Joint Committee on The Draft Communications Bill Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 500 - 502)



  500. What we have protected ourselves from in this country is the distortion of the political process by the horrendous cost of advertising on television that I believe has corrupted the American process and, therefore, when you suggest we get on this slope, I think it is a very slippery slope indeed.
  (Professor Barendt) I do not think it is as slippery as you imagine. I agree with your fear of the domination of politics by ultra rich, and maybe ultra right wing, groups but I think reasonable rules can be formulated to allow some political advertising. Remember, the price of advertising on radio would not be extortionate. I think one might distinguish here between radio and television.

  Chairman: Lastly, Lord Pilkington?

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford

  501. I feel like a student in a seminar at Cambridge forty years ago in this situation! It is a soft ball to you, Professor. You have expressed concerns about the Secretary of State having powers to avoid mentioning a particular matter in broadcasting, a sort of reserve power. Would you want, which I am sure you would if the use of any direction like this would stop something being broadcast, to have some form of Parliamentary scrutiny?
  (Professor Barendt) I certainly would. I would have thought that was the very minimum. I would much prefer that it was confined to national security or public safety grounds. What I think the Committee should urge the government to do is to think again about a power which the last time it was used, as I think we all know, was the so-called broadcasting ban on the supporters of terrorist organisations in Northern Ireland. I am afraid that was regarded as widely wrong and it was withdrawn by the government two or three years later; it served no apparent purpose and it was, in my view, a clear infringement of freedom of expression which should not be countenanced in a liberal society.

  502. Could I again say how very grateful I am—I cannot speak for the Committee—for your eloquence and expertise but could you write some of it down for our feeble legislative minds?
  (Professor Barendt) You are far too modest.

  Chairman: It is our way of getting very inexpensive advice! Thank you, Professor.

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