and von boy, They are tvins again." "Really, dear Baron," said the English woman, "what an interesting and well-balanced family. But how unusual always to have twins!" "No, dear lady; ve do not always haf tvins. T'ousands and t'ousands of times ye haf nozzings at all!".
Some noble Lords may smile, but that story illustrates the difficulty of communication, even between two people talking directly face-to-face in simple words that they both understand. When one talks to many, the chances of misunderstanding are greatly multiplied. When I try to make audible the thoughts I wish to communicate, they become coloured and distorted by my own lack of skill in the precise manipulation of language. And at the receiving end, the listener's end, more distortion occurs, since his own thoughts, emotions and modes of understanding are there to 1299 colour and condition the ideas that he receives.
All this is true, even of direct communication between people who know each other and who may be supposed to understand each other pretty well. How, then, do you communicate with a mass of people whom you have never even seen? If you put your thoughts into writing, it becomes a great deal easier. The reader has time to ponder what he has read, and, if he chooses, to go back and read again. Therefore the successive inventions of writing, books, printing and newspapers were all steps in the evolution of communication. But then the process was interrupted by the phenomenon known to biology as "jump mutation"; unpredictable from heredity but none the less permanent—in this case the discovery of radio-magnetic waves. The evolutionary line continued, but a powerful offshoot from it was generated, manifested first as wireless telegraphy and finally as the two-headed monster known as radio and television.
With the coming of television, mass communication embarked upon a kind of apotheosis. Not only does it appeal simultaneously to the ear and eye; it also transmits anything that can be set down on the printed page—not always so well, of course. But the fact remains that television is the super medium of mass communication. Yet see what has happened, my Lords. With broadcasting there came an explosive expansion in the size of the audience and a wiping out of time needed to get the message to that audience. These were two mighty steps forward, yes; but they were accompanied by a long stride backwards, since to the viewer and listener were lost those advantages of being able to ponder what they read and, if necessary, to go back and read again.The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor wit"—shall enable you to say, "Just a minute; I didn't quite get that,"
What it comes to is this: that what mass media communication gained in mass it has largely lost in communication; which makes it potentially the greatest and most dangerous chaos producer that man has yet devised. That, I think, may be said without prejudice 1300 to the equally cogent statement made by my noble friend Lady Emmet to the effect that television is the greatest influence for good in human hands. Here we have the great paradox. I refer particularly, but in no way exclusively, to television, and the argument I am trying to sketch out I put forward for this reason. I believe that if we are to decide how the super mass media ought, and ought not, to be used, we should first try to understand just what it is and what it can and cannot do. I have touched on the ordinary chances of misunderstanding in simple speech, and it would be almost insulting to point out how infinitely they are multiplied when the audience is a heterogeneous and polygot one of millions.
But now there comes another difficulty. Television may claim, with far more justification than the old newsreels, the function of presenting the world to the world. But what world does it so present, the real one or a phony one of its own inventing? I am not thinking of entertainment, or any kind of fiction, or slanted documentary, or even propaganda; but of news. Without considering the question whether it is right or wrong to present pictures of violence or horror, I ask whether what we see is the same as what we should have seen had we been there. The answer is, "No".
May I take an imaginary example? We are sitting comfortably with friends in a house in the United States watching colour television. What we see—this is quite possible—is this. The scene is Vietnam; American soldiers the characters. At a particular moment two of them are visible when a mortar bomb falls and explodes. One of the soldiers is unhurt, the other is killed. In both space and time the episode is neat and compact, and we have seen and heard it all; we have even seen it in colour. Do we, then, know what the experience is like for that surviving soldier left alone in front of the camera? The answer is, "No". Even if we have personal experience of the battlefield the answer is still, "No". All we have seen is a tiny fraction presented to us by the selective eye of the camera, and both our emotions and also our understanding are totally different from those of the man on the spot.
1301 I could draw many detailed comparisons and contrasts from that one example. Perhaps I have said enough to make the point that what took place on that distant battlefield and what we saw upon the screen are two different things. The world we see on our screens is not the world that the camera man sees. In transmission it has also been transmuted. Which, then, is the real world; the world out there, or the one which is brought to us at home? There is no easy answer to that question. Who saw most of the race, the jockey who rode in it or the viewer who saw far more of it than the jockey did—and heard a detailed commentary? To that question there is no answer at all; it is not even a very sensible question. So it comes to this: that the world that sits goggle-eyed before the box is all the time learning more and more about the world beyond its aerials; but the picture it is building up in its brain will never correspond more than roughly to the world that is experienced by the people who are actually living in it.
This, my Lords, I submit is true, even when the qualification has been added to it by the noble Lord, Lord Gore-Booth, to the effect that television is under the tyranny of the dramatic and the photogenic; which only goes to make the difficulty even more acute. Whether the world that is presented is real and the world that is received is imaginary, or vice versa, or whether they are equally real, though different—these are questions of philosophy. But I repeat the two points: that the messages that are coming in have already been transmuted, and are now also to be coloured and conditioned by the thoughts, emotions and modes of understanding of the individual viewer.
And what of the world at the receiving end of all this broadcasting? That also has passed through something that looks to me remarkably like a mutation, though it may be simply accelerated evolution. I venture to repeat something that I said three years ago, speaking on secondary schoolchildren in the debate initiated by my noble friend Lord Aberdare on religious education in schools. I then said:The children have changed, and changed in a way and to an extent that we have not fully understood, perhaps not even noticed. For by 'change' in the case of the children, I do not mean simply modification, so that 1302 what we have now is a more up-to-date model, so to speak, of what we had before. I mean that what we had before has disappeared, vanished, never to return, and in its place we have something quite different and altogether new. I believe that we have actually witnessed the end of an epoch of human evolution and the beginning of a new one … The … child of to-day is not merely his immediate ancestors brought up to date. He is a stage farther along the evolutionary path, and his mind works in a different way."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15/11/67; Vol. 286, c. 803.]If this view is sound (and it has been supported, but not, to my knowledge, disputed) we are faced with the suspicion that television is not only presenting a world that we do not know, but presenting it to a world that we do not know either. If that is so, then it behoves us to be a little wary in criticising the way the job is done. For all but the youngest among us must admit that we do not belong to either of these two new worlds. Front the second of them—the world of the new young audience—we are excluded for ever by our age. That is obvious. What is less obvious is that we are also excluded from the other; the world that comes through the air and crystallises in the mind, and which, though synthetic and second-hand maybe, none the less is one that is real to most of those who sit at the receiving end. Of course we have come to terms with television, but that is not quite the same thing; it is not truly a part of our world as it is to those who have found broadcasting already an apparently natural phenomenon of the life into which they were born. To us it is something that has been added on afterwards, never to be by most of us, I think, fully absorbed and understood. For, after all, television broadcasting is barely 34 years old.
Now a characteristic of the broadcasting media is that in broadcasting publicists they expose the counterfeit, the insincere, more pitilessly even than does that other microphonic mask-remover the telephone. I take some comfort from this, for I believe that one of the characteristics of the new young is that they are far more critical than their predecessors, less likely to be hoodwinked by the shoddy and the false. Moreover, they have been born into a world of search. We may look upon them sadly sometimes and wish that we could win them back to some of the old values from which they have turned aside; but if we cannot do that, at least 1303 we ought not to hamper them in their search, which we should almost certainly do if we were to lay down the law too firmly about what they should be allowed to see or listen to. For it is they—and also, for that matter, we—who are the users of the media, just as much as the editors at the transmitting end.
I hope that I have communicated with your Lordships with tolerable success. I should be distressed if your Lordships thought I meant only that we do not know what we are talking about, and had much better keep our mouths shut. I think nothing so negative and unhelpful. I see no reason why we should put up meekly with what we find objectionable, and every complaint on that score that is put forward in this debate has my enthusiastic support.
I believe not only with St. Paul that "evil communications corrupt good manners", but also the converse: evil manners corrupt communications—an offence of which all the mass media tend to be guilty from time to time. But noble Lords would perhaps prefer that I should take my scriptural quotation from Ecclesiasticus:Let thy speech be short, comprehending much in a few words.So I would end by saying just this. What I have tried to do is to show why I believe the subject of this debate is one that invites profounder exploration, and is at once more difficult and far more important than the bare words of the Motion might seem to suggest. It is no superficial or transient phenomenon that we are discussing, but a part of the very stuff of an emerging and (to me, at least) exciting world. If this debate can shed even a little light among the shadows from which that world must emerge, then indeed my noble friend who initiated it will have earned much gratitude.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ LORD SNOW
My Lords, we are indebted to the noble Baroness, Lady Emmet of Amberley, for introducing this debate, which has been most interesting and has gone on for a long time. I shall not detain your Lordships for very long, probably not more than ten minutes, because I only speak for more than ten minutes at this time of night if I have nothing whatever to say. I wish to follow directly on the speech of the noble Earl, 1304 Lord Cork and Orrery, for I, too, wish to concentrate entirely on television. I wish to concentrate on television because it is probably the technological innovation which has altered our lives more than anything since the introduction of printing: more than the internal combustion engine even; more than the telephone certainly; more than any method of communication which we have so far invented. It is one of the deep changes in human life. Here I am completely at one with the noble Earl, Lord Cork—in fact, I agree with very much of what he said, though not all of it.
People obviously react to a major technological change in various different ways. Many people feel that we have lost Eden, an Eden which never existed. They react to that in two completely different fashions. One is the Marshal McLuhan fashion, which suggests that owing to television we shall get back to this Eden which never existed—that is, the concept of the global village. There is something in all that fantastic verbiage, but not very much. The other reaction is one of sheer hatred: that we have lost Eden totally, and television is responsible for it. Neither of those attitudes is at all reasonable. It is a major change, and one, as the noble Earl said, that we do not fully understand. It is a change which has, like all great changes, positive and negative factors, which has brought considerable gains and, I think, considerable losses and dangers also.
The gains are obvious. They have been mentioned in this debate several times, largely I think by noble Ladies on both sides of the House. Television has unquestionably, for the mass of humanity in the developed countries, added considerably to the quality of life. It really has given interest to people whose lives were boring. The very moving speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, shows what it means to the disabled. But it means that to a great many people: to people whose lives are devoid of content; to whom hooks mean nothing; to whom newspapers mean very little. This has produced a range of interest which, so far, the large majority of human kind has never known. That is the positive side of television.
I want to say at once that I believe that the positive side on the whole outweighs the negative, and for me considerably so. But there are negative 1305 sides, and I want to devote the few minutes that I am going to take of your Lordships' time to dealing with one or two of them.
