Select Committee on Broadcasting Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180 - 199)



Mrs Gordon

  180. Thank you, Chairman. Just following on from the points you have raised, a couple of things occurred to me. You say that in Scotland and Wales you are doing it as if from a public gallery but, in fact, if you are in the public gallery here you do not get close-ups and you would not get zooms, there would not be that sort of close scrutiny, it is quite a distant shot. If we are going to have this all-singing all-dancing broadcasting of Parliament have you done any research or surveys amongst the public or MPs about how they feel about it?
  (Ms Sloman) Perhaps I can start on that. We do not want an all-singing all-dancing Parliament, we just want the televising of Parliament to look the same as the televising of other serious events. We made the point as strongly as we could that we do not want parliamentary coverage to be used in entertainment programmes, we are talking about making coverage. When I said that in Scotland that is the principle they work from, that you are in a surrogate gallery, what I mean is when you are in the gallery you can turn your head wherever you like and can see much more when you are sitting in the gallery than you can see on television ironically. Maybe not at the back but certainly in the front rows of the public gallery you can see quite closely. It is part of the story to see, for example, how the opposition are reacting to a statement or how a backbencher is reacting to something. I do not want it all-singing and all-dancing. On the subject of research, we have not done any specific research on this point but we are fairly sure that the audience would prefer it if it looked slightly more like the party conference coverage. We have never had a single complaint, as far as I am aware, about our party conference coverage where there are no rules at all and we do not do dramatic zooms for effect, we just tell the story through pictures.

  181. Mr Lloyd?
  (Mr Lloyd) Only to pick up on questions to do with what the human eye actually does when it is in the public gallery. Actually, the physical evidence is that the human eye searches for the closest possible detail it can compared with the distance it is from that subject and the light level and whatever. I think it is a natural inclination to look for the detail in an event. If I may just answer the question the Chairman raised. Personally I would not be arguing for zooms, I think it would be out of keeping actually with the normal coverage of the occasion. Others might disagree with me but certainly myself I would not think that zoom shots were a particularly useful coverage of the Chamber.

Mr Gardiner

  182. Mr Phillips, do you play poker?
  (Mr Phillips) No, I am not a gambler myself.

  Mr Pound: In that case let us have a game

  183. But you are familiar, I take it, with the rough rules of poker?
  (Mr Phillips) Yes, I am.

  184. You know what it is "to bluff" and you know what it is to "up the ante"?
  (Mr Phillips) I am not sure. I know as a metaphor what it means to "up the ante", I am not sure that technically I know what it means.

Mr Pound

  185. Pass me your wallet and I will explain.
  (Mr Phillips) I left it outside.

Mr Gardiner

  186. If I can just refer you to part of the briefing that you supplied to us. It is quite simple to answer, item 12, where you say: "Also, we believe that we are at the point of substantial reassessment of the cost of re-equipping the Chamber. This process has to happen in the next couple of years". In your own submission I believe you said that costs of new equipment were not a priority for PARBUL shareholders at this time. Then very swiftly you and item 12 move on to: "The models adopted in Scotland and Wales contrast with that of Westminster. They reflect a more realistic balance in investment and expenditure between Parliament and the broadcasters, and recognise the different relationship that exists now compared to 10 years ago." Can I ask you, is there a suggestion here that although you would not really like to invest in the cost of new equipment at the moment if we were to see fit to relax the rules and allow you the shots that you like, then you might be prepared to do it? There seems to be a very strange linkage developing in the presentation that you have made and in the submissions which you gave to the Committee ahead of time that suggests that one might be traded for the other. I want to break that link absolutely if it is there.
  (Mr Phillips) I do not think that there was any intention of any suggestion of linkage between those two issues.

  187. Right.
  (Mr Phillips) From our perspective there are two unrelated issues, both of which we think need consideration in order to get the right arrangements for PARBUL but there is no suggestion whatsoever from any of the broadcasters of a deal somehow involving both of those elements, they are two different things.

