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Lord Lipsey: I think that we are in complete agreement about the objective that we all seek: that is, a proper prominence. "Due prominence" is a term of art for public service channels, in particular the BBC on EPGs.
Having said that, one has to be alarmed that when we talk about balance we are also talking here about a set of amendments put down by one of the two parties to the present dispute which is ragingthe BBC. I have considerable reservations about the route it has gone down. At least in this amendment, unlike the one proposed earlier, it is not trying to fix the price paid
Lord Lipsey: I have absolutely no criticism of that. But, if there is a dispute and one party wishes you to put down amendments, you should look at that carefully, just as you should look at the arguments of the other side.
I believe that these amendments go too far in seeking Parliament to resolve technical issues which are highly disputed between the parties. Whether or not one party is right I am not qualified to judge, but the amendments go very far in determining the precise detail of what should be done.
I have a lot of sympathy with the amendmentsI am in danger of getting into a polarised positionbut I disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, that they strike a proper balance between what Parliament should do and what the regulator should do. Mostly this should be a matter for the regulator's expertise and knowledge. However, there is a case for bringing forward amendments which do not go quite as far as these but give the regulator a further nudge in the direction in which the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and the noble Baroness wish to go.
At this time of night my final remark may be felt to be holding matters up, but I cannot understand why everyone believes that it is so horrifying to find themselves on a EPG next to the Playboy channel. My own experience suggests that they are much more likely to be found in that position than in most others.
Lord Crickhowell: I rise, I fear, to be accused of introducing a patent note into the discussions in that I suspect I am, in part at least, going to say something similar to what the noble Baroness may say from the Front Bench. That is because on this occasion I am not sure that we want to add to the difficulties that will face Ofcom by defining the matter quite as it is defined in the amendment. I have recently had a conversation with the chairman of Ofcom. I said that I hoped we were not adding too greatly to his difficulties by being too precise about all the things that he has to do in the first months of his responsibilities.
Having said that, I should emphasise that this is an extremely important issue because of the principles involved and, as has been alluded to, because those providing the service can effectively do great damage to individual broadcasters if they do not identify very clearly where the broadcasts can be found. It may be that there is a very simple answer, or the beginnings of a simple answer, by adding "Public Service Broadcasting" to the list that appears on one's screen"Sport", "Music", "Entertainment" and so onso that when you press the button for "Public Sector Broadcasting" you get a list of all the public sector broadcasts and where they appear.
If I rise at all today it is because I have already some practical experience of the difficulties involved, living as I do in Wales and receiving my television, in the only way I can in my valley, through my Sky dish. It is not quite as simple as some noble Lords have indicated. It has been suggested that those who live in Wales or Scotland simply have to have the appropriate programme for Wales or Scotland, but if you live in Wales you get S4C and if you do not speak Welsh you have to find an alternative.
I know now that by going to 184 I can receive English language television and not Welsh language television. But even then it is not all that simple because, if you turn on the regional programme at particular times, in Wales you frequently get Welsh club rugby on BBC. I watch it from time to time but it is not my greatest passion. If I want the alternative, I have to find my way to a channel in the 400s, which broadcasts the programmes that viewers elsewhere in the United Kingdom can watchor switch to Ulster, where I can often find the kind of programme I want. All those channels are scattered throughout the system and their number is growing ever bigger.
I am entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, as regards the importance of the issue. I hope we can start with my suggestion of listing public service broadcasts with their channel numbers, which viewers can display on their TV screens and access relatively simply. However, the amendment may have shortcomings. We could be making Ofcom's job more difficult. This is one occasion when I would prefer to leave it to the wisdom of Ofcom to interpret Clauses 304 and 305, which create the code and the means of enforcing it. If Ofcom is as efficient at regulating as I hope it will be, the problem will be solved.
Lord Borrie: It seems a growing tendency in the Committee to consider what my noble friend the Minister is going to say before she has said a word. I have no idea what she will say but fully agree with the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, about the importance of the subject. I am slightly anxious, because of the hovering of Chief Whips, that we may be reaching the close of today's debate.