Television is a peculiar medium. It has very strange effects. The first is that one totally believes it. It is the most credible of all the media that have ever existed. It is much more credible than print. Obviously, if one is critically minded, as the noble Earl said, you can, after you have ceased looking at the box, say: "That is not true". But it takes some doing. Nothing that we have yet invented so immediately affects you with the idea that it is true. There is one minor artistic consequence of this: that television is far better dealing with realistic artistic material than it is with anything else. Fantasy on television fades off completely into nonsense; no one is interested or trusts it at all. Its great successes have always been in the things like the police series, "Softly, Softly", and so on, where you are dealing with what in normal art is called "somewhere between naturalism and realism". That is its strength. That has certain very strange and often very undesirable consequences. We obviously believe it too much, and we believe it in a rather singular way. We believe that these characters, known as television celebrities, are something like domestic pets. This induces in us a strange acceptance of the "domestic pet", and, unfortunately, I think, an aversion from the more difficult sides of life which do not lead you to become a domestic pet.
I fancy that one result of television is a curious passivity. I shall come back to that subject in two or three minutes. This is a passivity which means that people are not quite so willing to do the difficult things of life, to become public servants, politicians, even creative writers, when celebrity is so easily attained in this instantaneous medium. The domestic pets that we are presented with are very different from the persons who previously have been held up for admiration. What we normally see are "pop" singers, association footballers, and similar T.V. celebrities, coming on and talking to us, and saying, "Yer know", three times in each sentence. I do not know when "Yer know" came into the English language. This has now become an obsession of mine; I shrink every time I 1306 hear it, and somehow we have to try to drive it out.
This attitude of acquiescence before this intimate domesticity is probably dangerous. I think this is one of the real dangers to the young. It is relatively easy for a young man of some presence, and a little luck, to get a kind of notoriety which even thirty years ago took a lifetime of endeavour. I remember Marghanita Laski saying, after appearing on the television programme called "What's my Line?", that after about eight appearances she received far more notoriety and recognition than if she had devoted her life to an honourable career of writing books. Being a very strong-minded woman, she immediately retired from "What's my Line?" and unfortunately has not written many books since, because it appears to have been a traumatic experience. This attitude is one of the dangers, and something which we shall have to watch; something which we hope is probably within human control, but it may be something with which we have to live.
Attitude is an impalpable thing, difficult to define, but I am sure more conditioned by television than we are at present willing to accept. I should like to turn from attitude to behaviour, and mention one of the most peculiar of all modern liberal superstitions; that is, that nothing which is said, written or shown in any form of dramatic presentation—including television—can possibly affect in any way human behaviour. This is held with the force of a religious belief, and it is total nonsense. If that were true then all the books that have ever been written have never affected anybody; all the plays that have ever been produced have had no significance. All that has happened on television is just like going through a warm South-West wind, utterly forgotten as soon as you have experienced it. I cannot believe how sane people of good will can possibly believe this, yet they do so with the utmost enthusiasm, and with the certainty that this is part of the liberal creed. It is most important that we should hang on to the civilised liberal decencies. We shall find it harder to hang on to those decencies if we clutter them up in a kind of package deal with manifest nonsense.
1307 If your Lordships want proof of whether television affects human behaviour I might draw your attention to the fact that many millions of dollars and many millions of pounds are spent by advertisers every month of the year. They presumably do not do this out of disinterested philanthropy. They probably hope to affect human behaviour in some way or other, owing to this expenditure. If television advertising affects human behaviour, it seems to me utterly absurd to think that the rest of television is completely devoid of effective meaning. Here I quarrel completely with my noble friend Lady Gaiteskell. I am sorry that she is not in her place; I wish I had been able to draw her attention to what I was going to say.
This insistence that nothing can possibly be proved about the effect of television is one of the things that makes my mind boggle. There is a very good Eisenhower Report—Milton Eisenhower, not Dwight—which was published in 1970 that gives as near proof as a sceptic might want. You have to be a great sceptic to need such proof. It is perfectly demonstrable. The medium is pervasive, is so powerful, is so manifest in everyone's home, that it is likely to have at least a trivial effect on how you tend to behave.
What is to be done? Here we have the greatest mass medium that the world has yet seen with its positive sides outweighing its negative sides, but its negative sides are important. It is not easy; it will take a generation to work our way through it. I agree with most of what has been said, that here we cannot very actively intervene. Obviously censorship is not "on". That is not a tolerable concept. What is on is a certain absence of passivity on the part of people of sense and good will. We have to get out of the idea that we must always accept what is happening as though what is happening is inevitable. We have to make our voices heard when—and it happens—the intolerable is produced.
People are not completely without voices in this matter. We have only to say things and they will listen. The people who run television are not monsters; they are somewhat lost at the power of the machine they are controlling. They are at least as willing to listen to criticism 1308 as most other people in responsible positions, but it must be criticism which is not afraid. What strikes me about most of these discussions is how remarkably supine we tend to become in the face of a queer kind of fashion; the particular fashion here being that nothing does good or harm, and the whole thing is pointless anyway. That is not true. This is determining a lot of human life for a long time to come. Unless we show some mild moral courage, and a little insight, then we shall do harm when we ought to be able to do good.
§ 8.48 p.m.
§ LORD FERRIER
My Lords, lest any noble Lord wonders why I am on my feet, the reason is that my noble friend Lord Teviot did not put down his name to speak, and I did. A small error in transcription has made the list at fault. I imagine that other noble Lords, like myself, have been deeply impressed by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Snow, who has just sat down, following my noble friend Lord Cork and Orrery. What he has said has saved me from speaking on a lot of what I was going to say.
The noble Lord, Lord Snow, said, "What's on?" Well, I believe that we may err in being a little complacent about this television age, because we are only on the threshold of its development. The noble Lord spoke of the effect of the television in the advanced countries and I, and everybody else, agree with him. But what is going to happen? Enormous good will come from the spread of television in the more backward countries, and this still has to be calculated. If one thinks along those lines, as I do, this country has set a tremendous example in broadcasting, whether on "steam" radio or in vision. Therefore, this debate is an important one in considering the matter, and in looking ahead.
I am now going to descend to rather lower considerations and refer to the question of money. It seems to me, based on an experience I have just had in Cambridge, that we in this debate are not really grasping the fact. Having accepted that broadcasting and television are of enormous importance to our very way of life—and, as I have said, perhaps the way of life of many other millions—are we doing enough to see that it is properly furnished with resources? It would 1309 be fair at this stage to say that we must do something about getting in the licence fees.
The noble Lord, Lord Gore-Booth, asked why the mass media do not concentrate more on matters such as theft. The fact is, my Lords, that millions of people are thieving from you, and from me, and from the B.B.C. and from the world, by failing to buy their licences. I wonder whether something cannot be done by the Government to tighten up on wireless suppliers and suppliers of apparatus and repairers of apparatus to insist that they will not sell or repair instruments unless the individual owner, or prospective owner, produces a licence. The same applies to I.T.A. and the other organisations. They are in real trouble over shortage of money; and I believe it is important that they should be furnished with the sinews of this war—this war against poverty, this war against ignorance.
The shortage of money in the B.B.C. goes clown to all sorts of corners. The provision of adequate finance is essential to the success of the B.B.C.'s great overall task. One can take, for instance, the situation in Cambridge, where the Arts and Leisure Association have been unable to obtain a "Yea" or a "Nay" from the B.B.C., who are anxious to assist in the preparations for the Cambridge Festival in July. Progress has been held up for some months now, apparently through the inability of the B.B.C.'s finance side to permit the visual effects side to render the assistance which they are apparently anxious to give to this valuable cultural development. That is only one small facet, but I have come across it within the last few days.
I am one of those who feel that too much violence is shown in television, because of the showing of trailers, the programme news with which they keep wasting our time. Often one will find that for a Western, or, say, Tin Last of the Mohicans or some such programme, the trailer shown is one of what the noble Lord, Lord Fulton, described as some bloodless shooting, or an arrow which goes right through somebody—it does not seem to do him much harm, though he falls to the ground. It seems to me that the inclination of the broadcasting media to concentrate on violence is shown up in their selection of these 1310 items in the trailers. They should not do it. As my noble friend Lord Cork and Orrery said, these scenes of violence are very far from the real thing. A young 13-year-old boy, with a difficult background—and such a nice young fellow—said to a friend of mine the other day, quite uninvited (lie is always gazing at the box), "To look at this stuff, you would think no one ever did anything but bash each other about." That was what he said, and I rather agree with him. There is too much knocking about in a great many films.
As to the permissive society, we have spoken about drug-taking, the worship of sex and that sort of dirt. And they are, I think, dealt with in far too facile a way. I myself was greatly cheered by what my noble friend Lord Eccles and the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, said, to give heart to those who, like myself, feel that we must speak out about dirt. The attitude of the broadcasting media towards drugs seems to me to be that it is something we must learn to live with. I would much rather that the attitude was that it was something we should be able to live without. However, it is not my intention to go on with this matter in general terms because I want to turn to problems of reporting Parliament, and reporting generally in Scotland.
I agree with several noble Lords who have spoken with dissatisfaction of what I call the "processing" of news. It is a great pity. "The World at One", "The World This Weekend", and even the new form which "Today" takes in the morning amount to some measure of processing of news; and processing, as the noble Lord, Lord Davidson, said in his excellent maiden speech, by people who—I will not say they are irresponsible, but they are not responsible. There is too much tendency to present us with what they think we should hear. I would use the words of my noble friend Lord Eccles who pointed out the power of selection to distort the truth.
I, too, should like to see some of what I regard as rather cocky, "silly-clever" interviewers rapped over the knuckles. The noble Baroness, Lady Bacon, said that the people who are experienced politicians are able to fend for themselves. Good! I should like to see them fend a little more and in that way save the less experienced from having, as another 1311 noble Lord said, words put into their mouth by these very able and experienced interviewers. It is a pity that they cannot be infected with the matter-of-fact but mannerly attitude of the news readers. Need the tribe of interviewers be so importunate? All of them—news readers and all—as the noble Lord, Lord Davidson, pointed out, wield power: they wield power without responsibility; and it is a very great power.
To turn to my criticism of the reporting of Parliament, my mind goes back to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, who said, "Do we know enough about the Common Market? Do we know enough about the Industrial Relations Bill?" No, we do not. I believe that much of the blame rests with the reporting of Parliament. The Press, forced by economic circumstances, are not very generous in the space they give to-day compared to what they gave twenty years ago. And in Scotland, of course, they hardly report Parliament unless they are challenged, as the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, challenged them the other day by saying, "This debate has as much chance of being reported in Pravda tomorrow morning as it has in the papers in Scotland". However, that got around; that debate was very well reported.
