Examination of Witnesses (Questions 760-764)|
MR J PETER
MONDAY 24 JUNE 2002
Lord Hussey of North Bradley
760. What mystifies me about this is the very
scarce amount of religious broadcasting that there is. For twelve
years I went every single year to the annual review of television
and radio broadcasts and it seemed to me that it was a thriving
but small bit of this industry, yet very little now reaches the
viewer or listenermore on radio than on television, I accept,
and we all know the statistic that allegedly more people go to
church on Sunday than watch footballand I do not apply
that to the last week! But the market in terms of people is there.
I analysed the programmes yesterday in the Radio Times and, as
far as I can make out, there was a programme on BBC 1, "Songs
of Praise" at 6.20 pm; nothing on BBC 2; a programme on ITV
at 10.00 am, "My Favourite Hymns", both of which are
extremely good programmes, but I think those were the only two
programmes on network television. Is your basic problem that you
are over-regulated, which causes a great difficulty and you have
made that point several times, or is it, au fond, that the people
controlling broadcasting, whether on television or radio, are
worried about your ratings and therefore not encouraged to put
(Mr Littler) My Lord, you should be our marketing
manager! We have applied and applied and applied and even back
in the 1980s one of the issues is that we did broadcast from the
Isle of Man and we did win audience in Scotland and north west
England and north Wales and Northern Ireland and we were a problemwe
were winning audience. But, as far as I understand it, there was
a unique situation where the IBA were responsible for programme
content in religious broadcasting so, uniquely, we were competitors
and, after the 1990 Act, our competitors effectively became our
regulators. It is a unique situation and I have not seen this
anywhere else in broadcast legislation. Our experience has been
that we have applied and applied in groups up and down the country,
some hundreds of thousands of people, and either we have been
turned down or we have been told we are not eligible to fill in
the application forms and refused the application forms. So you
are rightthere ain't much religious programmingand
it comes back to being disqualified actually. That is a tremendous
disadvantage to us. I do not know whether I am allowed to ask
you a question but there a couple of burning questions we have:
what is the definition of a disqualified person in law?
Lord Hussey of North Bradley: Do not look at
761. I do not think we are competent to answer
but possibly the Bill team would make it possible for us to write
to you. Could I ask one last question? A participant on our on-line
forum, which is continuing, has suggested that additional licence
conditions could apply to licences awarded to religious bodies
making explicit the requirements for impartiality and balance.
Would you support such a development?
(Reverend Jonathan Alderton-Ford) Yes.
(Mr Littler) As far as we are concerned, if you remove
the tag of disqualified persons, then we will be very happy.
762. So you would accept the fact that there
was a category that had one or two additional licence conditions?
This is a suggestion that has been put to us.
(Mr Littler) Ten years ago I was pulled into meetings
in the House of Lords to thrash out all the rules on content for
religious radio and television because we were the only example
of a religious Christian station in the country. We were very
happy to fit into those rules and we then found we faced an additional
ban. Now, ten or twelve years later, we are very happy to say
we would be delighted to receive a set of rules on content that
we could work with, but please can you lift the disqualification
because no other professional broadcasters in this country are
faced with being banned from applications.
763. Can I offer you a real life scenario which
I think may at least go some way towards explaining why we are
wrestling with this and why you may be dealing with what does
not appear to be entirely reasonable. When Rupert Murdoch applied
to buy The Times, he put in place what appeared to be a fairly
concrete group of trusteeships to ensure its impartiality and
editorial independence. Thereafter he went on to buy The Sun.
I do not think the government of the day in its wildest dreams
believed that, twenty years later, the same man who did an interview
in the Financial Times would make it very clear that over his
dead body would he allow Britain to go into the European Uniona
foreigner, supported by his journals, the newspapers. That was
the same person, 20 years later. You must accept that any government
might rethink several times before placing itself in a position
where it would effectively have to withdraw the licence to broadcast
from a religious station that had proved popular but was clearly
pushing at the edges of what was permissible under its licences.
As you said, you are able to get apologies from both the Tories
and the Labour Party. It is an extremely difficult noose for a
government to put its head into because you say you would abide
by the terms and conditions surrounding an election, but you could
become an enormous political force in the country, and under foreign
ownership regulations you could also be purchased by a foreign
evangelical organisation. This is a very big, bold step for any
government to contemplate, particularly given the experience of
the Murdoch domination of the press in the last twenty years.
(Mr Littler) If I could respond, first of all, we
do not deal with any other broadcasting organisations like that
and, secondly, if you look at the experience elsewhere in continental
Europe, we are unique in this country with this prohibition. If
you look at the rest of the English speaking world, particularly
our counterparts in Canada, Australia and New Zealand, never mind
the United States or Latin America, where there are very large
numbers of Christian radio stations, there are no equivalent problems
that we know of there and I would like to point out that Holland
has three Christian radio stations, but EO which has been there
for 25 years is paid for by the Government out of the taxpayers'
764. You are not answering my point. The Bill
team have presumably been instructed, very sensibly, by the joint
Secretaries of State to make absolutely sure that the scenario
could not pan out in this country as it has in newspaper ownership.
In that sense we are unique. The countries you cited do not have
their media dominated by foreign ownership.
(Mr Littler) Please understand our problem is we are
concerned, in the midst of this foreign ownership affecting us,
about our competitors in the USA but there is one question raised
interestingly enough when you mentioned Rupert Murdoch as an unfairness
over disqualification that really concerns us. We face disqualification
for being officers of a religious organisation, and Rupert Murdoch
(Reverend Jonathan Alderton-Ford)is a Roman
Catholic Knight, knighted by the Pope.
(Mr Littler) So he is a disqualified person. In a
sense this must surely be the place to bring this outthat
we have other people in ownership of existing secular media organisations
in this country who are disqualified persons. Now we are disqualified
persons and we are not allowed to have application forms, but
there is an inequality and a further problem when you mention
(Reverend Jonathan Alderton-Ford) There is another
point: you have talked about the uniqueness of the British situation
in terms of ownership; there is uniqueness in the British situation
over the nature of church life in that there is a strong church
state connection by having an established church, and there are
methods there for making sure that religious ownership of media
and radio stations are regulated through another room. In fact,
Government already has virtually all the levers and mechanisms
it has to make sure your Doomsday scenario need not arise and,
if you feel that the Christians are eroding democratic process,
that is going to be pretty contrary to what the Christians have
achieved in this country over the last 200 years in that we laid
down many of the foundations of our democratic process. Parliament
begins with prayer, we laid the foundations of the welfare state,
we did the first major piece of legislation in terms of getting
rid of slaverywhat you are saying is that Christians would
forget all that and suddenly start going for themselves. Now you
have legislatory control already: you have links through Parliament
into the state church, which is the majority player: there are
lots of ways you can make sure that does not happen, and I do
not think it would because it is contrary to what Christians are
about in the first place.
Chairman: Thank you very much indeed.