|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Renton: I wonder whether the noble Lord has borne in mind that in recent years there has been--as has been said in this debate--increasing invasion of privacy, too much sex and too much violence. That is largely because the broadcasters are entirely their own masters. There has not been enough regulation. Quite frankly, unless we do something about this, those abuses will get worse; they will not get better.
Lord Chalfont: Not for the first time, and possibly not for the last, I must take issue with the noble Lord, Lord McNally. He used the term "political correctness". His speech was, in my view, a typical example of precisely that vice of political correctness. We heard the peddling of the idea that everything is subjective.
There are things which are said and done on television and spoken on radio which are not subjective. There is open obscenity; there are gratuitous displays of sex on television which are totally unnecessary to the creativity of any artist; there is unfairness to people, ideas, organisations and controversies which is not subjective but one-sided and biased, and everyone can see that it is. I beg the Committee not to fall into the kind of political correctness that the noble Lord advocates.
As the noble Lord said, there are already codes of conduct, such as the code of the ITC, which are clear codes governing behaviour on television. There is the code of the Radio Authority, which I was instrumental in drawing up and which lays down clear rules about what is and is not permissible on independent radio. That has not led to any kind of obscurantism, oppression or fascism. It is a perfectly liberal and necessary regime.
I have a strong feeling that what the noble Viscount suggests is very much needed. We do not want any more guidelines which people can skate around. We do not want any more advice. We want some codes of conduct which can be enforced and which are so clearly and unmistakably drawn that those who flout them can be punished.
Baroness Park of Monmouth: I should like to add my strong support for the amendment. The issue here is that we want clarity and clear guidance. No sensible, competent organisation suffers from having that. Most of the troubles that the BBC has had from time to time have resulted from vagueness and people being able to say "I didn't realise that that was what was meant".
The BBC is so highly respected that it is all the more important that it should not allow itself, as it sometimes has out of political correctness, to be swayed into a tendency to rewrite history, using the most biased sources and in a spirit of arrogance. The need here is not to say that one will not do this or that but to make it absolutely clear to the people within the BBC who are doing the work what is acceptable and what is not and that what is not acceptable will no longer be tolerated.
Lord Inglewood: We have had an interesting and worthwhile debate. Before turning to the four amendments, I should like to begin by making quite clear that the Government believe that there must be proper rules relating to appropriate standards of broadcasting, and there must be proper enforcement of those rules, supported if necessary by appropriate disciplinary action.
On this occasion we are not talking about what those rules should be or their exact delineation. What we are talking about is the legal framework within which they will work. To use an analogy, it is rather like a piece of jewellery which comprises gems and a setting. The gems are the policies; what we are really talking about this evening is the setting. We must try to analyse how the system we have works and the interrelationship of the various elements of that system, which is part of the legal framework we are looking at.
My noble friend Lord Caldecote and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, in their Amendments Nos. 197 and 198, which relate to Clause 68, propose that the Broadcasting Standards Commission shall produce, and from time to time review, a code of principles to be observed and practices to be followed, as opposed to guidance relating to the principles to be observed and practices to be followed, in order to avoid unfair treatment and unwarranted invasions of privacy. I believe that the effect is much the same whether the requirement is described as a code or as guidance, because each formulation implies a similar if not identical compilation of principles to be observed and practices to be followed.
Since the purpose of the clause is to avoid a wrong--namely, unfair treatment and unwarranted invasion of privacy--I am doubtful whether a semantic distinction between the different verbal descriptions of the format in which identical principles to be observed are set has any material significance. In this context each of the words is, for practical purposes, a synonym for the other, in terms both of meaning and of overtone.
I was grateful to my noble friend Lord Caldecote for sharing with me the thinking behind the amendment. I continue to think, as I have explained to him, that there is no material difference in effect between use of the words "guidance" and "code" in this context. However, I believe it is useful to retain the term "guidance" in order to distinguish it from the BBC's "code" on the portrayal of violence and sexual conduct and standards of taste and decency.
The guidance relates to provisions which take direct effect on to the regulator, and through him to the broadcaster and the programme. The use of the word "code" in Clause 69 relates to matters which are directly applicable to the broadcast programmes. I should like to come back to that in connection with Amendment No. 201 which relates to Clause 69.
On the question of whether the guidance should be mandatory, in practice pressure from broadcasters and other interested groups might achieve this effect even if the provision remains discretionary. But, as with a number of the noble Lord's amendments, the Secretary of State has only recently been able properly to discuss their effects with the current chairmen of the BSC and BCC. I would ask my noble friend not to press this amendment at this stage because I should like to consider it further and the suggested form of words about review and bring the Government's response back at Report stage.
I now turn to Amendment No. 199 which is in part complementary to the two earlier amendments. The Committee will recall that I have agreed to consider the amendments further, although I have indicated the nature of some of our concerns about them.
On Amendment No. 199, I can confirm that various codes or guidance are published which one might wish to relate to documents produced by the BSC. I also stress that, regardless of whether it is voluntary or mandatory, the BSC's guidance is intended to set standards and not to be a prescriptive test for regulations. It therefore seems inappropriate for the BSC to be required to monitor and report on the extent to which its guidance has been implemented by broadcasters and regulators. This would place the commission in the position of a regulator, albeit one without power to enforce compliance.
The broadcasting regulatory bodies, the Welsh Authority and the BBC already have in place guidelines on good practice with respect to the avoidance of unfair treatment and infringement of privacy in programmes which, as I have explained, derive their content from the BSC's work. The Government are satisfied that they have sufficient powers to ensure that the practice laid out in these guidelines is followed, and we have no intention of placing those regulatory responsibilities which are properly the concern of those bodies under the scrutiny of the BSC.
Amendment No. 201 relates to Clause 69. Clause 69 mandates the publication of a code which in turn is directly applicable to broadcast programmes. The amendment seems to suggest that the BSC draw up a more prescriptive code on broadcasting standards than "a code giving guidance" would in their view be. I should like to begin by saying that the Government's intention is that the BSC should play a standard setting and advisory role rather than a directly regulatory role in the maintenance of standards. A code which gives guidance relies on intelligent interpretation by producers and programme makers. It respects the fundamental right to freedom of expression. A rigid, all-embracing code trying to cover all eventualities would be vulnerable and more easily found wanting than one which gives guidance and allows flexibility for programme makers, broadcasters and regulators to engage in worthwhile debate in the light of developing perceptions of taste and decency.
In short, the key to understanding the relationship between the BSC and the ITC is that it is for the BSC to benchmark or identify the appropriate standards and it is for the ITC and the BBC governors to ensure that the broadcaster adheres to them by drawing up rules whose purpose is primarily to ensure that standards are adhered to and only secondarily to be a device to punish those who fail to do so.
In his helpful remarks the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, said that he felt the BSC should be a watch-dog with teeth. With respect, I think that his analogy of watch-dogs is helpful. Perhaps I might compare them with guard dogs. The BSC is a watch-dog. The function of a watch-dog is to bark and to alert people to what is going on. That seems to me to
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|