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Baroness Blackstone: The amendments relate to the third tier of the new broadcasting regulatory regime. The Government's basic objective here has been to establish a clear framework of self-regulation throughout the whole public service broadcasting sector, while providing for speedy and effective Ofcom intervention against the licensed broadcasters in the event of a decline in the quality of their output. In framing the legislation, we tried hard to strike the right balance between those two considerations, and my main concern about the amendments is that they risk upsetting that balance.
I shall start with Amendments Nos. 178 and 179, although I am afraid that I shall disappoint several of my noble friends. We are not persuaded of the case for modifying the timescale of Ofcom's reporting cycle on the lines suggested by either of the amendments.
Lord Puttnam: What was the purpose of stipulating three years in the original White Paper? I presume that, at that point, three years was regarded as an adequate and correct timescale. We are returning to the Government's original suggestion.
I understand the concerns that Ofcom should be able to keep abreast of any problems or emerging challenges for the public service broadcasters. The Government's original view, as reflected in the draft Bill, was that three years was the right interval between Ofcom's reviews of the public service sector. However, the pre-legislative scrutiny committee chaired by my noble friend Lord Puttnam recommended more frequent reviews, and that prompted us to reconsider the matter.
In the light of that reconsideration, the Bill as it now stands provides for two separate Ofcom review cycles: first, a factual and statistical review of the entire radio and television sector in the UK, to be carried out annually; and, secondly, a review of public service broadcasting, to be undertaken at least once every five years. That dual approach will ensure that the general state of the broadcasting industry as a whole can be monitored regularly, leaving Ofcom to undertake its heavyweight, in-depth reviews of the public service sector alone at the more extended interval of five years.
Of course, there will be absolutely nothing to prevent Ofcom undertaking its public service reviews at less than five-year intervals if it seems right to do so. Ofcom will be able to initiate enforcement action at any time should any licensed broadcaster fail to fulfil its individual public service remit or make an adequate contribution to the overall remit.
As I made clear at the outset, the third tier provisions are intended to constitute an essentially self-regulatory framework, under which Ofcom will exercise a distinctly lighter touch than in the case of the first and second tier requirements. Given this core principle we took the view that Ofcom's review and reporting functions would be best framed in terms of the public service broadcasting sector as a whole, rather than the contribution of each broadcaster individually.
In that way, we make clear that Ofcom's primary role in this context is a strategic one which requires it to look across the whole range of public service broadcasting rather than, as Amendments Nos. 180, 181 and 182 would have it, sitting in close judgment on the broadcasters individually and second-guessing all their decisions. Our approach also underlines the fact that the contribution of each broadcaster to the
None the less, Ofcom will, as I have said already, have a clear enforcement role in relation to the individual licensed broadcasters. We will be able to take firm action in the event of self-regulation being seen not to work.
Most of the other amendments in this group are all in their different ways concerned with the specified requirements of public service broadcastingin other words, the various programme typeswhich are listed in Clause 260 and which underpin Ofcom's review and reporting function. Under Clause 260, as drafted, one of the specified requirements is the provision of what Ofcom considers to be,
An educative function is at the very heart of public service broadcasting and it is important that the programming requirements set out in Clause 260 should properly reflect that. We have taken the view that the phrase "educational matters" is a broad term which broadcasters will understand to cover the full range of programmes of educational value. Nor, of course, is this the only item on the list of requirements which relates to the educational dimension. The first entry on the list in Clause 260(6) includes specific reference to "the provision of education". That said, I have registered the concern that the educational role of public service broadcasting may not perhaps be adequately captured by the term "educational matters". I am therefore willing to take this issue away and to look at it again.
A further item in the list of requirements is the provision of what Ofcom considers to be a suitable quantity of high quality and original programmes for children and young people. Amendment No. 185 would specify that a significant proportion of such programming should be intended for audiences in the UK. Such a requirement seems quite unnecessary. In our view, the requirement that programmes for children and young people must be of high quality and original will in itself be sufficient to ensure that such programmes appeal to the tastes and interests of relevant audiences within the UK. In that sense, I accept some of what the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, was saying.
