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Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Howell: I am talking in sporting and realistic terms.

Turning to the detailed amendments some of us would like to see discussed or inserted in this Bill, it is right that we give notice at this point. Each one of them will provide an opportunity for debate and for the Government to deal with them separately.

We must start by repeating in this Bill Clause 182 of the Broadcasting Act 1990, which deals only with pay television and sporting events. The clause has to be extended to cover subscription television, which was not considered as it was not in evidence at the time when the 1990 Act was discussed by Parliament. We have to consider whether the present list of eight national events should be extended. I believe that it should, but there will be another opportunity to go into detail.

Then there is the question of highlights on television which must be separated from live coverage, so that the public at large can be guaranteed, as in the cases I have

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already instanced, that at least sight of some major sport is available to them through highlights, even though coverage has been sold to satellite television. I believe that we have to deal with conflicts of interest. Therefore, I shall myself seek to provide that television companies or their executives, having the rights to televise sport, shall not be involved in the government of that sport. That is a very important principle which hitherto has not raised its head--not until recently when the situation in Rugby League and possibly Rugby Union has come to our attention.

Then there is the need for sensible control by regulation or, as I shall propose, by a commission on sport and television, in order to look fairly at the interests of satellite and terrestrial television channels, as well as of sport and the public at large. My noble friend Lord Donoughue mentioned that point. At the moment, it is nobody's job to hold the ring fairly on behalf of all the interests. Whether or not my solution is adopted, the problem has to be addressed by this House and by the Government.

I come to the cricket World Cup, which I mentioned earlier, which is to take place soon in Pakistan and India. The BBC was approached by Sky to televise the highlights and asked if it would agree to do so. Sky started to negotiate with the cricket authorities. The BBC agreed at a fee of over £1 million for the highlights of that world cup which will take place in a few weeks' time. The deal was done by Sky with the cricket authorities, whereupon Sky promptly ditched the BBC. Therefore--I do not think the nation understands it at all and they ought to do so, although there has been no comment about it--we now face a situation in which, at the world cricket cup in two or three weeks' time there will be no highlights available. There will be no such coverage for the whole of the nation unless they own Sky or have access to cable. That is a disgraceful situation. It highlights some of our problems and fears about the direction in which we are moving.

I do not expect the Minister to say too much tonight but I hope that he will take the issue on board and say that he and his ministerial colleagues will look at it in the interests of English viewers. We do not want another Ryder Cup situation. I hope that we do have a successful cricket team, which would be unusual--a modest phrase, but we all hope that it will be successful and wish it well. The nation as a whole is entitled to enter into such competitions and to participate through television.

Finally, my noble friend Lord Donoughue raised the issue of what I call "decoders". I have heard them given other names. At the moment News International owns them all. I do not read anything in any way subversive into that. I believe that it has come about as a result of its normal entrepreneurial activities and that should be acknowledged. But pay television, which the BBC or ITV may well wish to take up with the new opportunities that are available to them, can only be taken up if their smart card giving access to their programmes is acceptable by the black box which is totally owned by News International at the present time. The dangers are obvious. If any of those organisations wish to offer realistic money to the sports bodies--

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I hope that they do--then, as I said last week, they will probably have to move into some areas of pay television in order to generate the income to compete with Sky Television. It would be totally unacceptable if they were not allowed to do that because their competitor owned all the black boxes. The problem needs to be stated and taken on board by the Government and by the House.

These matters concern the national interest. There is great national interest in sport. Therefore, it follows that there is great national interest in the delivery of sport to the homes of most of our citizens by terrestrial or pay television. That has to be provided for and it would be quite wrong for the Government and Parliament not to provide for it when the opportunity is given in this Bill. If we miss the opportunity now, it may be well into the next century before it comes again and we should be creating great hardship for sport and genuine followers of sport who do not have deep pockets from which they can ensure that they can follow the sport which they traditionally champion.

7.35 p.m.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, much of what I intended to say has already been said by noble Lords, and in particular the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont and my noble friend Lord Caldecote. I shall not weary your Lordships by repeating any of it now except to say that I align myself in particular with the remarks of my noble friend Lord Caldecote.

I listened to nearly all last week's debate in your Lordships' House on the BBC's Charter and Agreement. I was tempted to speak in the gap because it seemed to me that three quite important points had not been made. I have not heard them this evening and as they seem pertinent to this debate, perhaps I may make them now. They come under the broad heading of quality and concern political bias and the ability, especially of television, to undermine our culture.