But let us leave that and return to Parliament. As your Lordships know, this is a matter which I have mentioned off and on during years gone by. I am one of those who are really loud in my praise of the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. I must concentrate, though, on the B.B.C.'s "steam" programme—Radio 4 on sound—and congratulate them on the programmes, "Today in Parliament" and "Yesterday in Parliament", while emphasising that it is far too often very metropolitan. I personally feel that it is the greatest pity that the regions, such as Wales, Scotland and the West, and perhaps the North-East, do not have their own "Yesterday in Parliament" report in order that items can be picked out which concern the people of the particular region and link the interest of the people in the region with Parliament. I think this is very important, though I realise the difficulties. I congratulate the programme producers on the facility with which they produce this material but I 1312 should like them carefully to consider my remarks.
And whereas I am full of praise for that programme, I am equally full of criticism of the programme "The Week in Westminster". I listened to "The Week in Westminster" on Saturday morning. In the first place, I think it comes at the wrong time. I believe it used to come at five minutes past nine, but now they put on that excellent programme which has also been referred to in the debate by the noble Lord, Lord GoreBooth, namely "From Our Own Correspondent". That comes straight after the News, which I think is a pity because one gets almost tired of the News. Quite often the correspondent is referring to something one has just heard in the News bulletin, and I think "The Week in Westminster" should come in between the News and "From Our Own Correspondent".
But if it is to be called "The Week in Westminster", then its material must be altered: on the other hand, if its material is going to remain the same, then the title of the programme should be altered. On Saturday I listened to it on my car radio as I was coming down the A.1. They gave about five minutes to the House of Lords—great fun they had with sturgeon and swan-upping and all sorts of cracks about the amusing debate on Monday, which had lasted for one hour and two minutes. But there was no reference whatever to the fact that your Lordships discussed caravans and the problems of caravanning for three hours on Tuesday and a large number of Scottish Peers attended. I think I am right in saying that 16 of them spoke. Then there was a debate which lasted for five hours on the Wednesday, on the Highlands and Islands Development Board and its work. But that did not concern only Scotland, because a great deal of what was said, including references to the Forestry Commission and the like, referred to a number of other remote areas.
That seems to me to be quite fantastic, speaking as one who believes that the interest in Parliamentary programmes is much greater the further you are from London than it is in London itself. So I consider that that programme is the greatest possible disappointment, and I should like to suggest that if, as the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, said, we are going 1313 to get more knowledge of our problems, then this valuable medium—indeed, I would say these media, because it is not only the "steam" radio but television as well—should be used more, and used more judiciously. My Lords, I hope I have made that point about the regions without being too emphatic that I speak of Scotland alone.
That brings me to my final point, which is very much concerned with Scotland, and that is the schools programmes. I do not know how many of your Lordships, like myself, are fascinated by the schools programmes. I keep thinking, "If only I could have listened to stuff like this when I was a kid!". Yet I listened to one on the Assize Court last week. It was excellent, and it went out in Scotland. Whether it was actually played by the schools I do not know, but it had no reference whatever to the judicial system in Scotland. I consider that the programme put out in England should have contained a reference to the fact that in Scotland the system is different, if we are all to be one nation. This sort of thing is handing propaganda to the Scottish Nationalists.
The same applies to a programme I heard the other day on prisons. It was excellent, and it ran for about half an hour. It talked about Rampton and Broadmoor, which deal with the criminally insane, but it made no reference at all to the Carstairs experiment in Scotland which those of you who study these things will know is a most important experiment and a great advance on experience in England to-day. I make the point only in order to ask the B.B.C. if they will please try to get it clear that there are two systems, and explain to the English, and not only to the Scots, that there are two systems.
In closing, I think I am being fair in saying that the replacement of Lady May Baird, who retired from being chairman of B.B.C. Scotland in November, is long overdue. Which brings me back to what I began with, namely, the question of money. Is it possible that it is difficult to find a replacement for her because there is not enough money to pay the right man?
§ LORD HARVEY OF TASBURGH
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I am not sure whether I am in order in saying this, but while thanking 1314 him for his very kind remarks about my speech I think it would be unfair to allow the rather bumbling remarks I made earlier to be linked with the name of Lord Davidson. I know it was only a slip of the tongue.
§ 9.7 p.m.
§ LORD PEARCE
My Lords, at this hour I will not detain you by adding any detail to a debate that was beautifully opened and has been interestingly supported. Until a year or so ago I had nothing to do with the Press. Then I became Chairman of the Press Council. At the time I had, it is true, an inborn conviction that the freedom of the Press was of the utmost importance. I have always thought that of all the valuables that we hand from one generation to another the torch of freedom is perhaps the most important; and it is so easily dropped and extinguished, as we can see if we look at the world around us.
However, in the last year I have been enormously impressed by the amount of careful, competent—one might almost say dedicated—work that is performed by a very large section of the Press. Of course, when there is bad performance, as there always is in any human affair, the thing is highlighted and it is there for all to see. But I am sure that the Press as a whole are determined to maintain and improve, if possible, their standards. Seventeen years ago they took what was a rather courageous experiment for a profession of independent minded individualists when they formed the Press Council; and seven years ago they asked laymen of some standing in their profession and other professions to help them in their deliberations and had an independent chairman drawn from the ranks of laymen.
The function of the Press Council—and I will not detain your Lordships with detail—is really that of a fairminded sensible jury that invites complaints from the public about the Press and then adjudicates on them. There is no coercion, so there is no danger really to freedom, but the offending paper is in honour bound—and it does so—to print in its own columns the adjudication criticising the behaviour on the particular 1315 event. I am quite certain that for the majority that is of very great weight indeed, because nobody likes putting in their own columns an account of something which obviously was not one of their better moments and one of their better performances, and which, in the view of a fairminded sensible jury, really was not good enough. I should like to pay tribute to the vast majority of the Press for the careful work they do (which is not often particularly noticed and which is rather taken as a matter of account) and to the efforts they make and are making to keep up their standards. In my view there is no real danger that those standards will deteriorate.
§ 9.11 p.m.
§ LORD ARDWICK
My Lords, I should like to follow my noble friend Lady Birk in lamenting that Francis Williams is no longer with us to take part in this debate to-night. He was a foremost critic, historian, and practitioner, both in journalism and in radio and television, and he made some notable contributions to your Lordships' debates on this kind of subject. Had he been here with me to-night he would have been rejoicing with me, as all Fleet Street is rejoicing to-night, that all the defendants in the official secrets case have been cleared, and that the Government are to make an official review of the Official Secrets Act. We hope that in doing so they will take notice of the remarks of Mr. Justice Caulfield about the iniquitous and ridiculous Section 2 (these are my words, not his), and that it is time for this section to be pensioned off. This is a vague section under which anybody who communicates information from official sources, even if it is no threat at all to national security, may find himself liable to prosecution.
Next, I must confess an interest in this debate. I work for a newspaper which has an interest in commercial television, and I earn a few hundred pounds a year from the B.B.C. Next I must express apologies for missing the opening of this debate. I was giving a lecture on one of the infrequently acknowledged virtues of the mass media. I was describing how some popular newspapers, including my own, have become an arm of the social services, a kind of invisible ombudsman. There is a staff 1316 of expert advisers to deal with a range of problems identical to those covered by the Citizens Advice Bureau. Some are problems of poverty—for instance, pension rights, and the mysterious ways of the supplementary benefits man. Some of them are problems of affluence; how to get compensation for the holiday tour which provided less than the multicoloured brochure promised, or how to get compensation for the shopping bargain which proved to be a waste of money.
Then there is another kind of letter, of which my noble friend Lady Birk spoke, which comes from people in difficult emotional situations, and is addressed to the woman columnist. This kind of inquiry is the subject of many bad jokes, but I may say that many of the people who write do so in desperation, as a last resort, some of them in a state of almost suicidal despair. The work of these advisers covers the ground of the Marriage Guidance Council, the Council for the Unmarried Mother, the Family Planning Association and the Samaritans. Very little is known outside about this work, and many of the writers get into touch with the women columnists because they cannot bring themselves to confess their troubles face to face with a counsellor in one of the orthodox services. Having read the columnist over the years, they feel they know and like and trust her, and very often the best thing the columnist can do is to refer the distressed reader to an orthodox agency and pave the way for her to do so. I think I should also mention that over 30 per cent. of the people making these inquiries are men—because men have their emotional problems, too. And many of the women who write in are educated professional women, who always write and say that they never imagined that they would be seeking advice from such a source.
Your Lordships may ask in the first case—the kind of practical question which the CAB covers—why the people who write letters do not go to the orthodox agencies. It is simply because some people, wrongly of course, identify them with the very public authority which is troubling them. They are looking for a powerful champion, and the popular newspaper which represents itself to be 1317 the critic of the Establishment and the scourge of bureaucracy is the one that is handiest for them.
I think I must resist the temptation to deliver my lecture a second time. What I am concerned about in this debate is to show how well served we are in Britain by the mass media. I may say, in passing, that I have never heard a debate in which there has been less criticism of the newspapers. It seems that television not only has taken a great deal of our revenue, but has also taken our sins on its shoulders.
What I really want to say is that no other country in the world has Press and broadcasting services which compare with those that we have, not just in London but in every city in the United Kingdom. Of course it is possible, and with justice, to criticise our newspapers and our broadcasting agencies. All our democratic institutions—our trade unions, our local councils, our system of justice and our Houses of Parliament—are easy to deride. They are just as desirable as are the mass media; and just as essential and just as unique.
It is possible to argue, as many people are arguing in the controversy about newspapers to-day, that The Times is inferior in some respects to the New York Times, or the Guardian to Le Monde, or the Daily Telegraph to Neuer Zürcher Zeitung. But we in this country have an unbeatable combination of three quality dailies, plus the Financial Times, on sale everywhere in Britain at breakfast time: and often they are supported by regional newspapers, such as the Yorkshire Post, the Scotsman and the Glasgow Herald. In addition, there is the range of popular newspapers; there are the three tabloids and the three popular text papers. Not only do they cover a wide political range, from the extreme Left of the Morning Star, to the Daily Mail, but they cater for a wider variety of tastes and of intellectual ability than any Press in the world can do.
The British are the greatest newspaper readers in the world, simply because their Press caters for such a wide range of readers and because of our unique distribution system. The last and most important link in the chain is formed by the little shops, which exist because of our unique devotion in this country to 1318 random purchases of sweets, tobacco and magazines. On these dark mornings they perform a daily miracle in delivering our newspapers, usually before breakfast and through our own front doors. If you were to live in some countries you would be lucky to get your morning paper by second post.
