Select Committee on Broadcasting First Report


VIII. FUNDING THE BROADCASTING OF PARLIAMENT

103. During the experimental period of the televising of the House, costs were distributed between the broadcasters (equipment and running costs), (what is now) the Parliamentary Works Directorate (alterations to the fabric of the building) and the House (the Committee and the Supervisor of Parliamentary Broadcasting).

104. With the acceptance by the House of the recommendations for arrangements for the permanent televising of proceedings, the Parliamentary Broadcasting Unit Limited was established.

105. The creation of PARBUL was designed to provide for reasonable coverage of the proceedings of the House while minimising the cost to the taxpayer. It is arguable that PARBUL has achieved the latter objective if at some cost in terms of, particularly, committee coverage that has been demand-led.

106. The House has also been served by the decision of the BBC, as the public service broadcaster, to establish and fund from the licence fee BBC Parliament. This is the closest to a dedicated channel that is currently available, although only to some of the public.[34]

107. The Committee considers that the time has now come, however, when this structure should be re-examined and the Committee has taken evidence from those most closely involved and with relevant interests, to seek to establish the way forward.

108. It is clear that the move to digital technology, coupled with the introduction of the "Parallel Chamber" in Westminster Hall, new Committee rooms in Portcullis House, National Parliaments and Assemblies, and a public demand for greater access to committee hearings, is going to require, in the immediate future, considerable investment in new technical installation.

109. Mr Dominic Morris, the BBC's Controller of Policy Development stated that:

  "there is a strong case for the House itself having a unit with a view that is clear of what it wants to do".[35]

110. He did, however, express reluctance over the idea of ring-fenced direct funding:

  "You cannot easily segment into foreign, parliamentary, etcetera".[36]

111. There is, of course, a precedent for ring-fenced public funding of a service—the BBC World Service. The Committee considers that there is a case for re-examining, in the light of the investment necessary in new technology, whether or not the time has come for Parliament to take possession of Parliamentary Broadcasting, to fund it centrally, to contract out as at present for the generation of the material, and to re-coup such costs as it can from the sale of material to broadcasters at home and overseas.

112. Mr Peter Phillips, Finance Director, BBC News, indicated in evidence that:

  "PARBUL shareholders feel that there is a need to look again at the arrangements with PARBUL around its funding .... There is currently no clear set of principles as to what Parliament should pay for and what the broadcasters should pay for .... It is interesting to note that the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly both make substantial contributions to the operating costs of televising their proceedings as well as paying for most or all of the relevant capital investment ...."[37]

113. With that in mind, and while it would be possible to remove the cost of the Parliamentary Channel as a direct burden upon the licence fee , the Committee recognises the strength of feeling expressed by BBC witnesses in opposition to this possibility and the practical constraints of a Royal Charter[38] which would have to be changed to accommodate such a proposal.

114. Other contributors to PARBUL also clearly welcome the status quo—provided that the House is prepared to pick up more of the bill; for example, Mr David Lloyd of Channel 4:

  "All of us here very much stand for the system that was brought into being ten years ago .... If Parliament is looking to oblige the broadcasters to fund all of the capital equipment for the investment into digital coverage ... there are changes in that ...."[39]

115.   When asked what changes he perceived, he replied:

  "There is a range of enthusiasms ... within the broadcasters for continuing with the system as it is ...."[40]

116. As already stated in paragraph 27, the Committee recognises and appreciates the important role that PARBUL has played during the first ten years of the televising of the House; however, we are by no means certain that its structure is best suited to the provision of both the necessary capital investment and revenue funding to sustain the enhanced service that will be required for the future.


34   BBC Parliament is currently available in 17 percent of homes (Q. 167). Back

35   Q. 131. Back

36   Q. 138. Back

37   Q. 179. Back

38   For example, Q. 175 and Q. 210. Back

39   Q. 207. Back

40   Q. 208. Back


 
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