Television: rules of coverage|
1. The Committee is required by its Standing Order
to consider the services provided for and by the House. It was
formed in 2005 by bringing together five previous Committees,
one of which was the Broadcasting Committee. It has a standing
instruction from the Commission to advise it on 'the broadcasting
of proceedings of the House and its Committees'.
2. This inquiry was prompted by requests from broadcasters
including the BBC and ITV for a review of the rules of coverage.
We set a simple term of reference: to consider the current rules
of coverage for the Chamber, Westminster Hall and Committees,
and whether any change was required. We visited the parliamentary
television control room and took oral evidence from the Director
of Parliamentary Broadcasting, John Angeli, and from representatives
of the BBC, ITV and Sky. We received written submissions from
broadcasters and members of the public, and we viewed test pictures
demonstrating new camera angles within the Chamber. The Scottish
Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales and the Northern Ireland
Assembly supplied information on the rules of coverage for the
broadcasting of their proceedings, as did the Australian and Canadian
Parliaments and the Greater London Assembly.
3. Our role in this matter is advisory: the recommendations
we make are for the House of Commons Commission to consider. If
it approves the changes we suggest in the rules of coverage, it
may be necessary for a motion to be put to the House proposing
television broadcasting in the Commons
4. Television broadcasting of the House of Commons
began on 21 November 1989. The House had previously been suspicious
of it: the Commons rejected proposals to broadcast sittings on
television in 1966, 1971, 1975 and 1985. Radio broadcasts of proceedings
were allowed only from April 1978. The first broadcasts were billed
as an experiment. It was judged a success and permanent arrangements
were made for television broadcasting from 1990.
5. Detailed rules of coverage were drawn up during
the original experiment to maintain parliamentary control of what
pictures could be shown. In essence, the central principle is
that the camera remain on the person speaking, except for cutaways
to other Members mentioned in speeches, or long shots of the Chamber
during the hiatus between speeches or during divisions or procedural
events, such as presentation of Bills. The full rules, as amended
in 2006, are set out in annex 1. Our proposals for changes to
those rules are set out in annex 2 and are discussed in detail
How the current
6. Eight remotely controlled cameras provide pictures
from the Chamber, and the shots to be transmitted are selected
by a director in the control room at 7 Millbank according to the
rules of coverage. The directors, and the other staff who operate
the system, are employed by Bow Tie Television, which Parliament
has contracted to provide the pictures. The contract is re-let
every five years. Bow Tie is under the instruction of a parliamentary
official, the Director of Parliamentary Broadcasting. The choice
of shot to be broadcast therefore lies not with the broadcasters
but with the House itself. The BBC, ITV and others use the shot
provided to them. Bow Tie also operates five cameras in the House
of Lords, four in the second Commons Chamber, Westminster Hall,
and others, including digital cameras for webcast, in Committee
Rooms in the Palace of Westminster and in Portcullis House.
7. BBC Parliament, a digital channel, carries coverage
from the House of Commons live, time-shifted coverage of the House
of Lords, and unedited coverage of about 10 committees a week.
On rare occasions, live coverage of the Lords may supersede coverage
of the Commonsfor example, a Friday morning debate on Defence
in the Lords has been given higher priority than private Members'
Bills in the Commons. Live webcasting of proceedings in the two
Houses and in some select committees began in January 2002.
8. The rules of coverage were devised to ensure that
the House retained control over how it was portrayed on television.
They are essentially guidelines for the camera operators and the
television director setting out which shots may and may not be
used, and what may and may not be shown. They provide guidelines
for picture direction and instructions on how specific events,
such as disorder, are to be treated.
9. The requirement to focus principally on the Member
who has the floor has two broad justifications: a feed covering
the totality of a Member's speech provides a record for the broadcast
archive, and news organisations which wish to use a speech would
be unhappy if the clip they wanted was not available because the
camera had been pointed elsewhere to add variety to the pictures.
The needs of broadcasters and the House differ here: for us, the
integrity of the broadcast record is more important than the diversity
of the image broadcast. The maintenance of a proper record
of proceedings is a primary objective of parliamentary broadcasting.
