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The Lord Bishop of Southwark: My Lords, I, too, am grateful for the opportunity which this debate provides to express appreciation not only of the Government's White Paper but also of the long tradition of excellence in broadcasting by the BBC. I believe I can speak for the Church of England, and also for our ecumenical partners, in expressing the conviction that the BBC should continue to serve the nation as a public service broadcaster, reflecting the nation's culture in all its breadth and richness.
Given the present period of upheaval within the BBC, with a fifth of the staff having been cut, the White Paper affords the corporation the opportunity of a period of relative calm, free from major anxieties about funding. Given also the pace of development in communications technology, it seems appropriate for the BBC's Charter to be renewed until the year 2007, by which time the broadcasting world may look very different.
My interest covers all aspects of the White Paper, but as chairman of what is euphemistically called "CRAC", the Central Religious Advisory Committee, which acts on behalf of the BBC and the ITC, I have particular concern for the role of religious broadcasting. I wish to concentrate my remarks on that subject. In doing so, I assure the House that I am not interpreting religion in a narrowly Christian sense.
It seems clear that, since the days of Lord Reith, the dramatically changed social ecology of Britain has resulted not only in deep social fragmentation but also in a pluralism which has left seriously weakened our concept of the common good. However, it would be a mistake to draw a further conclusion; namely, that religion in all its forms is being discarded and cast aside. The evidence does not seem to support such a view.
Many people still claim to be religious. In any poll which asks about the level of religious belief, the large majority will claim to believe in a supernatural being. Many parents who do not go to church still want their children to be baptised; and more than half of the marriages that take place each year are conducted in a place of worship. There is growth in the numbers of people going on religious retreats. There is parental demand for religious teaching in schools. The interest in religion and the search for the spiritual is an integral part of many people's lives, even though they may not be expressed in regular church attendance.
Television more or less consciously reflects that spiritual dimension to life. It cannot avoid it. News footage about the murder of James Bulger aired serious questions about the nature of evil, punishment and forgiveness. Documentaries, dramas, even soap operas such as "Coronation Street" and "East Enders" periodically tread in religious territory. Indeed, I believe that the broadcast media have a special responsibility. Like it or not, television in particular has enormous potential to help make or mar in our societies a sense of responsibility for each other, a sense of shared values and a sense of spiritual possibilities and meaning.
As the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury recently remarked, religious broadcasting has a special role. It is as the trustee of that spiritual dimension, ensuring that the media's heavy responsibilities in influencing the spiritual life of the nation are exercised consciously, coherently, and for good, in both the programmes made by religious broadcasting departments themselves and other programmes too. That role is all the more essential and difficult in a society beset by the increasing fragmentation and privatisation of religion.
Bearing those matters in mind, I believe that more attention and emphasis should be given to the role of religious broadcasting within the BBC's output. If there is a moral vacuum in our society and if, for the health and wholeness of the nation, there is a desire for a shared public morality, the BBC is ideally placed to explore and express moral and ethical issues from a religious standpoint.
In the White Paper there is only one reference--on page 11 --to religious programmes. But I am quite sure that that particular and somewhat passing reference picks up three very important statements contained in Extending Choice, the BBC's own document, in which it outlined its role in the new broadcasting age. The quotations are brief and unequivocal. First:
Noble Lords will have noted the commitment of the BBC to maintaining the place of religious programmes in the schedules. Your Lordships will also have noted the repetition of the phrase "in a prominent place in the schedules". In that connection, the BBC has kept faith. It is to be congratulated on taking the decision, for instance, to leave its "Songs of Praise" programme at its peak time slot on Sunday evening. Despite competitive scheduling on other channels, the audience figures are higher than they have been for the past six years. They
Given the fact that for some of its other religious programmes on radio and television very considerable audiences are attracted, the BBC would, I hope, not be averse to increasing its religious output. As a lover of sport I am grateful for the full and quality coverage that sport receives on the BBC. But it is worth remembering that more people attend church, chapel, synagogue, mosque and temple than attend sporting occasions each week.
One other key factor which emerges from the quotations that I gave from Extending Choice concerns religious broadcasting covering a wide range of faiths and portraying many aspects of religious culture. The Central Religious Advisory Committee, which I chair, is a multi-faith committee, and rightly so. One of the key roles of religious broadcasting lies in allowing communities of different faiths to speak to one another. It is also a key aim of the Inter-Faith Network of Great Britain and Ireland, which I have the privilege to co-chair. As a former Bishop of Bradford, I know the inherent dangers of stereotyping. I know also that ignorance creates fear, which in turn produces tension and all too often intolerance. In a pluralist society the role of religious programmes must at least partly be to help people understand what others believe and how they practise those beliefs. Understanding is a key requisite for tolerance; and tolerance is a vital ingredient in a healthy society.