All this printed journalism is supported by a most remarkable public and commercial broadcasting service. With all our criticism, with all the criticisms that we have heard to-day, we must recognise that it is easier and cheaper to be well informed in Britain than in any other country in the world. But I must give warning that this may be, at this moment, the peak of the achievements in quality journalism pioneered by Barnes of The Times, in popular journalism pioneered by Northcliffe and in public service broadcasting by the noble Lord, Lord Reith. To-day, there is great anxiety in all the mass media from the boardroom to the production floor. Part of our troubles are temporary—the dearth of advertising caused by a virtual stagnation in consumption over a number of years; part of it is due to rising costs which cannot with any certainty be recouped by higher prices; and part of it may be structural. We may have more newspapers than can be supported in an age when television takes such a large slice of advertising.
At the risk of bringing the noble Earl, Lord Arran, to his feet, I may say that it is a subject for public speculation whether the Daily Mail and the Daily Sketch can continue as independent titles. I was not present myself, but I understand that the noble Earl, in an intervention earlier on, did give some assurance on this point. If he could expand upon it in his speech, which follows mine, it would be very good news for Fleet Street. Then we have the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Fleet, who, with stubborn courage, is using all his managerial skills, and some of his millions, to make The Times viable. The Guardian is being sustained only because it has a splendid moneymaker in the Manchester Evening News. It is not even certain (again I risk an intervention from the noble Earl) that we can continue for long to have two vigorously competing evening papers even in London.
In all other newspaper towns except Glasgow there is to-day no face-to-face 1319 competition among the evening papers. They have solved their commercial problems in the least desirable way, and yet in the only way open to them; that is, by getting out of the competitive situation and creating a monopoly. They face a dilemma well known to American newspapers, almost all of which, in that country of intense competition, have no competitors at all. The problem, once you get a monopoly, is no longer how to stay in business, it is how to stay in journalism; how to go on putting the reader first, when all the temptations are to put the advertiser first.
Your Lordships may have noticed that journalists, once the most feeble of trade unionists, have now, like other middle-class workers, become militant. It is not greed that is pushing them. Journalists have a kind of holy innocence when it comes to monetary questions. It is true that there is a certain legitimate envy of the gains made by the mechanical staffs of newspapers, but what is moving them to-day is frustration and fear. Frustration because slim newspapers limit their professional opportunities, and fear because slim newspapers create redundancies. A number of people, including one or two people who have spoken to-day, who are anxious to preserve the excellent variety we enjoy in our newspapers, are looking around for some way of tempering the wind to the shorn lamb. But every scheme that I have seen to help newspapers, whether it is by providing cheap newsprint or tax concessions, involves Government beneficence, Government favours, and these we must do without. A Government which can give, can also threaten to take away—which a failing Government might be tempted to do if it found the Press behaving in such an irresponsible way as to suggest that Government's own immediate demise.
We do not have a Party Press in this country, but our newspapers have political philosophies. However, this never deters them from attacking a failing Government, although that Government may share their philosophy. Two Prime Ministers in recent years have known what it is to face a whole newspaper Press with hardly one friendly face among the editors. That is why the Press must 1320 remain free of Government favours in order to remain free of Government pressures, even if it means that some newspapers must disappear, that some newspaper readers must lose their favourite newspaper, and some newspaper workers must lose their jobs. It is a "Give me liberty or give me death" situation. The possibility of a Government acting with political prejudice towards a newspaper is seen even in ordinary commercial transactions. Neither this Government nor the previous Government would place any advertising with the Morning Star, and you do not have to be a sympathiser with that newspaper to see the danger inherent in the principle.
When we come to broadcasting, which has been so much talked about to-night, the difficulties there are not only commercial; they are political, too. The commercial television companies are groaning under a Government levy fixed in the days when the profits were big and easy, but continued long after that situation had changed, and changed for all time. A mass medium short of money cannot give the viewer the quality of programme he would wish to have. As for the B.B.C., it cannot now clearly see its future. There is a feeling about in the political world that it should be cut down to size, that it should cease to cater for all the people all the time—I think my noble friend Lady Burton of Coventry was suggesting that earlier on—and should leave really popular entertainment to commercial interests in both sound and television. I believe that that would be a very dangerous course.
§ BARONESS BURTON OF COVENTRY
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt my noble friend, but I really suggested nothing of the sort and I hope that to morrow when he reads the Report he will see that that was so.
§ LORD ARDWICK
My Lords, I am sorry if I misinterpreted my noble friend. The freedom of the B.B.C. depends upon the licence system, and that system could not be maintained if the B.B.C. were catering for only some of the people. This is the point about numbers, the point about ratings. The B.B.C. dare not neglect the ratings. The ratings are the choice that the licence payer makes in his programmes, and I do not believe that the B.B.C. could maintain the quality 1321 of its organisation or of its programmes if it were forced to live in an ivory tower.
I suspect that a good deal of the general criticism of the mass media to-day comes from two sources. The first is that in the world as it is to-day we move from one complex crisis to another. It is impossible to keep up with events, even if one is a professional student of politics, and we sometimes resent our inability to live up to our concept of being firstclass participants in our democracy. It is not the dearth of information that we resent; it is its impossible plenitude.
The other source of discontent is that the mass media reflect a world that we do not like, and so we feel an instinct always to slay the bearer of bad news. I was appalled at the idea, which I heard earlier, that the Arts Council should subsidise only respectable plays which the mass of taxpayers would want it to support. It is the play that shocks, perhaps even the play that outrages, which really needs a subsidy. Art is not respectable, democracy is not respectable, Her Majesty's Oppositions are not respectable and newspapers are not respectable. Nobody to-day can like the world of 1971, and many people pine for the never-never world of P. G. Wodehouse, the Happy Mag, dear old Dodie Smith and Shirley Temple singing "The Good Ship Lollipop".
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham spoke earlier of the moral consensus. I wonder what moral consensus he meant, because I do not see one. I see only moral chaos and moral conflict. Perhaps what irks us about the mass media is that they are dealing with that conflict, but I do not believe that we are going to work through the terrible spiritual problems of to-day if we turn our back on them and pretend that they do not exist. We are living through a period of crises just as agonising to the young as they are to our generation but, as my noble friend Lady Lee of Asheridge said, the young are prepared to face them and to search for a resolution.
The mass media did not invent these crises. I think it is possible to argue, as my noble friend Lord Snow argued, that they fortify the current trend; they have an effect upon values and upon opinion. But it remains true that by their nature 1322 as mass media they must be slow to deal with a trend until it has become firmly established. I believe that we are fortunate, in a time like this, to have mass media of such quality and variety, so alert to the modern world, and we should be more concerned about their ability to survive and succeed than about their shortcomings.
§ 9.30 p.m.
THE EARL OF ARRAN
My Lords, it had been my intention to thank the noble Baroness for giving us an opportunity to "blow our tops", and I was willing to grasp it with both hands, but in the last speech I have been put on the spot. I want to make it clear to your Lordships that I will not "carry the can" for the British Press. I represent only one section of it. I am a director of the Daily Mail and General Trust. I cannot answer for Mr. Murdoch, for Lord Thomson or for Sir Max Aitken, none of whom is here, and I do not propose to do anything of the sort. Such is not my duty or my responsibility. I repeat: I am a director of the finance company of the Daily Mail. I am not a director of Associated Newspapers.
It would be easy for me to take the line, "Baby does not know". Baby does not know, but baby knows this much: what he has already said—and he is going to say no further than this—is that there is no intention of closing down the Daily Mail. That is as far as my brief goes. Ministers at the Despatch Box will realise that when they have a brief they cannot go beyond it. I repeat what I have said, and I say it with emphasis—and, honestly, the suggestion by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, that he took a grave view, was, if I may say so, slightly mischievous because the lives and the livelihoods of thousands of people are involved. I repeat for the third time categorically—it is almost like a parrot cry—there is no intention of closing down the Daily Mail. As for the other, I just do not know; I am not on their financial board. Have I cleared my name? Have I said what I honestly can? I hope I have. It is the truth.
My Lords, after that, may I get down to what I wanted to talk about, which is something quite different? It is about television programmes, on which as a compulsive viewer since 1937 I am an 1323 expert, and commercial television advertisements. Let me say straight away that, like the noble Lord, Lord Fulton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, I regard television as the greatest instrument for adult education since Caxton's printing press. I myself had a splendid education, the best that money could buy, plus a natural ghastly precocity, but I would say, after watching television at intervals for over thirty years, that I regard myself as twice as well informed as I was when I left Balliol in 1933. True, my knowledge is not so specialised as at the time when the noble Lord, Lord Fulton, sought to instruct me daily. My classics are rusty, my knowledge of Locke, Berkley and Hulme is sketchy, to say the least. But because of television my spectrum of general knowledge has greatly broadened itself.
I have seen many beautiful places—I am not talking about country houses, but about places at home and abroad. I have learnt to love football. I can tell you why the Indians of South America are in danger of extinction. I can tell you what the moon looks like—it is very dull, incidentally. I can cook an omelette. I can tell you about the life cycle of the eel and the salmon. I have seen dramatic versions of the English classics which I have not read. I am not intimately acquainted with the Treaty of Rome (how many of your Lordships are?) but at least television has done its best to teach me what it is all about. Quite seriously, I say that the information I have received from television has enriched my life.
My Lords, like the noble Baroness, Lady Burton, and, I think, the noble Lord, Lord Snow, I speak with sincerity, indeed with gratitude, about these good things. On the other side of the road, while I am not shocked by four-letter words (and, as the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, said, the frequency with which they are used takes the very obscenity out of them) I am from time to time subjected to a piece of exhibitionistic obscenity, mostly on the B.B.C., which causes me to feel the utmost distaste. A few weeks ago I watched a play on B.B.C. Television called, The Circle Line. I do not know whether any other noble Lords watched it. It was a play about boredom; and I was electrified to see in it a young man and a 14-year-old boy 1324 naked in bed together. "Did you enjoy it?" asked the boy. "Not much", said the young fellow in a voice of ineffable gloom. The young man, who could have done with a "short back and sides" anyway, proceeded to tell the boy's sister that he had seduced her brother. While this news was sinking in, they mournfully chewed an omelette which the sister paid for. Her husband was a brisk, wicked businessman who "beefed" a bit, not so much because his brother-in-law had been seduced and introduced to "pot"; but because this layabout was living off the taxpayers' money without working. I need hardly say, my Lords, that the Guardian gave the play a "rave" notice.