The central principle guiding parliamentary broadcast must remain
that the Member speaking is wholly or largely the focus of any
10. The eight cameras are hung from the galleries
above the Chamber and controlled remotely from Millbank. The director
at Millbank therefore has a choice at any moment of eight shots,
covering both sides of the Chamber and the central table and Speaker's
chair, and will select the shot that best fits the rules. The
height of the cameras can mean, however, that while those seated
on the higher benches are shot from a straight-on angle, those
seated nearer the Floor of the Chamber are largely shot from above.
This includes Ministers and their shadows at the Despatch Box,
including the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition during
Prime Minister's Question Time.
11. Peter Knowles, the controller of BBC Parliament,
told us these angles are "incredibly unflattering",
and that "Front Benchers are seen mainly from the top of
their foreheads and top of their heads".
ITV said that the existing shot "mitigates against being
able to convey the intimacy of the Chamber, and in particular
disadvantages those speaking from the front bench".
Esme Wren, a Sky Executive Producer, concurred in relation to
Prime Minister's Questions or front-bench statements: "It
is quite hard to be drawn in for some time when you are looking
down on somebody. It is nice to see a good eye-to-eye exchange
between the two contenders".
12. While it is an essential principle of the Chamber
that all Members are equal, there is little point in pretending
that from a broadcast point of view some are not more equal than
others. News programmes using short clips from the Chamber are
more likely to use shots of Ministers and shadow Ministers than
of anyone else and the current shot, although familiar to the
public, is not wholly satisfactory. Indeed, Mr Mares told us that
ITV will sometimes film a separate interview with a Minister rather
than use the Chamber footage for this reason.
13. The Director of Parliamentary Broadcasting, John
Angeli, conducted a short experiment during the Christmas Recess
of 2011-12 by placing a camera on the table of the House to see
whether a more realistic and natural shot could be obtained. He
told us that the request for an eye-level shot of the front benches
was entirely reasonable, but not a priority within the House's
budget. A fuller experiment
with a table-mounted camera would cost £2,000 or £3,000.
The camera in question would be small, roughly tennis-ball sized,
and mounted on a thin stand. It would, however, be able to swivel
and would be noticeable and potentially distracting for the person
speaking and those nearby, including Mr Speaker, other front benchers
14. This limited experiment demonstrates that considerably
more natural shots can be obtained of front-bench speakers, although
there would always be occasions when Ministers' heads were down
as they read statements, or when backs were turned to a table-mounted
camera in front of Mr Speaker. The principal difficulty lies in
placement: the experiment suggests that cameras mounted on or
near the Despatch Boxes would be too close to Ministers and their
shadows. The more obvious placement in front of the Clerks on
the table may block their view of the Chamber, or that of the
Chairman of Ways and Means when the House is in Committee.
15. So long as the minor costs concerned were borne
by the broadcasters themselves and no charge arising on the public
purse, we believe that it would, however, be valuable to conduct
a fuller trial of the table-mounted camera, to gain a sense of
how the House would be portrayed in action. In particular, we
believe that running such an experiment during the next sitting
of the UK Youth Parliament in the Chamber could provide valuable
real-time evidence of how the camera would work in practice and
in a full House.
16. We recommend that a small-scale trial using
a camera mounted on the Table of the House be conducted on a non-sitting
day, involving a mock debate among volunteers from the House's
staff or during the next sitting of the UK Youth Parliament, or
both. There should be no cost to the public purse of such a trial,
beyond staff time; it should be conducted only if the broadcasters
are willing to fund the technical costs.
17. Pictures obtained from such trials should
not be broadcast, but should be used to consult political parties,
the Government and the Opposition on whether such a camera would
be a useful and desirable addition to what is already available.
18. If a trial proved successful and the House
approved introduction of a table-mounted camera, the initial capital
costs of the necessary infrastructure should also be borne by
the broadcasters rather than the public purse. Future replacement
and revenue costs could fall within the House's own broadcasting
Types of shot
19. Even without the innovation of new camera angles,
there are options for changing the range of shots presently provided
to the broadcasters or for interpreting the existing rules differently.
