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Lord Inglewood: I hope that it is in order to raise three points of a technical nature. I appreciate that the Minister may not be able to respond instantly. The first point relates to the wording of the protocol itself. It is somewhat strangely worded, and I do not know whether there is any significance in that.
In the first considerant reference is made to the system of public broadcasting as opposed to public service broadcasting. In the main paragraph reference is made to the funding of public service broadcasting. I do not know whether that is a deliberate differentiation in the use of words, but it is worth recalling that in this country the Channel 3 ITV companies and Channel 5 are private broadcasting entities which execute a public service remit.
Nevertheless, is it the case--I shall be interested to hear the Government's view on this--that despite the general wide effect of the words, "conferred, defined and organised" whatever any particular member state may care to use as its definition for the purposes of this protocol, it must fall within the general ambit of the generally understood meaning of the words "public service broadcasting"?
Finally, can the Minister explain to us how, in the event of funding being given to a broadcaster which is in breach of the protocol, the matter will be dealt with? Should the affected party go to the Commission, using the provisions available for problems caused by unfair state aid, or will the matter be directly justiciable under the protocol itself?
Lord Renton: The amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Moynihan is narrower than I would prefer to see. I would like the Government to be required to lay before both Houses of Parliament a report not merely on the meaning of "public service broadcasting" but on the extent to which the protocol to which we are a party has been observed by our own broadcasting authorities.
My point will be familiar to my noble friend Lord Inglewood because in the previous Parliament he, as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Department of National Heritage, had to reply to debates supported by Members on all sides of the House complaining about the amount of violence and sex in television programmes. Too much of the so called "entertainment programmes" was not entertainment but a mere portrayal of unpleasant people being unpleasant to each other. There was too much of that and there still is.
I hope that on Report my noble friend Lord Moynihan will table a wider amendment than that calling merely for the meaning of "public service broadcasting". I realise that the Government Front Bench does not have a responsibility for broadcasting--far be it that it should have--but I hope that the Government will invite the attention of the broadcasting authorities in this country to what is stated in the protocol about public broadcasting being democratic, social and relative to the cultural needs of society. I am afraid that our broadcasting goes far beyond that, but I believe that our World Service is splendid and needs no criticism in that respect.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I am grateful to Members of the Committee who have taken part in this short debate. I strongly agree with most of their comments. Perhaps I might first explain the background to the protocol and then comment on what it achieves. As the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, will know, the pressure for the protocol came originally from public service broadcasters. They in turn were afraid of pressure from commercial operators who were claiming that state funding of public service broadcasting contravened state aid rules; that is, Article 92(3)(d) of the competition law. During the discussions on the Amsterdam Treaty, some member states seemed to be pushing for their own public service broadcasters from those rules. We argued--and I hope that it will be agreed that it was right--that we wanted clarity of purpose rather than exemptions for particular forms of public service broadcasting. I will expand on that in a moment.
The protocol seeks to protect the public funding of public service broadcasters for the fulfilment of a public service remit. In response to the first point made by the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, I do not know why
The protocol does not exempt broadcasters from state aid rules as such, but it gives a strong interpretative steer to all parties, including the Commission and the European Court of Justice. In particular, it should ensure that the BBC's funding arrangements are not challenged for the foreseeable future. It should also ensure that the Commission continues to monitor any abuse of state aid within the broadcasting sector.
The noble Lord, Lord Renton, thought that the amendment was too narrow in seeking principally a definition of public service broadcasting. I have to take the amendment as it is, and--I may be foolhardy-- I shall attempt a definition of public service broadcasting. There is no single definition that covers public sector broadcasters across the European Union but perhaps we could agree that they share certain characteristics.
First, they focus on the audience--in other words, public sector broadcasting should be for the benefit of viewers and listeners. Secondly, there is a commitment to quality programming; thirdly, a commitment to diversity and choice. That includes programmes for entertainment, information and education and programmes for minority audiences. All those are familiar to the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, who had responsibility in this House for the last Broadcasting Act. Fourthly, there is accessibility--that is, geographical coverage of services and broadcasting programmes which many people find enjoyable and interesting. Those are two definitions of accessibility. Fifthly, we come to editorial independence--decisions about programmes being taken by broadcasters or broadcasting authorities and not by government or other interest groups. Also, and perhaps this is risky, there is national identity, reflecting the national interest and cultural traditions of the audiences.
The reason for not seeking to be too precise about the type of public service broadcasting is that there are a number of different types, as the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, said. In the UK alone there are three public corporations: the licence fee-funded BBC, which operates under a Royal charter; Channel 4, which is advertising funded; and S4C, the Welsh fourth channel authority, which receives an annual grant from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. In addition, the advertising-funded Channel 3 broadcasters have similar public service organisations.
The regulatory framework is not the same in each case. The BBC is self-regulating, as is S4C, although it is required to adhere to ITC codes on consumer protection and impartiality. Channel 4 and Channel 3 companies are regulated by the ITC. That is the diversity in this country.
I do not know the answer to the noble Lord's third question about how infringements of the protocol would be dealt with and whether they would go to the European Court of Justice or be tackled directly. I shall write to him on that point.
The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, made proper reference to the relationship between the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the BBC World Service. He paid a well deserved tribute to the BBC World Service. I am answering this amendment because of my responsibility at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. My noble friend Lady Symons is the Minister within the Foreign Office responsible for relationships with the BBC World Service. She tells me that she meets Sam Younger of the World Service at least once a month and that there are continuing discussions on the 20 points to which the noble Lord referred. It is expected that the growing coverage of the World Service will continue to increase. The Government have a continuing commitment to the World Service, but that has to be seen in the context of the comprehensive spending review. That is not a particular threat. It applies to all aspects of government expenditure. The noble Lord may be encouraged to know that the World Service web site is already achieving 5 million visits every month. I hope that that is evidence that the World Service is in good shape and flourishing.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for enabling us to have this short discussion. It has shown support for public service broadcasting and for the independence of public service broadcasting in this country and throughout Europe. For that, the Government are grateful.
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