Was it for this that your Lordships passed the Sexual Offences Bill, carefully keeping the age of consent to 21 and insisting on privacy? Was it your Lordships' wish that perhaps one million, or even 2 million, people should witness such a scene on their television screens? Is this sort of play not guaranteed to deprave and corrupt? What would the noble Baroness, Lady Bacon, say about this? What would Lord Reith say about this? Sadly, and in reactionary fashion, one longs again for the Lord Chamberlain. Since then the author, in a pitying letter, writes to me to say that one cannot teach an old dog new tricks. He is probably right. By heaven!, he is right. I may be a mangy old dog, but such tricks I will not learn. Five years ago I was regarded as being of the avant garde. To-day I am a "square". Such is the speed of enlightenment.
Now, my Lords, from morals to good taste. If I.T.V. sets a higher moral standard than the B.B.C.—as it does—some of their advertising, approved apparently by what is known as the Advertising Control of the Independent Television Authority, makes me want to vomit. I am tired of looking down lavatory pans, plumbing the twists and turns of "S" bends. It is a short step from this until we actually see people sitting on the lavatory seat. But what I take particular exception to is the advertisement for what are called the under-stains. This I regard as the most disgusting advertisement that I have ever seen. It is forced on us night after night, on the Goebbels principle that if you want to get a theme across you must make your point over and over again.
THE EARL OF ARRAN
If it comes in the middle of a play I prefer to ignore it. My Lords, let us kill this damned advertisement to-day. Let us; kill it absolutely. It offends all the women I know and a lot of men, too.
Lastly, my Lords—and this is an anticlimax—I do not like to see a vicar advertising a commercial product. He dragged in God. The fee presumably went to the church funds, but I do not like it. It seems all wrong. I do not know what the Lords Spiritual would have to say about it.
Now for the Press—but I think we will leave that for the moment. I have introduced two debates on this subject in ten years. I am not going to declare my interest again—your Lordships all know it. I asked to speak late in the debate lest there should have been a general onslaught. I faced some awkward questions from the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick. There is one thing on the Press about which I feel strongly. The noble Lord, Lord Pearce, made a very spirited defence of the Press Council. I should like to agree with him; and as your Lordships may perhaps know, I was myself formally rebuked by the Press Council last summer for espousing Israel's cause overvehemently. But because the General Secretary of my Union, the I.O.J., sprang to my rescue in The Times, saying that to forbid comment on an international dispute would be to destroy the freedom of speech, I did not feel too guilty. Indeed, I felt proud. That, with great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Pearce, is where I feel that the Council falls down; it is not sufficiently respected. I should feel that I am "in the dog house"; I do not feel that.
My Lords, I have done; the mangy old dog has had his say. I have not had to defend the Press, although ii have had very awkward questions asked me. My theme has been morals and good taste which I think are in real danger of degradation at the moment. May I say these few things? Shall we now truly liberate ourselves? Shall we take off our clothes? Shall we have sexual intercourse in public? Shall we defecate in the street? What is holding us back? Why should we not 1326 throw overboard our bourgeois conventions? Life should be lived and lived to the full—to hell with good taste and common decency! And if, my Lords, there are a few other mangy old dogs like me, let us point to the things that cry aloud, and see if we cannot stop the rot.
§ 9.41 p.m.
§ LORD BIRKETT
My Lords, I was depressed and gloomy at the beginning of this debate because, if I understand him aright, the noble Viscount, the Paymaster General, believes that the only good and saleable news is bad news. Since we are taught that we are a consumer society, and that appetite grows by what it feeds on, it occurred to me that the first months of 1971 seem to support this; and that we arc, perhaps, the first society no longer capable of doing anything but cause bad news, because that is all that is required for the Press and television, and that the possibility of creating acts of good news is now beyond us for ever.
However, the subsequent course of the debate quite encouraged me, because I could see some of the good news within it. For example, my noble friend Lord Goodman hinted of some slight disagreements between himself, as Chairman of the Arts Council, and the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles. Yet I listened to both their speeches; I thought they were both excellent; I admired them enormously. I agreed with every word that both noble Lords said. It seems to me that in the circumstances the disagreements must be extraordinarily well hidden, or very small; and my hope and belief is that they are very small and will not cause much alarm to those who believe that the work of the Arts Council is supporting the Arts.
When it comes to the question of morality, obscenity and all the related factors, I believe that I cannot add anything in your Lordships' debate to-night, except to say that, however disturbing things may be occasionally, I cannot believe that the general tenor of this country is in much danger. I cannot believe that the Arts Council is in much danger. I really do not see my noble friend Lord Goodman moving in what might be termed vicious circles. It seems to me that emphasis must be placed on these things; that they should be guarded against. But that anything active should be done, that the noble Earl, Lord Arran 1327 should invoke the name of the Lord Chamberlain again, seems to me to be a retrogressive thought; and I am very happy to think that your Lordships' House would never for a moment take such a retrogressive step.
It is notable how quickly one seizes upon the misuses of the mass media when one reads the subject of the debate. The noble Baroness, to whom we are all grateful for introducing the debate, phrased it very carefully to include the use and misuse, but there is a great instinct to seize on the misuse. So much more attractive it is to describe; so much more exciting to speak about. Yet, in fact, it is the uses that I have been very pleased to see emphasised by so many noble Lords. For example, the noble Lord, Lord Harvey of Tasburgh, in his maiden speech, which I admired so much and with which I agreed so strongly, brought out, I thought, something quite new by saying that the dangers that face television are much more the insidious dangers of sensationalism than of political bias, much less of political domination.
I have listened, not merely in your Lordships' debate this afternoon but in many controversies, to the subject of political bias in television, and particularly after the last Election. The Society of Film and Television Artistes held an evening, an open forum, for this to be discussed, and accusations were levelled, I am happy to say, at all three Parties. For the life of me, I could not see this when I watched it. I watched the Election right through from beginning to end, and it seemed to me that the only bias I could detect was one in favour of common sense. Yet these accusations flew about very thickly.
I take comfort from that, because so long as accusations of bias can be levelled it is a pretty sure sign that the unbiased norm must still be there. I would so much rather have a biased commentator just once in a while than a situation where television was so controlled and so overwhelmed by an organisation, even a Government, that it was not able to produce bias. You do not find biased speeches on the radio or on television behind the Iron Curtain. That is not bias; that is the one-Party line, and the distinction, I think, should be drawn.
1328 So, for me, the question of bias is not particularly dangerous or important. So long as people are always recognising it, diagnosing it and complaining of it, I shall remain quite happy. Much more dangerous, I think, are the insidious things, such as the danger of sensationalism. And perhaps almost more subtle than that are the dangers to which the noble Lord, Lord Snow, referred—the dangers of the personality cult.
But I think that, before one elaborates on those things, one should recognise one fact about television, as opposed to newspapers. It is ten times more difficult to be impartial on the television. The camera may not lie, but it simply cannot avoid commenting. I speak as a practitioner, not of television but of film, and I know something of what a camera can and cannot do. Where you place it has a gigantic effect on what it says. I am speaking now as a man who is trying to be unbiased, as a man who is trying to present as impartial an account as he can. Even if he puts it a long way away, the event seems distant and not particularly important. If he mixes his camera into the midst of an event, it seems suddenly immensely dramatic. He already has his choice, he is already halfway directing the scene, even though it is a live happening, by where he puts the camera. This is so if a lot of film is assembled together. One is always seeing "clips" of film coining in from the Middle East in crisis and the Far East in crisis. These things must be joined together. The rhythm at which they are joined together is itself a comment. If you join them together phrenetically, then the event becomes phrenetic. If you join them together in long single shots, then the event takes on a different rhythm.
This is something which is not, I believe, played upon cynically by television people: it is simply an inherent difficulty which they face. Even the background against which they place a man can have an effect. How often has one seen a Minister of the Crown returning from some complicated negotiation abroad, able to say nothing at all, but prepared to make a statement saying something like: "Our discussions were of the greatest interest", and put a full stop after it! That simple and rather uninteresting statement, if it is taken on the airfield, with the clamorous silver shape 1329 of an airliner behind it, and with the wind blowing, somehow seems to have hope within it.
The same statement delivered in the glum little television room, with the little velvet curtain and the little wooden chair, gives the impression that somehow the news is so much worse, and the hope seems also unforeseeable. Yet it is the same statement. That statement written in The Times or in the Daily Express will look the same. One may bring with it a fancy for a certain newspaper, a prejudice against another. But it will remain the same and, as so many noble Lords have said, you can read it over; you can work on it yourself; you can read it to yourself. On television, even the news reader who reads the report of the statement gives it an emphasis of some sort. So I beg your Lordships to recognise that people working in television, by its very nature, find it more difficult to be impartial than those working on the newspapers.
The insidious dangers that the noble Lord, Lord Harvey of Tasburgh, and the noble Lord, Lord Snow, mentioned, are in a way the most subtle. The most subtle and insidious thing for me in television—and I do not wish to be glum, because in a moment I will draw what I regard as a crumb of comfort from that as well—is that every personality and person on television is expected to be a first-class entertainer. Because this is so, only those who are first-class entertainers become regarded by the public as experts in their own field. You cannot be an expert on antiques now, you cannot be an archæologist, you certainly cannot be a politician, unless you are a television entertainer.
This element of entertainment which television imposes on us all is something which is dangerous because it upsets standards. The standards get confused. Yet I said that I could see a crumb of comfort in that, which is this: that just as it may distort standards, this habit of entertainment will raise immeasurably the level of education, because that is where the future of television can really open up. We have television to give us current affairs. That could be better. It could be wider, but we have it. Education is only beginning to open up, and I believe that the secret of education lies in 1330 entertainment. Everybody who suffered at school from subjects he could not learn looks back on a teacher who could not teach the subject to him. I define entertainment as the ability to draw an audience into another world, simply to make them forget the moment, and take part in what the entertainer presents to them, be it education, or the lightest and frothiest entertainment. If television teaches us that, then for all its drawbacks I think that the future of education, with the aid of television in this country, is one of the brightest things we can look forward to.
§ 9.53 p.m.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Selsdon, when he rose to speak, said that he was the last speaker before halfway. It seems that perhaps I am the last speaker before the commercial break. Two months ago this House discussed our physical environment. Perhaps the speech of my noble friend Lady Emmet of Amberley on that occasion was in part a trailer for this debate. In any event, our thanks are certainly due to her for to-day's opportunity to examine the other side of the environment coin.