  Mr Gardiner: I am very relieved to hear that but I do think all four of you are experts at presentation and therefore I think that you must be very careful about the way in which you presented it because you have by implication made a link between these two. I would be very disturbed if that was to emerge. I do think it is important, Chairman, that we consider both of these matters, they are important matters but we consider them separately and clearly.

  Mr Gale: Thank you. I think Mr Phillips has clarified that for us and that is now a matter of record. I would like to return, if I may, to the question of coverage. Mr Lepper?

  Mr Lepper: I have to say it does seem to me that it is wrong of you to pursue the metaphor of the viewer at home being like the person sitting in the Strangers Gallery. It seems to me that is totally false. What the viewer at home will see is what the producer allows him or her to see. The viewer at home does not have the freedom of choosing what of a range of things they wish to concentrate on as does the person sitting in the public gallery. I have to say I have some sympathy with relaxing the current rules but it does seem to me you are going about it the wrong way if you are arguing that it provides the viewer at home with something synonymous with being in the public gallery. I think that is totally false. You are providing perhaps more interesting visual experience for the viewer at home but it is one dependent on the choice made by the producer/director, whoever, not by the viewer him or herself. That is just by way of observation. I would welcome your comments on that but I really want to ask something about the other issues to do with access.

Mr Gale

  188. We shall move on to that in a moment but before you respond to David Lepper, Mr Lloyd referred to cut-away shots as well and here again in televisual terms those of us who have directed are well aware of the editorial power of cut-aways. You can take a shot of somebody listening to a speech with great interest and by implication demonstrate endorsement. You can take a cut-away shot of somebody yawning and demonstrate total boredom. I think the original concern, and I suspect it still persists, is that the director, if allowed to take cut-aways of anybody other than specifically the person who has been referred to, which is a very obvious link, the director might be inclined on occasions to editorialise. Perhaps you would like to comment on that.
  (Ms Sloman) I would just like to pick up Mr Lepper's point which is I said that was the basis on which the Scottish deal was negotiated. It was the Scottish Parliament who took that as the basis of the group that met. That was the view of the Scottish Parliament, that was not our view. Their view was I think, to be fair to them, not that the viewer at home was in the same position because, of course, you make your point very validly that the producer would be in the same position of somebody, so just to clarify that particular point.

Mr Lepper

  189. There was a suggestion nevertheless that it would somehow offer a more realistic experience for the viewer.
  (Mr Lloyd) I used the word engagement, Chairman, and I stand by that. I think that of course the two experiences can never be exactly analogous but what I think it behoves us all to do is to try and deliver an experience as close to that of witnessing these proceedings in person.

  190. I would still maintain just to bring this to a close perhaps, what you are suggesting may be a more interesting visual experience but it is no closer to the reality of being present at the event than what we have at the moment.
  (Mr Lloyd) We may differ a little on that.

  Mr Pound: Can I possibly just raise something. I do apologise for interrupting. Do such shots exist? Have you ever done any test shots of close ups? I am sure you must have occasionally tried such things. Personally I think anything that livens it up, I would like to see Quentin Tarentino directing it at the earliest possible opportunity. I think a slasher movie in the Adjournment Debate would be entirely appropriate. I am very interested to see what it looks like. I can understand that there are aesthetic grounds, particularly in my case, for avoiding close up shots—I entirely understand that—but most of us who do not have Mr Gale's expertise in this strange, serious world do not know what it would look like. Chairman, perhaps I could ask you rather than Mr Lloyd, is there any way at any time we could see what a close up or a zoom or any of these strange Americanisms that you use would actually look like?

  Mr Gale: I do not want to presume to answer for our guests but I think the answer probably is that yes such an experiment could be set up. I suspect that what you would probably get is a fairly anodyne experiment to demonstrate what a good thing it is.

  Mrs Gordon: Could we not see some of the coverage of the Scottish Parliament?

  Mr Pound: Do we really want close ups of the Scottish Parliament?

  Mr Gale: Can I come back. There is one final issue which arises from this that is important which Mr Gardiner wishes to raise.