I know that bias is often in the eye of the beholder. I agree that it is the duty of free media to keep a highly critical eye on the government of the day, especially perhaps on one which has been so long in power as our Government. But I am one of those who believe that the BBC, among others, has done much to diminish our culture, which is not nearly so racist or atheistic and immoral as the BBC would like us to believe and, indeed, would encourage us to become. I cannot see that it has attempted to put anything enduring and worth while in the place of what it has often done its best to knock down.

My first point about what I see as a disturbing state of affairs may strike some noble Lords as extreme lateral thinking and perhaps even irrelevant. But, during my 10 years validating so-called academic courses in the polytechnic sector, I discovered an almost universal bias, of the kind that I described, in the media studies courses, which often are much the same thing as cultural studies. Similar bias, as I think many noble Lords will agree, toward what are termed in the jargon "issues of gender, race and class" was and I am sure still is to be found in our teacher training, social studies and much of

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the humanities. This is not the moment to debate higher education. I shall simply comment that there does not seem to me to be any system of quality control in higher education--I say "quality control" as opposed to "quality assurance". I should expect our media studies courses today to be just as bad as, if not worse than, they were three years ago when I spent much of my time looking at them.

My point--the lateral thinking will perhaps come home to roost at this point--is that I understand that many people with a media studies degree enter the media. I feel that an examination of the area that I indicated might repay anyone interested in the quality of our television and particularly that of the BBC.

Let me give an example. I happened to be looking at the 9 o'clock news on BBC last night, in which there was a largely balanced programme on the proposal of the Government's chief schools curriculum adviser for a new moral code for the curriculum. I thought that the social affairs editor of the BBC News dealt with the programme perfectly fairly until he came to the end, when he delivered the punch-line of his presentation. He ended by saying,

    "all the signs are that parents want schools to provide a strong moral lead. Yet beyond sets of worthy principles it'll be hard to identify a national consensus".

That reflected the programme fairly and I am sure that it is fair enough so far. But then he went on,

    "And attitudes do change, slavery was once condoned, illegitimacy condemned. The difference then was that those in authority were better at ordering people what to do and at concealing faults in themselves".

That was the end of the programme. Whatever one may think about those in authority being better at ordering people to do what they want them to do and concealing their faults, it is a matter for us all to consider rather carefully. But the phrase I particularly object to in that summing-up punch-line is that illegitimacy used to be condemned, the inference being that it now is not.

I hold no brief for illegitimacy one way or the other. But I am sure that there must have been a lot of people watching that programme, perhaps with teenage children, who will have found that very offensive. They may not even have spotted quite why they found it offensive, but it probably did the damage that it was intended to do.

I go back to my second point and would like to remind the Government that drama has a far greater effect on our social attitudes than news or current affairs. The slanted programme which exaggerates the cuts in our health service, for instance, has far more effect on what people believe than does a boring slanging match between politicians.

My third point is that some 54 per cent. of all children under 16 now apparently have an unsupervised television in their own rooms. If that is so, the efficacy of any nine o'clock watershed must surely be in some doubt.

It is for those reasons and others on which I do not have time to dwell now that I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, and my noble friend Lord Caldecote, that

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the proposed BSC must be given real teeth in this Bill, and it must be obliged to use them. It is no use leaving it to our old friend self-regulation and pious hopes that the governors of the BBC and others will do their stuff. They will not, as the Bill is drafted, and we shall all be the worse for it.

I had thought to end my few remarks there until I heard the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, who I regret to see is no longer in his place. I have been struck by the considerable amount of criticism that Mr. Rupert Murdoch has received this afternoon, together with his various companies. A number of noble Lords also paid tribute to the remarkable business acumen of Mr. Murdoch, but now, after the game has been won, they seem to want to move the goalposts against him in relation to the rules by which he played it.

I refer particularly to the amount of sports coverage Mr. Murdoch now offers. In that, I must declare a complete lack of interest. I do not have Sky Sports and, unfortunately for me, professional sports give me no pleasure. But, like many noble Lords, I have been sent numerous briefs on the Bill. Given the treatment which News International received this evening, I dug out one it sent to me. I have no reason to think that any of the claims in it are inaccurate. It claims that Mr. Murdoch's position in our television provides better funding for sport; greater coverage and wider choice for the viewer; improvements in quality and better access for youth and minority sports. The deals which Sky has made with football put some 10 to 15 times more money into the game than the deals of a decade ago. Sky provides over 10,000 hours of sports every year, compared with 1,500 on the BBC.