I thank the noble Viscount for having made this debate possible. I want to thank the BBC for the quality and spread of its religious programmes. I am not complacent; nor, I believe, is the BBC. There is room for improvement. The BBC has committed itself to that task. Along with many others, I look forward to monitoring progress and measuring delivery against commitment.
Lord Orr-Ewing: My Lords, perhaps I may start by saying how very much we enjoyed the contribution of the right reverend Prelate. The three or four contributions that we have heard so far all made positive suggestions as to how we can go forward, not necessarily strictly in line with the White Paper. We are at liberty to make constructive suggestions because the document was described, unusually, as "a White Paper edged in green". If that means anything, it means that it is flexible; that ideas will be gathered and, where appropriate, incorporated in the final plan. I should like also to congratulate warmly the mover of the amendment. He always entertains us because he has such a light touch. The whole House is sympathetic and he gets his message across clearly and briskly.
I must pass on the apologies of my noble friend Lord Renton, who sadly underwent an operation on his eye last Friday and is therefore absent today. He was a loyal member of our group and attended every meeting. He asked me to say that, had he been here, he would have
As the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, said, vast numbers of views on the White Paper were probably received. It is a question of keeping up with the reading of them, and the noble Lord mentioned one or two. On balance, our group favoured the cohesion of one complaints authority. We felt at one time, as one of the earlier Green Papers suggested, that there could well be a broadcasting council. I concede that we have probably lost that battle unless the Government decide to rethink the matter.
One task must be undertaken with regard to the ITC, the Radio Authority, Sky, Cable and so forth if they are to be in touch and complaints are to be dealt with fairly. The standard letter is too often used in replies. I was glad to see at the beginning of the year that the BBC set up its own complaints authority. I am sure that that is a move in the right direction. Peter Dannheisser is in charge of that and I have been in contact with him. However, it still means that it acts as judge and jury for itself, even if the BBC does not like that accusation being made against its administration and programmes.
When we look to the press complaints authority, we realise how difficult it is to bring a regulatory body into existence. We spent 45 years in that regard finding different chairmen and different solutions and it was not altogether successful. We wish the BBC's internal organisation well. However, it is difficult to believe that the people serving on it will not find their careers adversely affected if they are harsh on some of the headstrong leaders among the producer staff. That is just the sort of accident that happens, with people being sidelined rather than remaining in the main body of the promotions ladder. I fear that that may happen. I hope that the service of those good people will be reserved to carry out what we all hope will be to the advantage of the viewers.
The 1990 Act contained certain argumentative points. But the main thrust was to do with impartiality, taste and decency, which were to be found in Clauses 6 and 7 and in relation to the Radio Authority Clause 90. We spent 13 days in this House debating the issue. And this House is perhaps better suited to undertake such consideration than the other place, where there is less expertise than there is on these Benches. Many of us cannot see why those clauses cannot be lifted out of the Act. The BBC said that it would take cognisance--I believe that was the phrase used--of all that was contained in the Act. Perhaps we can look once again to see why those clauses should not be lifted straight out and included in the new Agreement.
Impartiality was strongly recommended, incidentally, by the House of Commons Select Committee. I wonder whether when we come to the great issues of the mixed constitution of the public service BBC it would be a good idea to have a joint Select Committee. There is a
It is worth looking at the results achieved by both the ITC and the Radio Authority on the question of sanctions. It is easy to say that this or that must be done. But what is the possible alternative for admonishment or even standing down a contributor who continues to disobey or disregard the rules? I have read the ITC quarterly reports since they were first published. I am sometimes surprised to find that complaints made by viewers are not upheld. I do not need to tell the House that most complaints concern Channel 4. Last week's programme on "The Word" contained a vivid description of Mr. and Mrs. Bobbitt and was pretty close to pure pornography. It was not appropriate for broadcasting into private homes.
"Spitting Image" is bad enough when it lampoons the Royal Family and particularly our Queen. But when it produced the figures showing Jesus Christ, 150 people immediately wrote in. Those complaints were only "partially upheld". But what can be more abusive to the Christian faith than to make a spitting image of Jesus Christ?
