HL Deb 05 December 1996 vol 576 cc775-7

Viscount Astor asked Her Majesty's Government:

What progress has been made in the review of Independent Television Commission programme sponsorship and what interim decisions have been taken on the future of masthead programming on television.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of National Heritage (Lord Inglewood)

My Lords, the Independent Television Commission's consultation on its draft of a revised code of programme sponsorship ended on 15th November. The consultation document proposes to allow masthead programming on cable, satellite and new digital services while retaining a ban on the public service channels. I understand that the commission hopes to introduce a final revised code early in the new year.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his reply but can he explain why the ITC has proposed that programme sponsorship should be encouraged on satellite and cable channels but banned on ITV Channel 4 and Channel 5? Is that not illogical and unfair competition, especially when programmers and publishers are increasingly coming together to make programmes?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, I hasten to add that this is a draft document which relates to a code to be drawn up by the Independent Television Commission. I believe that the distinction that has been drawn by the ITC is based on the fact that the public service channels have certain positive programming requirements that are absent on the other licensed channels.

Lord Donoughue

My Lords, perhaps the Minister will help the House because the distinction is not clear at first sight. Is the Minister saying that the distinction arises because this activity is slightly disreputable and is not appropriate on public service broadcasting but is perfectly all right on satellite?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, the point is not that this activity is inherently disreputable—far from it—but that the standards that are expected of, and the tone that is expected to be conveyed by, the public service channels are different from those on the other licensed channels by virtue of the positive programming requirements that are placed upon them.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is the Minister aware that programming sponsorship tends to condition programmes? Can he assure the House that there is sufficient understanding of this problem and that care will be taken to ensure that programmes do not become totally conditioned by sponsorship?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, has said, this is potentially an extremely difficult area. I emphasise that sponsorship of the kind that is being discussed must not involve the sponsor exercising any editorial or programming control over the programme in question. In addition, it cannot advertise that sponsor's products or promote them in any way.

The Viscount of Falkland

My Lords, I am not sure that I understand the noble Lord. Obviously, it is my fault. Is the Minister saying that this applies only to satellite, cable and digital services? If so, can one take it that when digital replaces analogue on terrestrial services there will be a relaxation of the restriction?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount for seeking clarification in case what I have said is not clear. Currently, masthead programming is not permitted. The ITC's draft code, which is out for consultation, proposes that it should be permitted on the services that I have mentioned. When digital terrestrial services come into operation, simulcasts, that is, simultaneous identical transmissions of existing analogue public service broadcasters, will be at the core of such services. Those programmes will be public service broadcasts. It is open to those who broadcast the programmes to broadcast additional material which will require licensing by the ITC. That additional material, even if transmitted and broadcast by an existing public service broadcaster, may be sponsored by the masthead technique provided it does not fall into the category of the programmes that are being simulcast.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his very clear reply which I am sure all noble Lords have understood perfectly. Will my noble friend express to the ITC the view that there must not be a situation in which satellite and cable broadcasters suddenly find themselves with a distinct advantage over terrestrial ITV broadcasters in this country?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, in response to my noble friend I think I can do no better than explain that I advised the ITC that this Question would be put and that that body might find it helpful to hear what your Lordships said.

Lord McNally

My Lords, is not the warning of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, apposite? Is this not yet another step in the influencing of programming by commercial interests? One already has the skilled art of product placement not only on commercial television but on BBC television and in films, and the separation between commercial interests and programming is very important to the quality of television.

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, the noble Lord is right. I should like to emphasise that product placement is not permitted under the sponsorship rules. The point the noble Lord makes is one that is widely recognised and in this country owes its origin to the European television without frontiers directive which specifically points out the essential requirement that editorial and programming control is separated from the sponsor.

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