Joint Committee on The Draft Communications Bill Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witness (Questions 500 - 502)

MONDAY 17 JUNE 2002

PROFESSOR ERIC BARENDT

  500. What we have protected ourselves from in this country is the distortion of the political process by the horrendous cost of advertising on television that I believe has corrupted the American process and, therefore, when you suggest we get on this slope, I think it is a very slippery slope indeed.
  (Professor Barendt) I do not think it is as slippery as you imagine. I agree with your fear of the domination of politics by ultra rich, and maybe ultra right wing, groups but I think reasonable rules can be formulated to allow some political advertising. Remember, the price of advertising on radio would not be extortionate. I think one might distinguish here between radio and television.

  Chairman: Lastly, Lord Pilkington?

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford

  501. I feel like a student in a seminar at Cambridge forty years ago in this situation! It is a soft ball to you, Professor. You have expressed concerns about the Secretary of State having powers to avoid mentioning a particular matter in broadcasting, a sort of reserve power. Would you want, which I am sure you would if the use of any direction like this would stop something being broadcast, to have some form of Parliamentary scrutiny?
  (Professor Barendt) I certainly would. I would have thought that was the very minimum. I would much prefer that it was confined to national security or public safety grounds. What I think the Committee should urge the government to do is to think again about a power which the last time it was used, as I think we all know, was the so-called broadcasting ban on the supporters of terrorist organisations in Northern Ireland. I am afraid that was regarded as widely wrong and it was withdrawn by the government two or three years later; it served no apparent purpose and it was, in my view, a clear infringement of freedom of expression which should not be countenanced in a liberal society.

  502. Could I again say how very grateful I am—I cannot speak for the Committee—for your eloquence and expertise but could you write some of it down for our feeble legislative minds?
  (Professor Barendt) You are far too modest.

  Chairman: It is our way of getting very inexpensive advice! Thank you, Professor.





 
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