Since its creation, the Scottish Parliament has sought to offer
a 'gallery surrogate' model of TV coverage of its proceedings:
in other words, to try to replicate to some degree what someone
sitting in the public gallery can see. Simon Mares of ITV suggested
that the 'staid' existing rules meant that broadcasters could
not offer viewers the full picture of what was happening in the
Chamber all the time.
Peter Knowles of the BBC, sitting at the witness table in front
of us in Committee Room 16, explained: "If you think about
this room and how we are arrayed, it is very formal and yet the
way any one of us looks at another is not fixed. I am not fixed
on your face the whole time. I am looking at other people around.
The way the human eye and brain work is to take in the wider scene
and other people's reactions all the time".
Mr Knowles felt that the geography of the Chamber could be made
clearer to TV viewers than the current restricted camera placements
and selection of shots allows, and that the type and variety of
shots in a broadcast matters: "People are much more likely
to watch for longer if there is variety in the shots".
20. We are not convinced that the variety of pictures
broadcast is particularly likely to prompt more people to watch
broadcasts of our proceedings, or to do so for a longer time.
Viewership has risen significantly during the past two years,
but this is clearly driven by significant news events such as
the Culture, Media and Sport Committee hearings involving Rupert
and James Murdoch and the wider availability of broadcast over
new platforms (see paragraph 38 below). Those who watch parliament
on television are more likely to do so because of content than
because of presentation.
21. To some extent, that greater variety of shots
can be provided within the existing rules. John Angeli told us:
"under the rules of coverage, we are allowed to show a head-and-shoulders
shot, but actually what we show much of the time is a hips-waist-chest-shoulders
and head shot. It is quite wide. I think that may partly be a
throwback to when television was in 4:3 [
] There is some
scope for offering a slightly tighter shot without crossing the
line at all".
22. The rules of coverage justify tighter shots
of Members making speeches than is standard practice at present,
and we support the Director of Parliamentary Broadcasting in encouraging
our TV directors to provide head and shoulders shots rather than
the waist-upwards shots currently preferred.
23. It has been suggested that the rules might be
further relaxed to allow for more cutaway shots during a Member's
speech. Esme Wren of Sky suggested that allowing more reaction
shots would give viewers a greater impression of the atmosphere
in the Chamber during a debate.
Simon Mares also argued against the rule prohibiting close-up
shots of Members speaking or reacting: "it strikes me that
if you have a medium close-up, a wider shot and a close-up, then
you have a wider variety of shots".
We are not convinced that more cutaway shots should be provided:
the purpose of the broadcasts is to provide coverage of speeches,
not varied pictures.
24. ITV and the BBC have asked for limited relaxation
of restrictions on filming the public gallery. At present, no
shots of the public gallery are allowed, and there has been consistent
concern that filming of the galleries might encourage protests
or disruptions. The London Assembly's rules of coverage allow
shots of audience members referred to during discussions there.
The physical layout of the Scottish Parliament means that the
public gallery there is frequently in shot but early concern expressed
by some MSPs that this would encourage protest or misbehaviour
in the galleries has not proved justified over the past decade.
25. The BBC and ITV asked us to consider allowing
cutaway shots to the gallery to film individuals mentioned in
debate in the Chamber, and Peter Knowles of the BBC offered recent
examples of doorkeepers and other officials of the House who have
sat in the galleries but not been shown on television as they
were being praised or thanked for their service to the House.
Mr William Turrell, a member of the public, also favoured occasional
and carefully controlled shots of the public gallery, possibly
of individuals on a list approved by Mr Speaker: "I think
this approach would enhance parliamentary coverage, as a subtle
but powerful reminder that it is the people's parliament which
anyone can attend in person, also showing the chamber in a refreshingly
different, more positive light than that normally afforded by
the 'raucous' atmosphere of PMQs and prevalent (though highly
misleading) shots of half-empty benches during many debates".
26. John Angeli noted that any decision to allow
filming in the public gallery would require permission to be granted
in advance from Mr Speaker and probably need permission, too,
from whoever it was who would be filmed. Control over any decision
to shoot in the gallery would remain with the House in the TV
control room at Millbank, not with the broadcast organisations.
