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The Lord Bishop of Manchester: I support the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Howe. This approach is an essential part of furthering community interests in communications matters to ensure that there is adequate means for the individualas the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, saidand the community to express their voice. It is particularly important for the means available for that to be inclusive and not to limit the range of voices heard because of economic or other factors. It also follows from that that the redress for complaints must be provided free to the public by a regulatory body that should not be heard to say, "If you have a complaint then sue". Equally, the potential confusion over which issues are for the content board and which are for the
The present regulators provide such redress, and it is easily accessible to the public. Indeed, the public clearly feel the need to make use of such an opportunity, as is shown by the Broadcasting Standards Council's own figures, which show an increase in direct complaints to the council of 46 per cent in 2002. The content board will need to win public confidence but it will not do that without a credible and easily used means of accountability for the public, under which it is clear which matters are issues for which body. I hope that the Government will agree to the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Howe.
Lord Lipsey: I, too, sympathise very much with what the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, is trying to do. I want to make a single point. The problem in this context is more cultural than legislative. There was a case in yesterday's newspaperI shall not go into the detailsin which the Broadcasting Standards Commission upheld a complaint against a programme on the grounds that it conducted its dealings with people taking part in the programme under false pretences. The BSC's verdict was that it was guilty. What was the response of the organisation? Did it apologise to the people concerned and say that it would try to ensure that it would never happen again? No. The response was to say that the verdict was disgraceful and that it had done absolutely nothing wrong. I am afraid that that is a problem among broadcasters and in my former profession of journalism. I refer to an unwillingness to admit to error in this regard and a willingness to use total power.
I contrast thatI see that my noble friend Lord Borrie is in his placewith the situation regarding the Advertising Standards Authority, on which I sit under my noble friend's wise chairmanship. The advertising industry often does not like our judgments but it nearly always accepts them without further protest, redress to law or anything else of that kind. The real success of Ofcom in this regard, whatever legislative powers we give it, will be whether it can bring about a cultural change by which broadcasting organisations are prepared to admit for the first time that they are capable of error.
Viscount Falkland: We on these Benches have just suddenly agreed to follow the views generally of the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey. We have great sympathy with the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Howe. We have seen her distinguished work on the Broadcasting Standards Commission and the way in which it was carried out. Some years ago, she very kindly gave us the opportunity of spending a morning there; we saw the work that was done and how effectively it was done. What gives us some problems in this regard was well expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey: this is more a cultural matterI liked that phraserather than anything else. Ofcom will
The regulatory body will have great difficulty on that issue. I agree that it is healthy for viewers and listeners to have the opportunity to raise issues where offence may have been givenit may be to a minoritythrough perceived indecency of language or behaviour or by the offending of a moral sense among some of the community. But it is not easy to make such provision in concrete terms on the face of the Bill.
Ofcom will have clear machinery to deal with issues such as intrusion on privacy or the deceiving of people into programmes on a pretext that is clearly false. The noble Baroness does not seek today to divide the Committee. However, if she were to tighten the provision, the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, and I might come closer to agreement with her. At present, the wording is a little loose. It is difficult to envisage how it could be incorporated on the face of the Bill.
Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: I am slightly worried. I understand the noble Lord's point. Privacy and unfairness cause enormous distress. I agree that the amendment may have to be refined. However, I should be sad if it became lost in the idea of a relative morality that we cannot define. I have had to deal with individuals who have suffered infringement of privacy and unfairness. Lives can be wrecked. In considering the amendment, I hope that the Committee will try to escape from the issue of relative morality. I share the noble Lord's view. One has to define it. In a street of 10 houses, one has 10 different concepts of morality. Unfairness and privacythose were my concernsneed to be enshrined in the Bill. At present, they are not. I hope that the Government will propose an amendment which enshrines them.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The noble Baroness asked the question. If we are to have a sensible debate, it is better for the Minister to reply and for the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, to use her right of reply at the end of the debate. There is no ruleanyone can intervene at any time in Committeebut it makes for a tidier debate.
The Government do not approach the issue in any way but in a considered manner. We do not have the flexible policy framework that the Liberal Democrat Party adopts on occasions, with last minute consultations on the Front Bench during debate. Our position is established over a period of time.
I emphasise that the Bill contains the necessary machinery for dealing with the issues rightly identified in debate today. Ofcom will inherit the function currently undertaken by the Broadcasting Standards Commission to consider complaints of unfair treatment or unwarranted infringements of privacy. This function, and the detailed procedures for considering and adjudicating on complaints, is set out in the Broadcasting Act 1996. We believe that these provisions have worked well in encouraging high journalistic standards in the broadcast media and that is why we have preserved them and passed them on to Ofcom.
They provide a readily accessible route for complainants to pursue their complaint and have the record set straight. They do not provide a right of privacy or a substitute for matters more properly considered by a court of law, such as any claim for damages, but research carried out by the Broadcasting Standards Commission establishes that complainants are more concerned with safeguarding and restoring their reputation than with receiving financial award, and the BSC route provides a good route for addressing their concerns. That framework is enshrined in the Bill.
As we have provided for an adequate means for considering and providing redress for complaints about the matters, and the duty at Clause 3(2)(f) charges Ofcom with providing adequate protection to the members of the public in relation to the relevant standards, it is entirely superfluous to place a further duty on Ofcom to ensure the availability of that system. The Bill already contains the system.
Amendment No. 51, with Amendment No. 11, appears designed to ensure that the functions of the content board include, to the extent determined by Ofcom, functions in relation to the consideration of complaints about breaches of fairness standards and privacy. Those functions fall within those which Ofcom could give to the content board but we do not believe it right to include them specifically in the legislation. To limit Ofcom's discretion as to how it discharges the responsibilities for which it will be held to account might skew its ability to fulfil them. Ofcom might, for example, feel that the establishment, perhaps in conjunction with the content board, of separate arrangements for handling complaintsfor example, through a separate committee of Ofcommight be a more effective option.
We do not believe it is right to seek to constrain Ofcom's flexibility in that way given that the powers are enshrined in the Bill and given the duties upon Ofcom derivative from the 1996 Act which is the basis on which the substantial work of the Broadcasting Standards Commission was done.
More generally, on the question of taste, the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, introduced an important point, as did my noble friend Lord Lipsey. These are more difficult areas to identify with some precision in legislation. We all recognise that standards of taste and decency change over time. There needs to be a framework within which these issues are considered. I think I have established that in the
Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: I accept what the Minister says. However, I wonder whether he realises the enormous distress caused. I shall give an example. A programme was produced by Carlton showing a murder in Northern Ireland. The Broadcasting Complaints Commission found against that programme. It was a caricature of the truth. What happened? The programme was sold to Australia. One can acquiesce and say that they can go to law, but one has to be very rich to go to law against commercial organisations of the strength of a television company. I fear that the Government are not protecting people who suffer infringement of privacy or unfairness. I hope that they will do so in the Bill. Believe me, gross abuses have occurred. I hope that the Government will pay attention to this issue.
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