Select Committee on Broadcasting First Report


5. Before the Committee sets out its proposals for the future broadcasting of Parliament, it may be helpful to remind the House of how the existing arrangements were arrived at.

6. During the deliberations of the Committee,[8] three main principles emerged:

(1)the House would at all times have the final and principal say in any matter concerning television in the House;
(2)broadcasters should pay the main cost of television coverage; and
(3)the dignity of the House was to be protected at all times.

7. The Committee determined the Rules of Coverage; agreed that an independent television company, rather than a Department of the House, would carry out the operations; Select Committee coverage should be subsidised by the House; and that the Supervisor of Parliamentary Broadcasting should act as the executive of the Select Committee.

8. In considering how televising is currently conducted it is important to emphasise the role of the Broadcasting Committee. Standing Order No. 139 states the role of the Committee to be "to give directions and to perform other duties, relating to the broadcasting of proceedings of the House and matters ancillary thereto". The Committee therefore, acting on behalf of the House, performs a monitoring and regulatory role in respect of the broadcasting of its proceedings. The degree of control exercised by the Committee varies. In the case of the form of the pictures, the control is absolute. When it comes to the use made of the pictures by individual broadcasters in their programmes, the Committee's powers are much less direct and clear cut. These two aspects of the Committee's regulatory role are discussed separately below, together with the rules which apply to the uses of Parliamentary material for non-broadcasting purposes.

(a) The format of the pictures

9. The format of the pictures (also known as the 'clean feed' or the 'signals') supplied from the House is determined by the shots which are selected by the television director in the Parliamentary control room. In making a shot selection, the director is required to follow a detailed set of guidelines known as the Rules of Coverage (see Appendix 1). These guidelines were contained in the Committee's First Report,[9] which preceded the televising experiment in 1989-90, and which was approved by the House. The guidelines indicate the types of shots and camera techniques which are permissible, and therefore provide more detailed instructions on the handling of specific events (such as incidents of disorder).

10. The Committee enjoys delegated authority to make changes to the guidelines from time to time without further reference to the House (unless the proposed changes would fundamentally alter the nature of the coverage of proceedings). These powers were used by the Committee in the last Parliament principally to permit the use of reaction shots of named or identifiable Members (except at Question Time, or during Ministerial Statements and Private Notice Questions). The Committee agreed also to the use of "group shots", and to zoom shots, to show Members in relation to their colleagues.

11. In applying the Rules of Coverage, the director is immediately answerable to the Supervisor of Parliamentary Broadcasting, an Officer of both Houses, who in turn reports direct to the Committee.

12. The combination of the Rules of Coverage (which cannot be changed without the Committee's approval) and the presence of the Supervisor of Parliamentary Broadcasting has thus given the House complete control over the form of the pictures which are transmitted both to authorised recipients within the Palace of Westminster and to the outside users of the signals— mainly the broadcasting organisations.

(b) The use made of the pictures by the broadcasters

13. It will be seen from the guidelines which relate to the use of the pictures in programmes (see Appendix 2) that the Committee never claimed to be able to exercise the same degree of control here as it did over the form of the pictures which are supplied by the broadcasting unit. The Committee, however, thought it right to indicate which types of programmes it felt to be inappropriate for the inclusion of extracts from the House's proceedings.

14. Recommendations contained in a Select Committee Report which has been approved by the House have, of course, the same status as an Order of the House; disregard of an Order of the House can, in certain circumstances, constitute a contempt of the House. Whether a particular transgression fell into this category would have to be determined on the facts of the case. If the Committee took the view that a case warranted such serious action as to require the use of the House's penal powers, the proper course would be to bring the matter to the attention of the House by means of a Special Report. Thereafter, the matter would be out of the Broadcasting Committee's hands.

15. However, there are several courses of action open to the Committee which fall short of contempt proceedings but which have proved effective in the past. These include informal reminders of the rules, formal letters of admonition, or the summoning of named persons before the Committee (although the House will wish to note that this latter course of action has never needed to be taken).

(c) The use of archive material for non-broadcast purposes

16. When the rules of coverage and the guidelines for the use of the signals in programmes were first drawn up at the beginning of the televising experiment, it was not anticipated that there would be a significant demand for the use of material from the broadcasting archives for non-broadcast purposes (other than requests from Members for extracts from their speeches). As the existence of such material became more widely known, however, an increasing number of requests were received for access to the archives. The intended uses of the extracts varied from straightforward private viewing to the production of training and educational videos. The Committee accordingly thought it necessary, in its 1990-91[10] Report, to propose a separate set of guidelines for non-broadcast purposes (see Appendix 3). The Supervisor of Parliamentary Broadcasting monitors this aspect of the televising operation with particular care and has the right to preview material if necessary.

8   Throughout this Report the phrase 'the Committee' refers to the relevant Committee at the time, irrespective of its title. Back

9   Select Committee on Televising of Proceedings of the House, First Report Session 1988-89, HC (1988-89) 141-I. Back

10   First Report from the Broadcasting, Etc Select Committee, HC (1990-91) 11. Back

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