There is no reason, though, why a broadcast organisation producing
a news piece which featured an individual could not use a still
picture of the person in question.
27. Our predecessors in 2003 did not see any case
for relaxing restrictions on showing the public galleries, and
we, too, remain unconvinced that there is real value to the coverage
of parliamentary proceedings in enabling this, even if it would
provide a greater variety of pictures.
As noted, a primary purpose of broadcasting is to provide an accurate
record of proceedings, and it is worth recalling that neither
interruptions from nor demonstrations in the galleries are proceedings
of Parliament, no matter how interesting they would undoubtedly
be to the media. We see no reason to relax restrictions on
filming in the public galleries of the House. Parliamentary proceedings
occur in the Chamber, Westminster Hall or Committee Rooms, not
28. ITV argues that allowing divisions of the House
to be filmed would provide both some public education about how
votes in the House actually work and more interesting pictures
for broadcast during the 'dead' 15 minutes or so when a vote occurs
in the House. At present during divisions, the sound feed is cut
off and the camera remains fixed on a single long shot of the
Chamber. ITV suggest that sound and a wider variety of camera
shots, including shots of Members entering and leaving the division
lobbies, would help them convey the "drama and tension surrounding
Simon Mares said: "You do not see the Division. It is a bit
like a Shakespearean play; it is all taking place off stage. We
are all talking about something but we cannot see it".
29. Mr William Turrell also suggests that filming
at least one division for educational purposes could help teach
the public more about what happens during a vote in the Commons,
making the perfectly fair point that the division process may
be something of a mystery to anyone who has not themselves visited
the Palace of Westminster and taken the tour through the lobbies.
Mr Mares, too, suggested that filming divisions would help explain
how one piece of Parliament's procedure works.
30. Esme Wren of Sky suggested that a fixed, locked
camera in each division lobby, possibly without sound, could provide
pictures that correspondents could use to explain to viewers what
was happening during a vote in the House: "There is no move;
there is no panning round; there is no particular recording of
a conversation. It is a locked-off shot that just enables us to
tell the story in better detail".
31. Our predecessors in 2003 argued that the introduction
of additional shots during divisions would require the television
director to make editorial decisions about who was shown.
This remains a strong point: from our perspective the primary
purposes of broadcasting from the Commons are the provision of
open public access to parliamentary proceedings and a record of
them. There is, from that perspective, nothing to be gained for
the record of proceedings from filming divisions of the House.
The TV director at Millbank would be required to focus on one
or other lobby at any given time, and that would mean that some
Members were filmed voting while others were not. Filming in the
lobbies would also remove the prospect, popular with Back-Bench
Members in particular, of snatching a comparatively private few
minutes' chat with a Minister or shadow during a division. These
remain powerful arguments against doing so, certainly on a routine
32. We see no reason to enable routine filming
within the division lobbies during divisions of the House. To
do so would add nothing to the record of proceedings provided
by parliamentary broadcasting.
33. We do, however, see the merit in the idea
that filming a division in progress might have some educational
and explanatory value, and would support in principle the idea
of filming a mocked-up division should the Parliament's Education
Service seek to do so.
television coverage of Parliament
34. Until July 2011, the system was overseen by PARBULthe
Parliamentary Broadcast Unit Ltd, a company created during the
initial experiment. The company was chaired by the Chairman of
Ways and Means (until 2010, this was our own Chair, who continued
in the role as the company was wound down during 2011).
Its board included members of both Houses, officials of both Houses
and representatives of the major broadcast organisations, which
also shared with the two Houses the cost of providing the broadcast
pictures. This split-funding arrangement arose in 1989 because
of the long-standing reluctance of Parliament to allow TV broadcasting.
Peter Knowles of the BBC also told us that the then Prime Minister,
Baroness Thatcher, an opponent of televising Parliament, had insisted
that the broadcasters should pay.