Then we come to one of the most remarkable statements in defence of the wicked Mr. Murdoch, and it is this: that we all seem to labour under a common misconception that BSkyB has increased its coverage of sporting events by taking them from terrestrial channels. In fact only 1 per cent. of current Sky sports coverage used to be shown on terrestrial channels: the rest is all new; it is additional programming. Whatever that 1 per cent. means to the channels which lost it, the rest must represent an enormous increase in overall sports coverage.

Then we come to the question of access for youth and minority sports. It seems that over 30 per cent. of men under 25 and children under 15 live in a home with a satellite. That strength with the country's youth has been attractive to many sports bodies which wish to reach that elusive audience and to promote their sports at the grassroots. That seems to go against what the noble Lord, Lord Howell, was saying when he said that he felt that our children in schools were being disadvantaged by the presence of Sky television.

That brings me back to education and to what has been going on in our schools, where--certainly in our state schools--regrettably, competitive sports have been continuously and consistently dropped over recent years. I am afraid that in many schools they have been regarded as elitist. In case your Lordships do not know what elitism is, it is in the "classist" platoon of the gender, race and class brigade.

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I therefore disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that the young are, on the whole, disadvantaged by Sky in relation to sport. I must ask also whether the costs are so tremendous. Even our poorest people make investments of a kind which could give them Sky television. I have just been offered Sky for £240 in a remote house in Scotland and understand that it will cost me £1 to watch a football match. I do not know what unit one is supposed to describe it in nowadays, but that is not a large quantity of beer.

I understand those who want to see the principle of universal reception given to everyone in this country. I do not know how we achieve it, but I must submit that it is much less important than some of the other issues that I have raised this evening.

7.47 p.m.

Viscount Chandos: My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, for his lucid introduction to the Bill and pay tribute to the contributions, and stamina, of all noble Lords who have spoken today, but most of all to that of my noble friend Lady Smith of Gilmorehill, whose speech I enjoyed, admired, and envied for its incisiveness. At this hour I shall do my best to emulate the spatial aspect of that incisiveness, if not aspiring to the same quality.

I shall begin by declaring a number of interests. As an investment banker I act as financial adviser to a number of UK and overseas media groups, including those holding ITV, Channel 3 and other broadcasting licences. I also have an interest as a director of, or shareholder in, independent local radio stations, an advertising agency, film and television production companies and a film exhibition business. As I have suggested to your Lordships in the past, I hope that the variety of those interests aids rather than hinders the objectivity of my views.

If your Lordships have approached this Bill in a non-partisan spirit, that in no way diminishes the complexity or difficulty of some of the issues raised. The whole area of digital broadcasting is one where, across the parties, there is a common aim of successfully introducing the next generation of broadcasting, but a shared anxiety of how best to achieve it. I join other noble Lords in suggesting that new technology should be the servant and not the master of that process; TW3 and TSR2 may both have gained notoriety in the 1960s, but we should remember that one was a successful satirical television programme and the other a commercially and economically disastrous implementation of the cutting edge of aerospace technology. We shall return to that conundrum in Committee.

Similarly, I shall not prolong your Lordships' agony in addressing other subjects such as the merger of the BCC and the BSC or the maintenance of ITV's regional quality, which have attracted broad cross-party support. Even the funding of Channel 4 attracted a high degree of consensus, acknowledging that, as in many areas, the 1990 Act missed the target with monotonous regularity.

The position on the Channel 4 safety net must be rectified fairly for all parties, which points inexorably to timing this to coincide with the earliest date for the renegotiation and extension of the Channel 3 licences.

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In the meantime, since Channel 4's reserves have grown so much, presumably so much faster than Channel 4 and the Government had forecast, and since there is such widespread confidence that its share of terrestrial television advertising revenue will not fall below 14 per cent., it would surely not be imprudent to allow it to devote all or part of the 25 per cent. surplus designated annually for addition to its statutory reserve for investment in programming instead. We can perhaps explore this also at the Committee stage.