Mr Gardiner

  191. Can I just clarify with you, the argument that you have set out has been about making the experience through the medium of television analogous to that of the person in the Chamber. Now one of the things which has always concerned this Committee is that if you are in the Chamber and somebody decides to unfurl a banner or to conduct a demonstration in the public gallery, they are immediately whipped out, of course, by the ushers, and that is something that being in the Chamber you can see, you can observe going on and there are no holds on that. But if one were then to televise that event, to make it analogous with somebody in the Chamber, it could do nothing but encourage demonstrators to do that in Parliament, in the public gallery. Therefore it is a real concern to this Committee that by making the experience similar to that which one would have in the Chamber you could actually be opening the Chamber up to become a focus of not just Parliamentary debate but extra Parliamentary objection.
  (Mr Lloyd) It is a very fair point and in the time that I felt that I had available to myself I did not address this. No part of what I am suggesting is to relax the rules that relate to distractive behaviour or distractions from the public gallery or elsewhere. I do not think that is any part of the pitch of myself and my colleagues today.

  Mr Gale: Are there any further points arising out of this?

Mr Lepper

  192. I said I was interested in hearing a little bit more about the ideas of widening the access to Parliament to the broadcasters. You talk about the fact things happen on College Green or wherever because they cannot happen, they must not happen here in the House of Commons or indeed in the House of Lords. I just wonder if you would like to say a little more about the way in which you see perhaps that widening of access working? I am thinking, for instance, of an example which came to my mind immediately which was one which some of us saw in the Canadian Parliament when we visited, the equivalent of a Division. The cameras are immediately outside the Chamber ready to interview members of various parties as they come through the Division Lobby about why they voted as they did and so on. Would you see that as something that will be legitimate to introduce?
  (Ms Sloman) I think we would be very happy to discuss with the House and with the House of Commons and House of Lords members of PARBUL what might be appropriate and what might not be appropriate. All we are really saying is if something could be fixed up, this is quite a large building, a great deal larger than they have in Scotland or Wales. There are corners of it where cameras could be fixed up without infringing too much on Members' lives and which would give access to people instantly without them having to go over the road, sometimes to do with a Division or to do with a Committee that is going on or anything like that. At the moment as you know we can do things in Members' rooms but Members' rooms are not good places to do interviews because many Members share rooms. It is not fair.

Mr Gale

  193. I think there is a number of us who feel that the restrictions over access to the building are in this day and age rather ludicrous while at the same time recognising—we must place this on the record—the Serjeant at Arms and his staff, of course, have an overriding duty to maintain the security of the building at all times in fair political weather and in foul. That is an arduous task and it is not always easy. So the authorities of the House are naturally and instinctively I suspect resistant to allowing more equipment or boxes into which explosives could be put, for instance, into the building than is necessary. But when we originally considered this and when the cameras were originally allowed into the House on a semi permanent basis consideration was given to converting the entire space over the Central Lobby which is a vast area, as high as the House of Commons, quite literally, into a series of television control rooms and studios for precisely the purpose that you have outlined. At that time those who have much greater wisdom than any of us quite clearly decided that this vast resource should be wasted and left as a black hole in the sky. I just wonder whether any of you have pressed the case again for proper provision to be made internally and whether you have asked anybody whether they might readdress the use of that space or something similar?
  (Ms Sloman) I think we are looking for major investment. These new light weight cameras where you come in with a camera and you have a point where it is arranged. In Scotland there is no permanent facility there but there is a part of the corridor which is for interviews. People come in with light weight cameras and just do the interview and take them away at the end of the day or at the end of the afternoon. Nowadays the technology is so light weight, a more come and go situation though at agreed points so you do not have cameras wandering all over the place.

  Mr Pound: At Stormont where security is possibly even more of a consideration than here they have precisely that facility. If they can manage it at Stormont surely they can manage it here.

Mr Gale

  194. Where do you feel this might appropriately be done without causing difficulty for the authorities of the House?
  (Ms Sloman) We would have to do a recce, would we not?
  (Mr Lloyd) We would have to reconnoitre the premises.