35. The broadcasters funded the cameras and control
rooms for Chamber coverage and staffing costs for operators. Parliament
funded the infrastructure costs, the provision of remote-control
camera operation for Committee coverage, the sound systems and
operators in the Chamber and most Committees, and the Parliamentary
Recording Unit (PRU). All broadcasters who had access to the television
feed from Westminster paid a fee.
36. These arrangements were unusual in that parliamentary
broadcasting in almost all other countries, and in the Scottish
Parliament and Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies, was wholly
funded by the parliament itself. Only two other countries had
similar arrangements: India and Australia.
The broadcasters let it be known during the original experiment
that they were reluctant to contribute. The House argued that
it was "not unreasonable to expect the broadcasters to make
some contribution towards the cost of providing a service from
which they themselves also derive benefits".
37. In 2009, the terrestrial channel, Five, announced
that it would no longer participate or provide funding.
The other broadcasters followed suit. Our predecessor Committee
and the Finance and Services Committee in the previous Parliament
accepted in January 2010 that the House itself should fully fund
provision of the feed.
Since August 2011, the two Houses have borne the total cost of
providing the infrastructure and the pictures. The Commons share
of that cost is about £600,000 a year; the Lords pays about
TV control facilities at Millbank were due for refurbishment more
than a year ago, but will not now be refurbished, at a cost of
between £3 million and £4 million before 2013-14.
38. There are advantages to the House from the ending
of the PARBUL arrangement. The content now belongs entirely to
the House, which may give it to any user who wants a licence.
Since one of the objectives of parliamentary broadcasting is wider
public access to parliamentary proceedings, this has clear advantages.
The number of licences sought and provided has risen substantially
since August 2011, and, for example, Liverpool Football Club was
able to broadcast the House debate on the Hillsborough disaster
of 1989 in a way that would not previously have been possible.
Under the new arrangements UK and foreign media organisations
are able to obtain a licence from Parliament which grants them
access to a televised feed from the Commons and Lords Chambers
and Westminster Hall. The number of licences rose from 25 to more
than 100 in the period from August 2011 until February 2012. These
included licences granted to Al Jazeera, Agence France Presse,
The Hansard Society, The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian,
The Spectator, The Independent, The Times
and Daily Mail. Parliament continues to charge for televised
coverage of committees, based on requests from media organisations.
39. In addition, web views of Commons Chamber coverage
rose from 287,000 in 2010 to 659,000 in 2011, and Committee views
from 195,000 in 2010 to 604,000 in 2011. To some degree, this
is due to eventsthe select committee hearing with Rupert
and James Murdoch, for examplebut the ability to provide
the feed more widely improves public access. Mr Angeli told us
that his priorities for the coming year include ensuring that
more coverage of all select committees is available and that local
and regional media in particular have greater opportunities to
access content for use online.
for changes to the rules
40. The rules were framed from the start in a restrictive
way on the basis that it would be easier to relax them than to
introduce restrictions once broadcasting had become a part of
the parliamentary landscape. The Select Committee that drafted
them in 1989 made it clear that "these were rules for the
start of the experiment and that we were ready to consider any
reasonable approaches seeking modification".
Control of the shots broadcast remains with the House: even if
a more relaxed approach were taken to what might be shot, the
choice of individual shots to be broadcast remains with the House's
contracted television director in the Millbank control room, under
responsibility of the Director of Broadcasting. Interpretation
of the rules also remains within the House's control.
41. We propose the following amendments to the rules
of coverage. Annex 2 to this Report sets out the rules as they
would stand if all these changes were adopted.
42. Section 1 of the rules contains a mission statement
for the Director of Parliamentary Broadcasting and the individual
TV directors under his guidance. We seek to amend the first paragraph
to give the full, current title of the Director of Parliamentary
Broadcasting (instead of Director of Broadcasting, as at present),
and we seek to shorten the second paragraph, removing a reference
to the "dignity of the House" while still making the
point that the director on duty should seek to maintain the integrity
of the House's proceedings. Our new version of paragraph 2 would read: "The director should have regard to the integrity of the House and its function as a working body".
43. Section 2 of the rules sets out guidelines on
picture direction, and paragraph (a) lists four sets of restrictions,
all of which, with some slight updating and amending of language,
should remain in place.