I have listened to all but three and a half of the speeches that have been made to-day. Since my remarks are primarily directed towards radio and television, I could not help wondering why the debate did not range as far and wide over the possible field that it might have done.
Perhaps it has concentrated on radio and television not only because those two media in themselves in fact serve virtually all the others of significance, but because it marks a recognition of the extent to which in recent years they have achieved an immense degree of dominance in the media field and the power for good and, for that matter, the power for evil that they to-day represent.
Like the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn and my noble friend Lady Emmet of Amberley, I am a radio, as opposed to television, fan. Like her, I am particularly fond of Radio 4. But I am not this evening going to attempt to criticise or talk about any particular programme, and I will forgo the chance to throw the odd bouquet in the direction of my favourite commentators, announcers and comperes. Several noble 1331 Lords have touched on the question of bias. The noble Lord, Lord Birkett, warned or urged us not to be too worried about this, but said there was no harm in speaking out on occasion. Perhaps he was thinking particularly of political bias. But during the debate to-day several noble Lords have touched upon the many ways in which bias of any sort can make itself shown other than in any overt form: through inflection, insinuation, choice of words, synonyms, adjectives and interview techniques.
There is no doubt that since "Auntie" raised her hemline a little, and let those who work for her have more freedom on the air, the opportunity for bias to intrude has increased. It is easy to overstate the case and, let us face it, there are few of us who would complain of a biased commentator at a football match or cricket match when he spoke in favour of our favourite team. But any bias that intrudes must be watched most carefully if the B.B.C., in particular, and Independent Television as well, are to continue to be in a real sense a trustee for the national interest—the words which I think first appeared in the Crawford Committee Report of 1926. Perhaps on occasion the B.B.C. in particular has been over-sensitive to criticism. I do not think they should mind when we hold up a mirror to their efforts to see how well they reflect our national life and what is happening around us.
The noble Lord, Lord Fulton, and the noble Lord, Lord Snow, in particular, went quite fully into the question of the effect of television on behaviour. After 1332 their contributions it would be impertinent of me to offer more than a very brief comment. To my mind it is not so much a question of good and bad presented to undiscerning viewers, and the consequent inability on their part to distinguish between the two. Much more real is the danger, especially among the young, of a conflict in their minds between fact and fiction. On this point I think that often the juxtaposition of a real event on the news and a similar fictitious event in the preceding or following programme not only trivialises the news itself but adds to the possibility of blurring the outlines between entertainment and news.
I should like to make just one other point, as briefly as I can. At a time when the speed of private communications, as opposed to the public and mass media communications about which we are speaking to-day, places a greater strain on the men in charge of national affairs and concerned with international affairs, one is only too often aware of how this is at times aggravated by what is said to and, in turn, put out by the media, and by television and radio in particular. Obviously, we cannot have censorship, but this afternoon noble Lords have spoken about the responsibility for sensible selection, and I think it is as well that those who have the management and particularly the production of our programmes should bear in mind the difficulties that can arise and can arise, too, from constantly pursuing persons engaged in negotiations—national, international, industrial, or whatever they are—for further comment, and perhaps only with the result of putting them into a more entrenched position and further away from the negotiating table.
§ 10.3 p.m.
§ BARONESS WHITE
My Lords, I am sure your Lordships will appreciate that a debate with 26 such varied and excellent speeches is not an easy one to reply to from either side, but the subject which has been opened for our discussion by the noble Baroness, Lady Emmet of Amberley, demonstrates that within your Lordships' House there are those who have expertise in almost every field of public communications. It is indeed a subject on which I think most people feel that they have something to say, but the quality and range of the speeches to which we have listened really shows how much material there is which is of the greatest possible consequence for our public wellbeing. I apologise most sincerely to the very few speakers that I was not able to hear.
I am sure it is a great pleasure to all of us to have added to our counsels the noble Lord, Lord Harvey of Tasburgh, whose maiden speech we listened to with great pleasure. It was a most thoughtful speech and I am sure that I speak for everyone on these Benches when I say that we hope very much to have many opportunities of hearing him again. Also, as someone who was for a brief time a member of the Foreign Office may I say how glad we are that someone who had so distinguished a father is here in this House.
I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Fulton, who said that we have all too little study and research on some of these subjects, and I think the debate we have had today, which has ranged so widely and has touched on so many topics, perhaps indicates that one should consider more carefully whether one ought to have, not—with respect to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Pearce—a Press Council for the other media, because I think one wants not something dealing with complaints, but possibly some better arrangements for the continuous study of the impact of the communications media on our public and intellectual life. I can see the difficulties of organising it, but I am sure we shall agree that whereas critics of music or drama in the newspapers have a reasonable scope—we have normally one or two, or at the most three, new plays in the theatre, and a limited number of concerts—with the great output of television and radio it is quite 1334 impossible for the newspaper critics to keep up. It seems to me that here we have a gap which somehow should be filled. That was one of the considerations which passed through my mind in listening to the speeches today.
I hope to deal with what seems to me to be the nub of the problems which face us in the field of mass media, but before doing so I should perhaps refer to the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles. He has explained to me that a public engagement prevents his being here. I am sorry for that, because I should have liked to engage in face to face discussion with him on some of the things he said. I should have liked to discuss, among other things, his view of history, because in my opinion the great majority of people in this country, the working people at any rate, enjoy far greater freedom now than they did in the days to which he referred as the days of freedom. But I am afraid that the reports of this debate in the Press tomorrow will be largely concerned with Lord Eccles's comments on the undesirability of using public funds for certain types of entertainment of which, he said, a large number of people would disapprove.
I felt that in subsequent speeches my noble friend, Lady Lee of Asheridge, and the noble Lord, Lord Fulton, and in particularly the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, as Chairman of the Arts Council, put the matter in perhaps rather better perspective. I myself, at any rate, should be very sad indeed if the Government became directly involved in anything which one might call moral censorship in individual cases, provided, of course, that they are within the law. When I questioned him, Lord Eccles said that he would cross the bridge of possible Ministerial intervention only when he came to it. I hope that he will take Lord Goodman's excellent advice and beware of starting out on a road which might lead to that bridge; and after the speech that we heard from Lord Goodman I think that we can have every confidence that the Arts Council will be able to deal with the few instances in which this difficulty might arise.
I hope that the Arts Council, in reaching their judgments, will use esthetic standards, because, after all, sensation 1335 for the sake of sensation has no artistic value, any more than titillation for its own sake, or violence for its own sake, or sadism for its own sake has any artistic value. These do indeed corrupt. But I think one can apply proper ésthetic standards of judgment without involving anything which could be regarded as governmental, still less Ministerial, censorship. I was particularly glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Bacon, drew attention to other things which can in the minds of many of us be much more depraving: incitement to cruelty or prejudice is surely far more corrupting than occasional nudity. I hope that we shall get this matter in proportion.
Lord Eccles went on, very rightly, to stress that what we hope from all the media is that they should provide material of the highest standards for the public's enjoyment and consideration. He then spoke of this as an act of faith. But in my theology faith without works is not enough—I speak with due deference to the right reverend Prelate. What underlines a great deal of this debate, which has rightly been concerned mainly with quality, with moral values and with content, is, after all, questions of policy, organisation and finance. If we are concerned about quality and content, surely we should also ask ourselves: are the present arrangements conducive to quality, or do they tend to frustrate its attainment? If so, why? One would like very much to discuss the whole range. We have had references to-night, for example, to the theatre, by Lord Auckland and others who have shown their interest in and knowledge of this matter. I have some little knowledge of the cinematograph industry and should greatly like to say something about that, but I will resist the temptation to do so because I think that the real nub of the problem and of our debate has been television, radio and the Press.
One of the main suggestions that I wish to make to your Lordships is that one cannot isolate television and radio from one's concern for a healthy and independent newspaper Press. They are now quite inextricably mixed. There is an infinity of complexity in the financial interests and the ramifications, in the interlocking directorships, in the diversification of investments and so on. The 1336 fortune of the Press and of the printed word for the future seems to me to rest largely with the policy which we pursue in relation to the other two media. The fourth estate now covers the entire communications industry. Perhaps not sufficient attention has been paid to this aspect. I was, once upon a time, a journalist. In fact my Parliamentary career commenced in the corner of the Gallery above, when this Chamber was occupied by the Commons House of Parliament. It is partly for that reason that I was glad that several noble Lords, while expressing their interest and concern for television and radio, nevertheless insisted, as did my noble friend Lord Shepherd in the opening speech from these Benches, on the importance and the enduring value of the printed word. As the noble Lord, Lord Gore-Booth, so rightly said, it helps us to resist the tyranny of the instant and of the visual.
It seems to me that one of the most important bastions of a healthy democracy is surely a flourishing Press, and that therefore one should look at all three of these main communications media together. I therefore hope that when the time comes for the kind of review which surely must be undertaken before the great watershed date of 1976, when the new franchises both for the B.B.C. and for commercial television have to come into effect, any such review will include the Press as well as radio and television. In saying this, I am well aware that the Government which preceded the present Administration and which set up the Commission under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Annan, which Commission has now been abandoned, did not take this view. But it seems to me that it would be very wise to look at it most carefully.
It is unrealistic to consider only radio and television and not to look, at the same time, at the reactions on the Press, because all three rely very largely on advertising revenue. There is, after all, only a limited sum which is likely to be devoted to this purpose in the future. Commercial television takes roughly one-third of the amount spent on display advertising in this country. When it came about, the national Press felt a very cold draught, and if we are to have commercial sound radio there is every reason to sup- 1337 pose that the local Press will also feel the draught.
It is not enough to say, "Well, newspapers can invest in local sound radio, as many newspapers have invested in the I.T.V. programme companies," because that is simply on the principle of "To him that hath." A newspaper without vast resources—in other words, the one which needs resources most—is precisely the one which does not have capital to spare to lock up in other enterprises on any scale which will make a life or death difference to its own survival.
Therefore, if we believe that a flourishing and independent Press matters in our democratic society, we must turn our attention in a realistic way to this problem. As we all know, the television programme companies have not had life so easy in their second phase, but it is calculated that in the lush first phase, when they were "printing money," some £200 million was salted away in various diversifications. One cannot entirely blame them for that, because the period of franchise has been so short in relation to the expenditure which they have to undertake that one can perfectly understand their trying to insure themselves against future eventualities. But since then, as we also know, the Treasury has milked off considerable sums in the levy, which is, on revenue and not on profits and which, incidentally, has therefore been especially harsh on struggling new companies. I am thinking especially of Harlech Television, with which, as a Welsh person, I am concerned and which I think had a raw deal.
