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Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde moved Amendment No. 203A:

Page 61, line 38, at end insert ("or organisation").

The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment, I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 208A, 208C, 216A and 216B.

I must first declare an interest. Until just over a year ago I was a member of the Broadcasting Complaints Commission. I have tabled these amendments following my experience as a member of the BCC, participating in and observing the process which takes place under the 1990 Act. The BCC is seriously underfunded and complainants have to wait far too long to have their cases dealt with.

When one considers the thousands of hours of broadcasting time over a year and also the very small number of complaints that are received, one has to accept that, by and large, our broadcasting is of good standard and good quality and is fair and accurate on balance. However, when we received complaints at the BCC, I was appalled at some of the programmes which were made by supposedly professional journalists and programme-makers. That small number of complaints gets the whole industry a bad name. I was appalled too at the sloppiness of some of the journalism and at the way in which some programmes seem to set the agenda for the outcome before they carry out the investigation. That affects just a small number of programmes.

We must remember that the BCC and the BSC are merging. We welcome that merger. We believe it is a step forward. It provides for members of the public an opportunity to complain where otherwise they would have to go to the courts. Referring a complaint to the courts cannot be the right way to deal with it. The complaints system that exists is important if we are looking at fairness and balance and at a broadcasting system which is there for members of the public.

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Amendment No.203A refers to direct interest which is a difficult area to define. Of that there is no doubt. We had hoped that the Bill would be clearer about direct interest. It is not. We understand the problems; nevertheless we think that a better shot could perhaps have been made of it. For instance, there can be a programme that looks at a narrowly defined area. It may be one for which there is a national body generally and publicly recognised as being an organisation where the subject matter of the programme is the essential main element or the raison d'etre itself of the organisation.

Under the Bill as it stands, and indeed under the 1990 Act, there is no automatic right of complaint. What we have seen is broadcasters objecting to any complaint coming from an organisation. It has to come from an individual. I shall give one example. There was a programme made some two years ago--distant enough for it not to be controversial today--about single parents. It focused on single women parents. The National Council for One-Parent Families made a complaint about the programme. The broadcaster objected and said that there was no direct interest there. Yet the Government consult that body on matters affecting that group in our community.

Defining a direct interest, as I said, is difficult, but there are occasions when organisations do have a direct interest. We are not talking about party political broadcasts or similar programmes. There will not be a long queue of people in that category and, if there are, what happens to them under the new body will be what happened to them under the BCC. We refused to accept their complaints, and we did receive a number. The area of direct interest is a key element.

Amendment No. 208A deals with the provision of unedited recordings at the request of the BSC in respect of unfairness complaints. Again, that does not apply to all broadcasters. My experience is that there were a number of broadcasters who, when asked for the full unedited tape--the rushes, as they are called--handed them over voluntarily. One might wonder why they are important. There is an individual complainant who says, "This programme has not been fair to me." The BCC looks at the programme. The complainant will say, "Ah yes, but that is one little part of my interview. If you look at the whole interview, you will see that they have extracted out of context the points I was making." If the broadcasters are not required to hand over the full unedited tapes, the complainant does not receive a fair hearing. The BCC is put in a difficult position.

Amendment No. 208C requires that when a complaint has been accepted by the BSC as a legitimate one, that programme will not be rebroadcast until the complaint has been adjudicated upon. Where the adjudication finds in favour of the complainant, the part complained about will be edited out. There have been instances of a serious complaint being made by an individual, the company rebroadcasting the very programme, and the complaint being ultimately upheld. Where the complaint is not upheld, no damage is done. In some respects it negates the matter; it is like double jeopardy for the complainant.

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I do not intend to pursue the amendment tonight. I am not a parliamentary draftsman and I understand that in drafting the amendment I have included not only the programmes but the advertisements. The 1990 Act and Clause 89 of the Bill provides that the definition of "programme" is the content of the programme including the advertisements. Clearly, the Broadcasting Standards Commission does not cover advertisements. They are rightly covered by the ITC. It was never my intention to provide for that. The word "programme" is a lay person's term and appears in Clauses 69, 70 and 71. In the light of that legal difficulty, it is not my intention to pursue the amendment tonight but I have raised the issue and would welcome the Minister's comments.

Amendments Nos. 216A and 216B amend the Bill to provide that, where a complaint has been made, heard, adjudicated upon and found in favour of the complainant, the Broadcasting Complaints Commission will in most instances require its adjudication to be broadcast. In the past that has not happened and the balance has not been redressed as regards the complainant. For instance, the case relating to the one-parent families resulted in the BBC making a statement after the broadcast of the adjudication to the effect that it did not agree with the adjudication decision, and why. That negated the impact of the commission's decision.

