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Baroness Whitaker: I support the amendment. I declare an interest as the deputy chair of the ITC, which also supports the amendment. As the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, said, it is also supported by Channel 4, as well as the trade union BECTU. Briefly, the United Kingdom is multi-cultural; that is a fact. However, it could become fragmented along cultural lines, or even polarised. That could happen. It has happened in many countries but not yet here in a general way, although there are gaps here and there in social cohesion.
We need to foster inclusion. Television and radio are uniquely powerful in creating culture and in reflecting society. Failures in catering for all groups have been recorded, not only as the noble Baroness mentioned but also in research carried out jointly by the BBC, the BSC, the ITC, and the Radio Authority. For that reason, Ofcom must have regard to the concerns for the interest of the full range of communities in our societynations and regions, as the Bill saysand also the other communities that stretch across our geographical divisions.
Lord Dubs: In supporting the amendment, I must begin by declaring an interest as chair of the Broadcasting Standards Commission. As my noble friend Lady Whitaker said, the BSC, together with the ITC and other bodies, has carried out a good deal of research in the area, some of which, I hope, will be published shortly. It is because I believe in the good sense of government Ministersat least of this Governmentthat I cannot help feeling that the amendment seeks to put right an obvious omission. It is my charitable view that the failure to include this provision must have been an oversight on the part of the Government.
It is perfectly clear that the amendment is both sensible and appropriate for this part of the Bill. Channel 4 supports it. Earlier this year, I noticed that ITV published a cultural diversity guide that also embodies at least some elements of what the amendment seeks to achieve. After all, the functions of Ofcom under this clause refer to those with "disabilities",
After the tragic events in New York on 11th September, I was asked to convene a meeting at the office of the Broadcasting Standards Commission comprising many broadcasters and leading members of the Muslim community in this country. We had two meetings to discuss such matters and to listen to the concerns of Muslims about the way in which the broadcasting media were covering certain events dealing with their community. They felt that the media were stereotyping their community and from time to time doing so in a pejorative manner. It was a very useful exchange of views which, among other things, convinced me that this amendment is appropriate.
When dealing with an amendment about public service broadcasting during the first day of Committee, my noble friend Lord McIntosh suggested that such an amendment was not in the right part of the Bill but that it should appear later in the legislation in the section that deals with television and radio. Taking that point to heart, I argue that the amendment is absolutely in the right place. Not only does it put ethnic minority concerns on a par with disability, and so on, but, with the convergence of media, surely we shall find that such matters cover not simply broadcasting but also a range of other electronic media, especially the Internet.
Indeed, research evidence suggests that some members of the Asian community use the Internet as a source of information more than is the case with other people in this country. They do so because they feel that through the Internet, more than through broadcasting, they can find matters of concern to them and their community. I argue that the amendment is proper; that it was omitted by oversight; that it is fully in keeping with the spirit of the Bill; and that it is in the right part of the Bill in order to be fully effective.
Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My speech could scarcely be briefer. I support the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, in terms of what she is seeking to achieve by way of this amendment. I apologise to her for the fact that I was not present in the Chamber at the beginning of her introductory remarks. I do not propose to add to any of the comments made by previous speakers, but I have a serious question for the noble Baroness. In terms of the sense of the amendment, does she agree that there ought to be a comma after the word "Kingdom"?
Lord McNally: Following the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, this is obviously a sensible and appropriate amendment. The noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, said that we had come a long way; that is certainly true. The broadcasting environment in which I grew up probably did not reflect my cultural background. The programmes broadcast on children's television were "Billy Bunter" and "Just William". Indeed, my mother listened to "Mrs Dale's Diary" on the radio. It was very much a white, middle-class, southern England view. We had to wait for John Osborne to
Lord McNally: Indeed, my Lords. It is interesting that the one outpost of regional culture was music hall and light entertainment. I concede that to the noble Baroness. But I remember the BBC radio broadcasters had to change into dinner jackets in order to read the news, never mind the television news readers. We have come a long way since then.
Although I suspect that it abandoned the idea out of sheer embarrassment, one of the cable television channels recently broadcast a re-run of the 1970s "comedy" series, "Love Thy Neighbour". The basic premise was that of a black man who had moved in next door. It is absolutely excruciating to watch that series today, reflecting as it does a picture of racism, prejudice and stereotyping. Fortunately, however, it does highlight the sheer boorishness of the racist white neighbour, while the black neighbour is now safely ensconced as a character in "Eastenders".
Programmes have changed profoundly and our current affairs output reflects that. However, evidence is still being produced, not only from the usual suspects, to show that our communications industry tends to centre on London and the area encircled by the M25, and that it is still extremely difficult for ethnic and other minority communities to get into the system. The noble Lord, Lord Alli, who is not with us today, is probably the exception that proves the rule.
I was worried to learn that the noble Lord, Lord Northbrook, is seeking to become a film producer. I should warn him that the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, has advised me that the way to make a small fortune out of film production is to start with a large fortune. However, that subject may be for another debate.
The Lord Bishop of Manchester: There is a strong tradition of support from these Benches for those who belong to the different ethnic communities that increasingly make up this nation and add to its rich cultural heritage. It is in that spirit that I wish to add my support to the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe.
I do so also because I am the bishop of a diocese which has within it the largest ethnic communities outside London both in terms of individual size, in the cases of the Jewish and Chinese communities, and in terms of their mix. Over the past few months I have been aware, when meeting people from those different communities, how very vulnerable many of them still feel, in spite of the efforts that have been made in this country to include them far more in all our doings.
So while I am aware that the Minister may well feel that the points which have properly been raised during our debate are covered by the clause, I hope that he will recognise that it is extremely important to spell out this matter so that there can be no doubt whatsoever as regards our good will and concern for people of the different ethnic communities.
Lord Davies of Oldham: We are all grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, for tabling this amendment. It has sparked a most interesting and constructive debate during which several substantial points were made. As has been so eloquently illustrated, we live in a richly diverse country and our media must reflect that. We believe that we have made provision in the Bill to ensure that it does.
The Government recognise the importance of the diversity agenda, and Ofcom will want to embrace it fully. However, while we are totally in accord with the sentiments behind the amendment that have been expressed so graphically in the debate, it is our view that the Bill already adequately provides for the needs of all members of the community, and we are not yet convinced that we need to add a specific reference to people of different ethnic origins and communities to the general duties clause.
In addition to these provisions, the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 will apply to Ofcom. The Act will require Ofcom to consider the specific needs and requirements of people from diverse backgrounds, both in terms of its own internal processes and as Ofcom deals with the external world. Ofcom will also be subject to Northern Ireland equality legislation and a Welsh language scheme.
Therefore, despite the persuasive arguments that have been advanced in support of the amendment, it is difficult to see what additional positive impact the amendment would have on broadcasting and what, if any, impact it would have on the networks and services provisions in the Bill. My concern is that it could, in effect, open the way for a degree of potentially rather heavy-handed intervention in the form of box ticking and quota setting, which we do not need.
I share the view of noble Lords that we need to ensure that broadcasting in this country embraces diversity. The case for that has been made splendidly this afternoon. However, I believe that the Bill as constructed already achieves this because we have provided for precisely those objectives. Having said
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