It has meant that because of the money going to the programme companies, the newspapers have been left to flounder. I am delighted to know that the Daily Mail continues to function, but one has only to look at the leading article in the Guardian this morning to see that optimism is not widespread. May I just quote:Half the national newspapers, as is well known, depend on support from their sister papers within their groups.It then goes on to indicate some of those dependencies.Everyone is looking anxiously at his profit margins and survival capability, and the threat of commercial radio which Mr. Chataway is about to cast among us.Even The Times is, so to speak, on supplementary benefit.
1338 If we try to face this problem radically and intelligently, I believe that we should consider the three media as really one, as one communication industry. I make a suggestion; and it is a personal suggestion, not a matter of official Party policy or anything of that kind. At one time I had considerable experience in the film industry, and there one has a most ingenious device whereby money is siphoned from one end of the industry to the other—from the exhibitor to the producer of films. This scheme, which was worked out by that most ingenious of Treasury officials, the late Sir Wilfrid Eady, for the application of what became known as the Eady levy, seems to me to offer a possible means of assisting newspapers.
Admittedly, the Treasury would have to forgo most of its remaining levy on the advertising revenue, but that could be siphoned into newspaper finances to replace some of the revenue which they have lost to commercial television. I entirely agree, as I am sure we all must, with my noble friend Lord Ardwick, that one must not have Government patronage of newspapers, which would obviously affect their independence. But the beauty of this type of levy, if one could work out a suitable scheme, is that there need be no Government intervention whatsoever. It could be done by an arrangement similar to, but obviously not identical with, the film levy. I believe that if it can be done for feature films, it is not beyond the wit of man to work out some such scheme to assist newspapers.
I believe that unless an attempt is made to work out some remedy of this kind we shall reach the position in this country where we are reduced to three or four very powerful men controlling all our major outlets of opinion with their various interlocking investments, and doing so not because they have anything to say, but simply as a commercial exercise. Therefore I implore the Government to look at this whole field as one, and to bring in the Press as well as the other two main media, television and radio. I beg them at least to consider whether there may be some method of sustaining the printed word and making it possible for the relatively few remaining newspapers which do not have vast capital resources from other fields of activity to subsist.
1339 Having said that, my Lords, I should like to refer in a few words to some of the underlying matters which are at the root of some of the criticisms that have been raised this evening. We have been told on all sides that the media are short of money. At the present moment that is certainly true, and it puts a very great strain on those who are trying to produce the best programmes. I do not mean to say that quality depends entirely on expenditure; this is not so. But it is very difficult for someone who is trying over a period to produce good and satisfying programmes if there are not sufficient resources, and if (this is particularly true of commercial television where, one of the objects of the exercise is to make a profit) the position is reached where one has the sort of comment that one had from Michael Peacock when he was still with London Television. He said:We have got to a point where no one can take risks. Why should we spend half-a-million on a serial which may fail, when for peanuts we can buy a quiz from another company? A programme which gives you money in the bank is better than one which gives you a headache.I do not think any of us can be happy if the various programme companies are in a situation where that is their guiding philosophy. Nor, I think, can we be entirely happy with the way in which programmes are networked, or with the way in which so many of them are slanted to the United States market rather than to the home market.
I do not have the experience of the I.T.A. which my noble friend Lady Burton of Coventry has, but it seemed to me that she was perhaps a little complacent, because I must say that I have read other accounts of the activity, or inactivity, of the Authority as it has been conducted in the past years. I know that we have a new man in charge there, in Brian Young, who has taken Sir Robert Fraser's place, but one used to hear the quip, "Is the I.T.A. a watchdog or a lapdog?" It has been suggested that such sanctions as it has had—I am not speaking of advertising but of the general programmes—are so extreme that, like the ultimate deterrent, they can hardly be used. I can only bow to those who have had greater experience than I have had in this field, but I know that among those who work in Independent 1340 Television there was a very considerable degree of dissatisfaction with the way in which the I.T.A. functioned. The converse, of course, was true of the B.B.C., where one used to have complaints of over-centralisation. One has heard a little less of that perhaps, in recent years, but I believe that we are still groping towards the ideal organisation in both these fields.
What has impressed me most, however, in looking into this matter in the last few days since I too was conscripted to speak in this debate, has been to find the acute anxiety and concern among so many of those working in the different media—and ultimately, after all, everything depends on the men and women with the creative ideas, and with the professional skill and talent to write, direct, produce and perform so as to convey the ideas to us, the public. My noble friend Lady Bacon referred to the group which calls itself the 76 Group. This is a group of men and women who are professionally employed creatively in the making of television programmes and who are united in their concern with the state of broadcasting and television in this country. Then we have another very interesting group, the Free Communications Group. These are people, mostly young people, who are also very much concerned with the health of the communications media in this country, and who feel strongly that they should have a greater say in the industry in which they not only make their livelihood but are trying to make their contribution to the intellectual resources of their generation.
On the trade union side, another very interesting phenomenon is that the A.C.T.T. (the Association of Cinematograph and Television Technicians) is itself undertaking and paying for a professional investigation into television and the quality of television, and into such matters as we have heard aired tonight in this House—suggestions of bias in presentation, and so on, both in the political and in the industrial fields. This investigation has not yet been concluded, but the fact that it has been undertaken shows that throughout the communications industry there is a surge of awareness and of concern about the quality, the future and the development of the media. This 1341 is something that I think we should welcome, and I hope very much that this debate tonight will be of some encouragement to these groups and to others in showing them that we take a very sincere interest, and an informed interest, in what they are trying to do.
Finally, my Lords, I should like to say that I have been surprised that only the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, I think, mentioned the tremendous technical developments which are at any rate within sight, in the whole field of videotape cassettes and the like. I know that there are technical problems which have yet to be solved and that the United States is further ahead than we are in the "hardware", to use the jargon. It is not yet known which particular type of equipment will prove to be the most satisfactory and economical. But when the technical problems have been solved we shall be faced with another revolution; because just as we now put records on a radiogram to have sound programmes of our choice, we shall in the future be able to plug in to the television set for the picture of our choice at any time we wish. There are plans for hiring these videotape cassettes. They will be much more expensive than a long-playing record, so far as we can tell; but this development means that there will be a vast new industry of home entertainment, education and so on of which as yet we have only the smallest conception.
I am specially encouraged in that this will lead not only to increased entertainment but also to a tremendous increase in educational possibilities of every kind. I am second to none in my enthusiasm for the Open University, but I do not delude myself into supposing that everyone in the country will be able to follow a full degree course. On the other hand, I am sure that with the extension of education and the raising of the schoolleaving age, when it comes, we shall have a tremendous public of men and women wanting additional education (and I use that term in its widest sense), men and women who want to increase their knowledge for a particular interest or hobby as well as for formal education. This is going to be a tremendous experience, and we are now only on the edge of it. We do not quite know when it will become a reality, but I hope very much that in any investigation which the Government 1342 propose we shall be able to take this into account. I believe that certainly well before 1976 this development will have become a reality. Therefore I repeat my plea to the Government that we must have some public investigation, but adding my hope that it will be a more broadly based one than we have had hitherto.
§ 10.33 p.m.
§ THE MINISTER OF STATE, HOME OFFICE (LORD WINDLESHAM)
My Lords, this has been a very long and useful debate, and I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Emmet of Amberley, will feel satisfied with the result of her initiative in putting down this Motion. We have heard from Bishops, from broadcasters, from novelists, from journalists, and from a film director and in almost all speeches there has been rather a philosophical outlook, a standing-back a little, thinking over and discussing the implications of what constitutes the most widespread and pervasive phenomenon of our times. As my noble friend the Paymaster General said in his thoughtful and significant opening speech, it is a difficult debate to conduct in any circumstances, but particularly, I am inclined to think that in a Parliamentary Assembly, because the pressure of events normally occupies so much of our time and attention, it is only too easy to get out of the habit of contemplation. But I believe strongly that your Lordships' House would be a poorer place if we did not always insist on making time for debates of this sort.
In opening the debate, the noble Baroness, Lady Emmet, described how the mass media had developed. Other noble Lords taking part in the debate also described how they came to take on some of the characteristics that they now have. I was pleased that the noble Baroness and other speakers did not overlook the benefits that the mass media have brought with them. Because in our concern to draw attention to, and try to remedy, what we may dislike or consider to be bad it is understandable that we tend to overlook what is good and what is taken for granted.
Television in this country is a medium that provides a fairly cheap, very convenient and widely appreciated form of entertainment in millions of households. 1343 One of the most significant social statistics of the time must be that over 90 per cent. of households in Britain have a television set and that in these homes the set is switched on for more than four hours on average every day. Viewing television has become the most timeconsuming pastime, after work and sleep. As a source of information, broadcasting media and the Press must be somewhere near to a state of technical perfection. A bomb goes off late at night on a Minister's doorstep; every newspaper reader may read an account of it at breakfast the following day. A revolution takes place in Uganda; within hours there are profiles of leading personalities, there is interpretation, analysis and comment. Most remarkable of all, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bacon, reminded us, who could have foreseen even in his dreams, during all the thousands of years that man has gazed up at the night sky, wondering whether one day man might reach the moon that as it happened in 1969 an audience of 600 million people in 40 different countries throughout the world would be watching the first steps taken by man on the moon—live, with pictures and sound, by means of television.
My Lords, I must come back to earth and address myself to some more prosaic considerations. Like the noble Baroness, Lady White, I cannot hope to summarise all the points raised in this debate; still less to provide a whole list of definitive answers on behalf of the Government. There have been 27 speakers, in a debate lasting over seven hours. They included one maiden speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Harvey of Tasburgh, to whom I should like to pay tribute on his maiden speech. What I shall try to do is develop and give further information on one or two of the most significant themes that have emerged.
Let me first refer to what has been said by many noble Lords who spoke about violent scenes on television and the effects that these may have on those who watch them. In doing so, may I say that we might bear in mind the words of the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, who drew attention to the need to avoid generalisations. Broadcasting attracts discussion in terms of generalities, and where there is information it is useful to bring it forward, discuss it and to 1344 keep it in our minds. Violence in society is commonly assumed to be growing, and a study of the criminal statistics gives little ground for optimism. The question, therefore, that naturally arises is whether the portrayal of violent scenes on television is, or could be, one of the causative factors. Those who fear that it is would point to three aspects. First, the violent programme as a pace-setter of standards of conduct—if it is all right on television, is it not also permissible in real life? Second, as a stimulant of violent emotions lying dormant; and third, as a kind of desensitising influence. Repeated exposure, so this line of argument runs, blunts awareness of the traumatic consequences of violent behaviour and so makes it more acceptable.