On sport as well, I am optimistic that the noble Lord the Minister will find the widespread concern on all sides of the House an irresistible force to propose, or accept, a judicious strengthening of the protection afforded to terrestrial coverage of major sporting events without unduly cramping the beneficial consequences of the digital revolution through massively widening choice for sports enthusiasts and enhancing the financial position of the sports being covered.

We know that all members of the Government look nervously over their shoulder for the approbation, or otherwise, of the previous Prime Minister. I would not therefore wish to put the reputation or happiness of the noble Lord the Minister in jeopardy by suggesting, at least publicly, that he was a one-nation Tory. But what your Lordships' House and the country want him to be is a five-nations Tory.

My noble friend Lord Donoughue, in addition to his excellent speech today, argued powerfully last week in the debate on the BBC Charter that the BBC's support for the performing arts must be maintained. So, too, should the independent sector's. While declaring an additional interest as a director of English National Opera, I believe that all your Lordships would share my concern at the diminishing number of broadcasts from many of the country's leading opera and other performing arts companies, while heavily sponsored recordings of the Metropolitan Opera of New York, for instance, dominate the classical music airwaves. At a time when the Arts Council grant has been cut in favour of subsidising the ownership of classic cars, I suggest to the noble Lord the Minister that the profound and productive relationship between the subsidised performing arts and the commercial broadcasting industry would justify the allocation of a small percentage of that industry's payments to the Government to make up for the acute shortfall of current funding for the arts, perhaps on a matched basis with the broadcasters. To win that modest but logical concession from the Treasury would demonstrate that there was real merit in having broadcasting and the arts fall under the same department.

Finally, I should like to address the relaxation of ownership rules, both on a cross-media basis and to allow, in some cases, further consolidation within the individual sectors. I vigorously support the noble Lord the Minister in his argument that larger and financially stronger media groups are needed in this country to exploit the opportunities opening up, to serve their customers and to expand their employment and profitability. That is one reason for allowing the principle of cross-ownership of electronic and printed media, and we can return at

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Committee stage to debating whether every detailed clause of the Bill is yet perfectly honed to provide equal treatment to all the different industries.

But another reason for this proposed relaxation is that in many of the different sectors, printed and electronic alike, the major companies have established a level of market share--in that market--at, or close to, or even above, the limit of fair competition. Cross-media expansion provides the alternative opportunity for new growth and the productive interaction between previously separated sectors.

There remain, however, overwhelming arguments for preventing the concentration of power within specific, discrete, markets, whether for rights, subscribers or advertisers. I therefore join wholeheartedly with my noble friends Lord Donoughue and Lord Howell in advocating the rigorous application of competition policy to encryption and subscription systems for satellite and digital and terrestrial broadcasting and hope that the noble Lord the Minister will give your Lordships' House the unequivocal reassurance that it is seeking.

Furthermore, I hope that the noble Lord the Minister can provide both clarification and reassurance that nothing in the Bill overrides the normal workings of the Fair Trading Act and the OFT's regulation of competition issues. Currently the three major ITV groups control, whether through licence ownership or the management of airtime sales contracts, close to 25 per cent. each of total television advertising revenue. Indeed, at the time of the last consolidation within ITV, two years ago, each of those groups gave undertakings to the OFT--lasting at least until 1999--that they would not increase their interests significantly beyond their present level without the OFT's agreement.

I hope, therefore, that the noble Lord the Minister can confirm, particularly in the light of the DTI's participation in the preparation of the Bill, that the Government will hold these companies to their undertakings and apply normal competition policies in respect of concentration in television advertising. If that is the case, while it may be a few years before the major ITV groups can take full advantage of the audience share limits proposed in the Bill--since the BBC's position, inter alia, substantially changes the relationship between audience and advertising share--we can be assured of a competitive and healthy market for major advertisers. If, on the other hand, the Government see the Bill's limits as overriding or pre-empting the OFT's judgments, your Lordships' House may feel that an appropriate amendment would be justified to prevent undue concentration of market power.

I hope, however, that this will not be the case and your Lordships' attention at Committee stage can focus on establishing the vital long-term framework for thriving, competitive broadcasting and media industries in these fast-changing times.

7.58 p.m.

Baroness Flather: My Lords, before I begin, I cannot resist a comment on something my noble friend Lord

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Pearson of Rannoch said. He sees the issues of race, gender and class as being subversive and, if I understand him correctly, a threat to his culture.

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