  195. You will forgive me, I thought you had done your homework before you came.
  (Mr Lloyd) Not in this respect.

  196. Perhaps you would like to review it and submit a brief memorandum in the light of considered thought as to where it might be done.
  (Mr Lloyd) Indeed.

  Mr Hopkins: I want to raise my general concern and perhaps I am speaking for the dark forces of conservatism, with a small "c" I hasten to add. I think someone ought to speak up perhaps for resistance to change because many Members will have concerns. I must say, reading through the paper there were some coded messages which I did not understand, I am starting to understand them more now. When I read through the Rules of Coverage I must say I found them unobjectionable. I can see some concerns about change. My colleagues here do not seem to be quite so worried as I am and knock me down please if I say things which can be easily answered. I do believe that media coverage of politics alters the nature of politics. Indeed, from Adolf Hitler to Marshall McLuhan and others that has been appreciated and no more so than by modern political parties who go to extreme lengths to present themselves in a media-friendly way. Party leaders' media-friendly nature and their telegenic characteristics may have an influence on whether or not they become party leaders.

  Mr Pound: Explain William Hague!

  Mr Hopkins: Looking at my own party, I wonder whether Clem Attlee would have become Party Leader with modern media coverage. I am concerned about changing the nature of the coverage because it might change the nature of the politics, i.e. having broader shots, more random shots, more freedom for cameras to show what they like and whom they like in the Chamber. On a lighter note, some of my constituents say to me, "We haven't seen you on the television" and I say, "Well, I was there but I was not in shot". I will not be able to use that excuse quite so easily if you are freer to make shots!

  Mr Pound: Mine complain when they do see me!

  Mr Hopkins: There is that concern. It is possible that instead of getting on with their work in Committee and in their rooms members will spend an inordinate amount of time in the Chamber listening to speeches they are not very interested in, but simply to be seen on television or to be there for their constituents. Others might attract attention to themselves in various ways. Perhaps some are more telegenic than others. In a sense when we speak in the Chamber we are choosing to be on television. When we are sitting in the Chamber listening to a speech we are choosing perhaps not to be on television, but we will not have that freedom in the future. I think these are concerns that others might express. Then there is this idea of interviewing members as soon as they come out of a Division. That is going to an extreme perhaps. More often than not I choose not to be interviewed by television because I do not wish to be interviewed by television. If one walks out of a controversial Division and is immediately confronted with a camera and a microphone, one can say, "No, I do not wish to be interviewed", but that then becomes a political event. It affects that particular Member. I can see that some would be concerned about these things. Perhaps I have spoken rather too long, but I am speaking up for some members who might have concerns of this kind.

  Mr Gale: If I can summarise, what Mr Hopkins in his entirely non-partisan introduction was arguing for was a common sense revolution. We would be extremely grateful if you would consider this just a little further, let us have your written observations as to how you feel access within the House might be improved and if you wish to submit at the same time any detailed written proposals for changes to the camera coverage then of course the Committee would welcome those and would consider them before writing its final report. I would like to move on now to the whole question of funding of the replacement cameras and, Mr Lepper, you would like to start on this.

Mr Lepper

  197. I think you said in your introductory remarks, Mr Phillips, that you felt the cameras in the House of Commons' Chamber probably did not need replacement.
  (Mr Phillips) Not immediately, no.

  198. What sort of life-span would you give them?
  (Mr Phillips) I am not a technical expert. Certainly the view that we have had is that provided they are effectively maintained and parts are replaced they can go on for some time from here, certainly for another couple of years or so.
  (Mr Lloyd) We may be talking five years without too much deterioration.

Mr Gale

  199. You will forgive me, but all the evidence we have been given to date suggests that the replacement is imperative if only to serve the needs of digital television.
  (Ms Sloman) They do not have to be digital.
  (Mr Lloyd) If one were determining that there is an imperative need to go towards wide screen digital then of course the cameras must be replaced, but it is only in that context that it becomes imperative. It is not that they are about to fall apart or anything like that.

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