Select Committee on Broadcasting First Report


(a) Sittings of the House in Westminster Hall

55. As stated previously in paragraph 35, Sittings of the House in Westminster Hall started on an experimental basis in November 1999 and debates since that date have been covered using one of the four existing mobile broadcasting units; however, the decision of whether to cover or not proceedings in Westminster Hall has lain with the broadcasters with no guarantee that all meetings would be televised. Indeed, the Committee understands that, on occasion, it has been a close decision as to whether broadcasters covered four Select Committees, or three Select Committees and Westminster Hall.

56. That situation will change in October and the experiment will be reviewed at the end of the current Session. If confirmed, it is likely that permanent broadcasting facilities will be installed at the Grand Committee Room.

57. The Committee considers that, if Sittings of the House in Westminster Hall are made permanent, all proceedings in Westminster Hall must be televised, and therefore recommends that the House should ensure that the necessary broadcasting facilities and equipment are provided. The Committee understands that to provide such a facility would cost in the region of £600,000.

(b) Portcullis House

58. In the Autumn it is planned to introduce into service the television facilities being provided by parliament for coverage of Select Committees in the new Parliamentary building—Portcullis House. There will be four Select Committee rooms and two multi-purpose conference rooms, any two of which can be simultaneously covered by television. Two TV Control Rooms are to be provided, each with three robotic cameras, controlled and operated by two staff in the same way as the trolleys used in the Palace of Westminster. The control rooms will be connected to the appropriate Committee/Conference rooms and the robotic cameras installed as necessary. The associated sound coverage will be selected and will be available with the television output.

59. The cameras being provided will have widescreen capability, but they will be operated in the 4x3 format until widescreen pictures are required. The signals from each control room will be digital video together with analogue sound jointly fed to the Central Technical Area (CTA) in 7 Millbank on fibre optic circuits. In CTA the digital video will be converted to a composite PAL signal with separate analogue audio for feeding on to authorised users.

60. Two Members' Interview Studios are also to be made available adjacent to one of the Committee Rooms. Each of these equipped studios will have two vision and sound circuits to the CTA and extended to 4 Millbank. Although these rooms are being cabled to allow broadcasters to interview and report 'live', they will have to bring in their own equipment. There will be six further circuits to carry analogue sound from the Committee/Conference rooms for use by radio broadcasters.

61. Additional circuits will need to be provided between numbers 7 and 4 Millbank, together with internal distribution, to carry the additional signals being made available.

62. The House will wish to note that Committee Unit 4 (a simple two camera unit without remote control facilities) in the Palace of Westminster will be withdrawn from service as the Portcullis House facilities become available.

63. Although a total of up to five simultaneous television feeds of Committees will become available at 4 Millbank, there are no plans to increase the number of sources available at BT Tower. The four existing circuits will continue to carry House of Commons, House of Lords and up to two Committees.

(c) The rest of the Parliamentary Estate

64. Whilst in North America, the Committee toured the broadcasting facilities of both the US Congress and the Canadian Houses of Parliament, and was able to study the more relaxed attitudes exhibited towards broadcasters and journalists; for example, during votes in Congress, the television "dead-air" is used to interview Members in Statuary Hall; in Ottawa, journalists are able to interview Members immediately outside the doors of the Chamber—a procedure referred to as "the scrum". This may make for entertaining television, but the Committee was not convinced that it would have been entirely appropriate for Westminster; it did, however, agree with broadcasters that there should be an opportunity to conduct live interviews with Members "at the heart of Parliament".

65. At the invitation of this Committee,[20] the broadcaster members of PARBUL submitted to the Administration Committee a request to provide a TV access point in the Palace itself from which broadcasters could record, or broadcast live, brief interviews with Members of the House. We are pleased to note that the Administration Committee has responded constructively to this request, and has introduced an experiment, which is being carried out between Easter and Summer this year, siting such a point in the small vestibule situated off Central Lobby.

66. We were also pleased to note that the Administration Committee has lifted the restriction, which was a source of irritation and frustration to both Parliamentarians and broadcasters alike, on filming in Members' own offices.

20   QQ 192-196. Back

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