The Government recognise that the responsibility for maintaining a proper balance in this as in every other aspect of programme content rests with the governing boards of the B.B.C. and the Independent Television Authority appointed by the Government, and acting as trustees for the public. We must remember that if the broadcasting organisations are to be free from political control over programme content, there cannot be any exceptions, however well-intentioned. Yet the Government are very much concerned, as they must be, with deliquency and disorder, so clearly they must also concern themselves with their causes. For this reason, the Home Secretary, and his predecessor in the previous Administration, have met the Chairmen of the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. to discuss the subject. Three meetings have been held which provided a useful opportunity for Ministers to stress their concern at the possible adverse effects if there were excessive depiction of violence on television, and to discuss with the broadcasting organisations the steps that were being taken to guard against the dangers.
I shall refer in a moment to some research into the relationship between television viewing and delinquent behaviour, but despite the inconclusive nature of the findings so far, both the B.B.C. and I.T.A. consider that it would be irresponsible to assume that there are no dangers here. They accept that there is a responsibility, particularly to young viewers, to ensure that the people behind the programmes are and remain aware of and sensitive to the risks involved. Broadcasters agree that violence on television 1345 can be disturbing to children, and accept that it may in the short term provoke direct behavioural effects on maladjusted individuals. There are also a number of tragic instances—fortunately very few in number—where children have met disaster by imitating scenes on television, and where criminals have employed methods learned from watching television. In the longer term there is likely to be a cumulative effect, for good or ill, on the sort of society that evolves.
To safeguard the interests of children, both the B.B.C. and I.T.A. have specified viewing time up to 9 p.m. at night as family viewing time. After that they assume, not that children will not be watching, but that parents should take responsibility for what they watch. Yet, because of the world in which we live, there is no possibility, alas! of excluding violence from the screens altogether. Any television service which in its news reporting overlooked the wars, the riots, the crimes and the failures of mankind would do its viewers a great disservice. Moreover, it would not be believed: throughout the world newspaper readers and television viewers know that Vietnam, race riots and student unrest are part of reality.
At the same time there is a risk that the presence of television cameras may encourage disturbances on the spot, and that live coverage of demonstrations may encourage people to go out and join in. The broadcasting organisations are aware of these risks, as well as the difficulties inherent in news filming of situations of the kind described on the basis of his own experience by the noble Lord, Lord Birkett. From my own knowledge in a previous capacity, I have great confidence in those on whose judgment the presentation of national and international news depends. In the field of news gathering and reportage there is little that can be done by way of formal rules and consultation. The ultimate safeguards lie in the quality of the men who exercise editorial control.
Where fictional broadcasts and drama programmes are concerned, there is more time and more formal procedures apply. Conflict, the clash of purposes and personalities, is and always has been a major element in drama. Sometimes it will take the form of physical violence—that is, conflict at the point when blows 1346 are exchanged or weapons used. Here the context in which violent scenes occur is all important, and the integrity of the writer and the artist must be balanced against the effect on the audience. This is recognised in the codes of practice that both the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. have used for some years as guidance for producers on the portrayal of violence. The two codes are broadly similar, but there are certain conceptual differences between the two organisations in their methods of control. B.B.C. producers, as the noble Lord, Lord Fulton, a former Deputy Chairman of the B.B.C., reminded us in his speech, are members of a single hierarchy. They can be given direct instructions and can, and are, required to refer upwards in cases of doubt. Every individual is answerable to another, up to and including the Director-General, who is answerable to the Board of Governors.
In contrast, the I.T.A.'s control is based on its statutory obligation under the Television Act 1964 and is brought to bear on the programme companies who themselves are engaged in producing the programmes. The I.T.A., as has been brought out in the debate, can reject programmes, or accept them only subject to modification; but they cannot and do not give orders to the producers. The relationship in this field can never be an easy one, and the companies themselves have evolved varying forms of creative control.
This short description outlines the system adopted by the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. to ensure that certain standards are laid down and observed where violent scenes are planned as part of a programme or series. But it would be quite wrong to leave your Lordships with the impression that this is anything but a very difficult problem. As in all matters of censorship, a balance has to be struck between the desire of the artist (and I use the word to cover writers, producers and directors) to say what he wants to say and to present it to the public in the manner he wants to present it, with the obligation of the controlling organisation to interpret and apply what they take to be their responsibility to the public. In this connection, I am sure that there is a good deal in what the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, said on the relative positions of the producer and the controller regarding what is and what is not broadcast, and I have no doubt that his remarks will be noted.
1347 I said earlier that we needed to know more about the relationship between television viewing and delinquent behaviour, and this is a subject that the Home Office has been interested in for some time. Various attempts have been made to test by research methods assertions that portrayals of violence on television, whether of reality or in fictional programmes, can contribute to violence in real life. Our conclusion is that clear evidence which would show whether or not concern on this score is justified is exceptionally hard to come by. Few would dispute that the content of television programmes may have different effects on different people, but if one wishes to test the hypothesis that television programmes contribute to delinquency, there are great problems in identifying and separating out the influence of television viewing from the many other factors that precede delinquent acts and may be relevant in explaining them.
Nevertheless, some worthwhile steps have been taken to explore this subject in a dispassionate and systematic way. When he was Home Secretary, the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, established the Television Research Committee, a body appointed by the Home Secretary but financed largely by the I.T.A., which gave the Committee a grant of £250,000 spread over five years. The Committee were invited to initiate and coordinate research into the part which television plays, or could play, in influencing attitudes, and particularly the development of young people's moral concepts and attitudes. These broad terms of reference, taking the Committee well beyond the specific issue of delinquency, reflected the view of many social scientists that in order to shed light on the effects of television it would be necessary to study also wider questions about the impact of mass media in general. The most important of these was how fur the influence of the media depended on the content of what was broadcast or published, and how far on social or personal factors affecting the individual in his home or his environment who was exposed as part of that environment to television programmes.
The Committee reviewed the general state of research, initiated or supported a number of projects, and established a 1348 Centre for Mass Communication Research at Leicester University. Noble Lords who are interested in this subject will find a detailed list of the research in this field contained in the Committee's Second Progress Report and Recommendations, published in 1969. Some of the projects inspired by the Committee will not be completed for some time yet, and on some of these both the B.B.C. and a number of I.T.V. programme companies have co-operated with the director of the Centre, Professor Halloran, and his staff.
I want to refer, however, to one particular survey which is of a special relevance to issues concerning delinquency. This was contained in the Third Working Paper of the Committee which has been published under the title Television and Delinquency. This compared the use made of television by delinquents and non-delinquents and showed that both groups spent a similar amount of time watching television, but differed in their preferences for programmes and for media personalities. There was a greater tendency for delinquent boys to be attracted by the hero figures in television serials, and for delinquent girls to be attracted to personalities in the "pop" world. Delinquents differed from non-delinquents in talking less to friends and family about the content of the mass media. This may suggest a different response to television, and a different way of relating it to other experience. These results are no more than pointers to further research, rather than conclusions on which policies can be based but they illustrate the kind of basic information which needs to be obtained as a preliminary to understanding more about the effects of television. In their Second Progress Report the Committee made some detailed recommendations about the future management of research which will have been noted by, and I am sure will be very useful to, those who are concerned in this field.
The Report also called for finance to be made available for future research, both from Government and from other sources. As regards finance from public sources, I can say that the Social Science Research Council, with whom this and other recommendations in the Report have been discussed, have indicated that they accept the importance of mass communication research and will consider it 1349 on the same footing as other proposals for research in the social sciences subject to the demands on their budgetary resources.
The noble Baroness, Lady White, referred very briefly to some of the arguments which have been put forward in favour of a Broadcasting Council, perhaps something on the lines of the Press Council. I do not want to delay your Lordships now. It is an interesting suggestion; it is one that can certainly be debated. But I can tell her that my right honourable friend the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications, in line with decisions taken by previous Administrations, does not feel that a Council on these lines, which would tend to get in between broadcasting organisations and the public, would have a fruitful role to play in present conditions.
The noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, paid a tribute to the Chairman of the B.B.C. and to the Chairman of the I.T.A., both Members of your Lordships' House, and that is one we should all like to endorse. The noble Baroness asked me a whole list of questions about repeats of programmes, interviews, length of interviews in magazine programmes, the coverage of sport, possible alternation of coverage of major sporting events, network programme planning, ratings—all in a brisk, very competent and wellinformed round-up of the broadcast industry. It so happens that these are matters with which I have been personally very familiar in the past, but I will spare noble Lords from a further discussion of them this evening. Most are in any event outside the Ministerial responsibility of my right honourable friend. Nearly all of them are matters which he would regard as for the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. to handle for themselves.
Nor do I want to say any more tonight about obscenity or pornography, or the exploitation of sex by the mass media, because these aspects of the debate were thoroughly dealt with by my noble friend Lord Eccles in his admirable opening speech. Both he and I have spoken about these profound social influences as members of the Government, but from the basis of our individual standpoints. From my own experience, working in television for 13 years, I know that 1350 Governments cannot wave a wand and say, "Let there be no more sex and violence on television." What matters most is the mood of the times, the tone and the extent to which it permeates the broadcasting organisations. The B.B.C. and the I.T.A. will be the interpreters of that mood. But the Government, through their interplay with public opinion, can have a more direct impact. They can hold out a picture—an ideal, if you like—of the sort of society that can be developed in this country, coming to terms with technology, more certain in our relationships with others, more confident in our own self-justification as human beings. We intend to do so.
§ 10.57 p.m.
§ BARONESS EMMET OF AMBERLEY
My Lords, the hour is late, I have a duty to perform, and I will do so briefly but nevertheless sincerely. First, I should like to say how glad I am that the noble Lord. Lord Harvey of Tasburgh, chose this debate to make his maiden speech. I am glad, too, that we share our interest in foreign affairs, which we have both inherited from our fathers. Then I should like to say how much I appreciate the interest of the Front Bench in this debate. They have summed up so well that it has saved me any further trouble. I was especially interested in the Minister's reference to the research that is being made at the moment into delinquency.
May I thank all those who have taken part in this debate? I have learned a tremendous amount, and I hope that in the Press tomorrow we shall have some interesting comments en the very valuable contributions that have been made here today. I only wish sometimes that we had means of feeding not only the minds of the representatives of the Press in the Gallery but also their bodies on late nights like this. May I, therefore, with your permission, my Lords, withdraw my Motion for Papers, and wish you a very goodnight.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.