I was in touch with the authority and asked what was done about the thousands of complaints, of which only 100 or so were upheld in the past year. I will describe later the action taken by the Radio Authority. But I was told that nothing had yet been done; nobody had been fined; nobody had been stood down. I made the point that on Saturdays and Sundays there is a good deal of evidence of footballers who are shown a yellow card and warned. If they repeat their actions they are shown a red card and sent marching. Why cannot we do something like that when people continue to disobey the codes of conduct, which are very strict? I have the latest one here, but it is almost too heavy to hold up. I wonder whether any of those in control at the BBC ever read, learn and inwardly digest its contents. If they did there would not be a problem. But I fear that some of them become rather more arrogant than humble and the rules are disregarded.
"Spitting Image" was a classic example. But one example which received publicity is Granada which has been disobeying the rules of advertising codes--I believe eight times so far. At present the authority is trying to levy a £6 million fine on the channel. But that is not as bruising as some may think. Its total turnover for the year is £190 million, so it is roughly 3 per cent. That is the first action taken in the independent sector.
I asked the Radio Authority for a summary of its actions and received a fax this morning. Apparently nine stations were fined for code offences, amounts ranging from £500 to £5,000; a further five stations were fined from £800 to £1,000 for failing to record programmes. That is a little bit of a discouragement, but I wonder whether we will see any action by the ITC. I am sure it would not have happened in the noble Lord's day.
I congratulate the Government on stopping the broadcasting of Red Hot Dutch. That porn channel may be a sign of what is going to happen in the future. Perhaps we should initiate a change in the European law that satellite and cable should be licensed in the country
I wish to make two other brief points. First, because we are not setting up a Broadcasting Council we are giving much more power to the governors. The introduction to the Directions to the Governors, signed by Duke Hussey, which I received from the BBC this morning, asks:
The governors have a part to play, but when I read this document I wondered whether they would have enough time to carry out all their responsibilities. They will have to look into cross-subsidisation as between the private sector and the public sector and it will be very difficult to unravel overheads. They will have a real problem on that score if the private sector is to be a substantial amount of the whole. The more I looked down the list of their responsibilities in the document, the more I wondered whether they would have enough time and energy to carry them out and also whether they would be suitably rewarded for all the time that they would be taking attending to the many functions for which they are now taking on responsibility.
Secondly, I should like to say a few words about the watershed. A good debate on the issue was initiated last January by the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, and noble Lords in all parts of the House seemed to agree that the watershed should be later. In France it is 10 p.m. or 10.30 p.m., but still we make it 9 p.m. That really is unrealistic. Nine o'clock is far too soon, particularly when young people are so adept now at using video recorders. They can set them up and go to bed and watch the programme the next day. I believe that the watershed is being used as an excuse. I have seen dramas in which four-letter words are liberally used. When one asks whether that is not objectionable, the answer comes, "Well, it was after the watershed". But taste and decency and all the qualities that we are trying to encourage in this country are not allowed after 9 p.m. We are suborning the young. I believe that we should take account of the recording methods now available and strengthen the watershed. It should not be an excuse for showing sex and violence and all the other things that are leading our nation astray.
One of the biggest consumer protection associations in this field, the National Viewers and Listeners Association, which is run by Mary Whitehouse, was set up in 1966. Mary Whitehouse is now a very elderly lady but is still energetic. She wrote a book entitled A Most Dangerous Woman. In it she records that an order was issued by the then director-general, Hugh Greene, that,
It is extraordinary how a modest, humble lady, who was trying to work against the general swing of an extreme political slant, was sent to Coventry and was not in any way used. It is nothing new, but I hope that it has now finished. In 1981 only two people were on the list which had to be sent up for approval. One was Mary Whitehouse and the other was Enoch Powell, obviously for some past reason. I am not blaming the current BBC because I am sure that it has reconsidered the matter. However, it is very unpleasant indeed when the most powerful media influence can make sure that someone is not used on any programme. I recognise that Winston Churchill had exactly the same treatment in the 1930s. The people of the day also used their power to keep him off the air. If that had not happened we might have been better warned than we were of the rise of Hitler's militarism.
I shall finish with a quotation from the most admirable speech of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury in the debate on the Address. He finished with some classic words which bear repeating in this context. He said:
Those are the words of the most reverend Primate and I do not apologise for repeating them. They stand repeating. I hope that notice will be taken of them and that we shall get that message across to the broadcasters who have the power to influence for the good or for the bad.
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