Memorandum by the BBC
The BBC attaches the greatest importance to
its reporting of proceedings in Parliament. It is critical to
the future of such reporting that it retains the full protection
of the qualified privilege it currently enjoys. It is our experience
that current arrangements work extremely well, and we fully accept
the responsibilities that go hand in hand with this privilege.
However, if in the course of its deliberations
the Committee proposes changes which would alter the status of
this qualified privilege, we would very much welcome an opportunity
to consider the implications of this for us and to submit further
evidence if necessary.
The Committee will know that there is considerable
uncertainty as to what actually constitutes "proceedings
in Parliament" for the purpose of Article 9 of the Bill of
Rights, and in particular the definition of the "business
of the House". If the Committee decides to define more clearly
what constitutes the "business of the House", this is
another area where we would welcome the opportunity to give further
evidence on any proposals made.
The Committee has asked for comments on the
implications of the Human Rights Bill currently before Parliament.
As a public service broadcaster we are very aware of the balance
that needs to be struck between Article 8 (privacy) and Article
10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human
Rights. In practice we have always ensured that our Producers'
Guidelines protect the privacy of individuals to an extent which
is fully compatible with the Convention and the Human Rights Bill.
It is of course possible that allegations made by a member within
Parliament in the course of daily proceedingsthen relayed
by the press and broadcasterscould lead to someone being
able to seek redress under the new Human Rights legislation. If
so, that could have an effect upon a member's right to speak without
fear. And too, upon us if we are to continue to report faithfully
and fairly the daily proceedings of Parliament. In theory this
could be a source of potential conflict. In practice we think
The BBC makes every effort to ensure that its
parliamentary correspondents and political journalists do not
abuse the qualified privilege conferred on us in reporting the
business of both Houses. No-one can recall an occasion where the
BBC has breached or even been alleged to have breached Parliamentary
30 January 1998