Recently, Central Television broadcast an adjudication relating to one of "The Cook Report" programmes. Before the adjudication was broadcast, Mr. Cook appeared on the screen and stated that the company was required by law to broadcast the adjudication. He stated that it found the adjudication perverse. The adjudication was then broadcast and back on screen came Mr. Cook, who made a long statement in which he chose selectively to put his case. He concluded--and I paraphrase--that the company stood by every word it broadcast in the programme against which the adjudication had been found. The complainant was not invited on screen to make a comment, nor was the chairman of the Broadcasting Complaints Commission. That incident completely negated the impact of that adjudication and, I suggest, the integrity of the complaints system.

Fortunately, the story does not end there. About an hour ago, on the instructions of the ITC, Central Television rebroadcast that adjudication. It is to be hoped that the balance will be redressed. But such events should not occur and that is why I have tabled the two amendments. I apologise for taking 10 minutes but these amendments are important for individuals and for the viewers. They are tabled as a result of my observations during my membership of the Broadcasting Complaints Commission, which, despite lack of resources, does a worthwhile job. I beg to move.

Lord Inglewood: I am sure that all of us found the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, most helpful, bearing in mind her wide experience in these matters. Amendment No. 203A relates to fairness complaints and to the fact that a person affected in this regard is already allowed to instruct another person to complain on his behalf to the Broadcasting Standards

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Commission. That other person could, of course, be a member of an organisation such as a representative body.

As has been explained, what is not allowed is an organisation to make a complaint without the authorisation of the person affected. The Government would oppose such a proposal for the reasons that I gave tonight in respect of earlier amendments. The noble Baroness makes an important point about the problems relating to the definition of "direct interest". If she has any suggested improvements to the form of words which may help to deal with a difficult definitional problem, we should be very pleased to know about them.

In her remarks the noble Baroness referred to the "Panorama" programme entitled "Babies on Benefit." My understanding is that the National Council for One Parent Families did not represent an individual in that respect. The judicial review which arose from the complaint that it made found that the BCC acted beyond its powers in entertaining the complaint without a named individual. Therefore, it seems to me that that was not a matter of an individual who was affected by the programme not being able to bring a complaint. In fact, it was a complaint brought by an organisation which was outside the remit of the BCC because it was not brought by an individual who was affected.

I have explained some of our anxieties about the noble Baroness's amendment and, as a result, we cannot support it.

Amendment No. 208A seeks to require broadcasters, regulatory bodies and production companies to make available to the Broadcasting Standards Commission all unedited as well as edited material such as transcripts and recordings that had been gathered in the process of making a programme which is subject to an unfairness complaint. Already broadcasters and regulatory bodies are required to retain recordings and transcripts of all programmes broadcast in the event of a complaint. To require them to retain, in addition, all unedited recordings and transcripts that have gone into the making of a programme is in practice an almost completely open-ended obligation and the volume of material would be many times greater than that used in the actual recording. It seems to us that this is a disproportionate requirement because that would impose, in turn, an unreasonable demand on broadcasters, regulatory bodies and their production companies in both administrative and financial terms. That is our concern and that is why we resist that amendment.

Amendment No. 208C is concerned to extend effectively the role of the BSC to that of a censor and regulator by giving it the power to prevent the retransmission of a programme under investigation or a part of a programme on which the BSC has made an adverse ruling.

The BSC exists as a forum for public concerns in broadcasting and the airing of personal grievances, as I have already mentioned. To enable the BSC to prevent the retransmission of the whole or part of a programme would be to give it powers of censorship which do not

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at present exist in the broadcasting regulatory framework. If this amendment were accepted it seems to us that there would be a possibility that pressure groups may go beyond the spirit of the amendment and take advantage by making a hardly genuine complaint to the BSC in the hope that it will be entertained in order to prevent, thereby, the retransmission of a programme which they disliked or with which they disagreed.

We believe that it would be wrong to extend the powers of the BSC beyond its present remit. It seems to us that the potential abuses with which this amendment is concerned are best left to the person who is responsible for the regulation of the broadcaster concerned. We believe that is the way to deal with that problem and that is why we oppose that amendment.

Finally, the noble Baroness spoke to Amendments Nos. 216A and 216B in which she proposes that broadcasting bodies and licence holders be prevented from adding their own comments alongside any published summary that they are required to make of the BSC's findings. The proposal is one with which the Government have considerable sympathy. With the agreement of the Committee, we would like to consider most carefully the implications of what is being proposed and to consult with the broadcasting and regulatory bodies and the Broadcasting Complaints Commission before making the Government's position clear in due course. I hope that we may be able to return to the matter on Report with some proposals in the area.

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