Parliamentary Privilege First Report

Memorandum by the BBC

  The BBC attaches the greatest importance to its reporting of proceedings in Parliament. It is critical to the future of such reporting that it retains the full protection of the qualified privilege it currently enjoys. It is our experience that current arrangements work extremely well, and we fully accept the responsibilities that go hand in hand with this privilege.

  However, if in the course of its deliberations the Committee proposes changes which would alter the status of this qualified privilege, we would very much welcome an opportunity to consider the implications of this for us and to submit further evidence if necessary.

  The Committee will know that there is considerable uncertainty as to what actually constitutes "proceedings in Parliament" for the purpose of Article 9 of the Bill of Rights, and in particular the definition of the "business of the House". If the Committee decides to define more clearly what constitutes the "business of the House", this is another area where we would welcome the opportunity to give further evidence on any proposals made.

  The Committee has asked for comments on the implications of the Human Rights Bill currently before Parliament. As a public service broadcaster we are very aware of the balance that needs to be struck between Article 8 (privacy) and Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights. In practice we have always ensured that our Producers' Guidelines protect the privacy of individuals to an extent which is fully compatible with the Convention and the Human Rights Bill. It is of course possible that allegations made by a member within Parliament in the course of daily proceedings—then relayed by the press and broadcasters—could lead to someone being able to seek redress under the new Human Rights legislation. If so, that could have an effect upon a member's right to speak without fear. And too, upon us if we are to continue to report faithfully and fairly the daily proceedings of Parliament. In theory this could be a source of potential conflict. In practice we think it's unlikely.

  The BBC makes every effort to ensure that its parliamentary correspondents and political journalists do not abuse the qualified privilege conferred on us in reporting the business of both Houses. No-one can recall an occasion where the BBC has breached or even been alleged to have breached Parliamentary privilege.

30 January 1998

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Prepared 9 April 1999