I should point out that Channel 4 is unusual in this regard. The Bill sets obligations for Channel 4 to provide schools programmes which meet the needs of schools throughout the UK and Ofcom will establish
Lord McNally: I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. The noble Baronesses on both Front Benches have demonstrated a degree of complacency about children's programming that is not reflected in the wider concern outside. There is a real danger that our children will watch Disney, Fox and little else. While I do not dispute that they will want to watch those channels, given that we worry so much about promoting chocolate, we should beware of the form of obesity to be found in the pap that is served up to children on the television, although undoubtedly it is popular.
Baroness Buscombe: I must intervene to say that I hope that I did not infer in any way that I am complacent about children's programming as it is. I wish that it was of a higher quality. We need programmes that reflect a greater strength of culture and interest in order to attract larger audiences among our children and young people.
As a mother I feel a good deal of concern with regard to the types of programming for children on our television stations today. It is an issue that I would love to debate at greater length on another occasion. It is a matter of deep concern to many people. However, it is important to emphasise that our children are watching certain programmes which happen to be made in other countries. They do so because some of those programmes are of high quality. I make no bones about it. My children watch many programmes on, for example, the History Channel and the Discovery Channel, so I am not referring only to comedy programmes, soap operas and so forth. However, I want to point out that the cultural programmes my children watch are, on the whole, foreign made.
We understand the concern expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady O'Neill, that potential American owners of licensed public service broadcasters might produce programmes in this country whose true target audience is in the United States. We do not agree that this is a likely development. Even if such a change of ownership took place, the production of programmes in this country which did not appeal to audiences in the UK simply would not make common or commercial sense.
The provision for children's television in the public service remit is unique among the list of requirements in that it specifies that programming should be both high quality and original. These requirements highlight the unique importance of children's television within the public service remit, as all public service broadcasters are required to maintain high standards of content and quality, and each will have to meet established quotas for original programming. So we can see no case for introducing the distinction implied by the amendment.
I shall discuss Amendments Nos. 182B, 183A, 184 and 186 together. Having listened carefully to the arguments put forward in favour of these amendments, we have concluded that there are issues here which merit further thought. I propose therefore to take them away and reflect on the concerns which have been voiced and consider how far we might be able to meet them by way of an amended clause. It is unlikely that we shall be able to accept the precise amendments as tabled, but we shall look very hard at the scope for amending the current reference to religion in Clause 260 with a view to reflecting the concerns that have been expressed.
As to Amendment No. 188, we support the view that music should be a prominent part of public service broadcasting. The public service remit as it stands will achieve this. Music is universally recognised as an important aspect of cultural activity which will have to be included in programming. We expect broadcasters to understand "music" in this context to encompass not only broadcasts of live performances and recorded music, but also programmes dealing with musical subjects, composers, performers, and so on. We cannot see a case for the additional wording suggested by the amendment.
Turning to Amendment No. 187, I acknowledge the concern that there may well be commercial broadcasters providing services which fall within the remit set out in the Bill. None the less, it would not make sense to extend the scope of Ofcom's reviews beyond those broadcasters who are under formal public service obligations. To do so, as we said in our response to the pre-legislative scrutiny committee, could be a source of confusion and would hardly be consistent with the role of Ofcom's reviews as a key building block of the third tier regime.
I remind the Committee that Ofcom's annual factual and statistical reviews of radio and television broadcasting under Clause 351 will encompass all broadcasters, both television and radio. In our view that is sufficient to ensure that Ofcom will be able to monitor developments over the broadcasting industry as a whole.
Amendment No. 191 would change the procedure relating to the annual cycle of statements of programme policy. As the Government made clear in their response to the pre-legislative scrutiny committee, the requirement on broadcasters to
While we expect Ofcom to take account of the licensed broadcasters' performances annually, we believe that a formal annual reporting process on the lines proposed in the amendment would be inconsistent with the principle of self-regulation. Our view is that the existing provision for statements of programme policy strikes a sensible balance. Accordingly, I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.
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