44. ITV argues in favour of simplification of Section
2(b), which lists particular types of shot that may or may not
be shown: Simon Mares told us that the House gives its Director
of Broadcasting "good, strong guidance" in the broad
mission statement heading the rules of coverage in section 1,
but then lists prescriptive rules and restrictions. In particular,
ITV suggests scrapping the following rules: 2(b) (i), (iii), (vi)
and (vii). In all cases, these rules set down specific guidance
for the director in the control room; arguably, the principles
set out in those specific rules are already embedded in the statement
contained in sub-paragraph (ii), that "the camera should
normally remain on the Member speaking". This comes down
simply to a question of whether it is necessary to set out prescriptive
instructions or trust to the directors employed by the House itself
to maintain their spirit. In line with the original expectation
in 1989 that the rules might be relaxed once broadcasting had
become the norm, we believe the time has come to leave such matters
largely to the judgment of the director on duty in the control
45. Section 2 (c) sets out the use of camera techniques
including split screens, panning shots and zoom shots. ITV suggests
that it is unnecessary, and we see some merit in that argument.
Split screen shots remain needless and should continue to be forbidden,
but the existing rules on panning shots and zoom shots seem to
us redundant. The former should not 'normally' be used and the
latter is 'occasionally' permitted; in both cases, therefore,
the use of such shots is already a matter of judgment for the
director in the control room, and removing the rules from the
list makes no practical change.
46. Section 3 deals with the treatment of disorder,
on the principle that interruptions and demonstrations should
not be filmed and that the camera should cut to a shot of the
Chair if disorder occurs on the Floor of the House. We see no
justification for altering those rules.
47. Sections 4, 5 and 6 cover Westminster Hall, Select
Committees and General Committees. Broadly, the same rules apply
as in the Chamber, and the deletions we propose by uniting those
rules into a single section merely remove sentences repeating
rules already made in sections 1, 2 and 3. No practical alteration
would result from simplifying the language in this way.
48. Our proposals would make small, practical
changes to the way in which Parliament is broadcast on television
but which could, we believe, make coverage of the work done by
the House and its committees a little more relaxed, a little more
modern in look and a little more appealing to the average viewer
while retaining the central and essential principle that the broadcasts
accurately portray our proceedings fully and transparently for
public information and for the record.
49. We recommend that the House be invited to
approve the amended rules of coverage for television broadcast
set out in annex 2 to this Report.
1 Robert Rogers and Rhodri Walters, How Parliament
Works, 6th edn, 2006, p. 180 Back
Q 1 Back
Ev 12 Back
Q 1 Back
Q 15 Back
Q 37 Back
Q 46 Back
Q 1 Back
Q 11 Back
Q 9 Back
Q 36 Back
Q 1 Back
Q 31 Back
Ev 25 Back
Ev 19-21 Back
Q 1 Back
Ev 17 Back
Q 53 Back
Broadcasting Committee, The Rules of coverage, First Report
of Session 2002-03, HC 786, para 20 Back
Ev 12 Back
Q 20 Back
Ev 18 Back
Q 22 Back
Q 22 Back
Broadcasting Committee, The Rules of coverage, First Report
of Session 2002-03, HC 786, para 13 Back
Erskine May, 24th edition, pp 140-41 Back
Q 25 Back
Letter from Peter Knowles to the Chairman of PARBUL, 28 September
Broadcasting Committee, The arrangements for the permanent
televising of the proceedings of the House, First Report of
Session 1990-91, HC 11, para 26 Back
Qq 25 and 28 Back
Although the House fully funds broadcast of proceedings, it is
worth recalling that the broadcasters have their own costs of
transmission: Peter Knowles of the BBC told us, at Q24, that broadcasting
BBC Parliament on freeview costs the corporation between £5
million and £8 million annually Back
Information provided to the Committee by the Director of Broadcasting Back
Qq 44 and 46 Back
Ev 15 Back
Q 40 Back
Select Committee on televising of proceedings of the House, Review
of the experiment in televising the proceedings of the House,
First Report of Session 1989-90, HC 265-i, para 80 Back