The purpose of Clause 304 is clearly to require of electronic programme guides that they give appropriate prominence to listing public service channels. Clause 304 implicitly accepts that the owners of EPGs may have good commercial reasons for giving favourable positioning to non-public service channels but in its reference to giving due prominence to public service channels the clause is not very precise. The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, says that the matter can be left to Ofcom. It will be a body of men and
I find myself favourably disposed towards the amendments. Their value is in giving some precision where none exists and covering regional or local variants of public service channels so that they are easier to find. I do not see that as being over-prescriptive or over-precise but as giving precision where there is precious little now. I give no particular credence to the precise wording and I am sure that the government draftsman can do better. Nevertheless, the attempt by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, to give precision where little currently exists is worth commending.
I have a particular concern at the possibility that digital satellite viewers in Wales may not be able to receive, for example, BBC1 and BBC2 Wales through the electronic programme guides 101 and 102. It is for that reason that I believe the Bill requires amendment both to tighten the definition of due prominence on the EPG and also to extend it to national and regional variations of public service channels.
I make no apology for speaking about Wales in particular because its television audience is quite complex and diverse. Its take-up of digital television is higher than the United Kingdom average. Within the digital audience there is a particularly high proportion of digital satellite viewers, not least because of the difficult topography. Without being able to access BBC Wales on 101 or 102, instead viewers have to rummage around among the bottom rungs of the EPG, as the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, has said, and only slots away, I am told, from the pornography channel, which may distract them.
Viewers may opt for non-Wales services for a host of reasons. That could result in large parts of the population having minimal access to information and news from and about Wales. We heard earlier today that a healthy democracy depends on people having many sources of information, which is a matter of great concern in post-devolution Wales where the BBC and HTV are one of the few providers of Wales-based news and so forth. So we may not be surprised at the 38.2 per cent turn out in the Assembly election, which has implications for democratic credibility. Therefore, it is vitally important that people should be able to access these services.
In an age when we are encouraged increasingly to view on the global level, it is vital that we still look to the local. The Bill has a duty not only to promote diversity and creativity, but also to safeguard the needs and interests of its many different audiences. In my view it is essential that we continue to connect with our
These are some of the reasons why I am seeking reassurance from the Government that all efforts will be made to find a solution that ensures that viewers in Wales, and in the rest of the UK for that matter, have access to their correct national or regional variations of the BBC and ITV services on digital satellite. I urge the Government to support the amendment to Clause 304 that would ensure that that is made possible.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: Having been accused earlier of being a supporter of British vagueness, perhaps I may say on this amendment that I support my noble friend Lord Borrie and the movers of the amendment in wishing to see a degree of prescription about due prominence and about the regional aspects of access which were discussed earlier by other noble Lords.
I hope that this is not introducing a particularly aggressive or antagonistic note, but my feeling is that some of this is about things other than the mechanical ability to be able to find a public service channel in a complicated technology. The noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, identified this as a BBC amendmentwhich is, as I said in my intervention to his point, unfairbut the prominence of this issue has come about because of the BBC's decision to use non-encryption for its digital services and to use a new satellite for that transmission.
Reference was made earlier today to there perhaps being some rather sinister point behind the fact that the BBC has not adhered to its original date of 1st June to stop encrypting its services. From making inquiries, I understand that this is because, far from being in some terrible war, as it were, with BSkyB on this subject, it is trying to negotiate an arrangement for the placing of its programmes on the EPG. At its May meeting, the ITC has not been able to deal with this issue and has asked that it be postponed in order that the rolling contract that the BBC has with BSkyB is continued until July. I think that reveals something about the inability of the regulator exclusively to deal with the matter at least in any urgent fashion.
There is a real issue here about the value that we place on public service broadcasting. We have all usefully spent a great deal of time in Committee today and on previous occasions trying to define what we most value in the public service remit and the qualities that we look for in public service broadcasting. We must be aware that there could be some form of retaliation in a public service broadcaster seeking to use other technical means to distribute its digital programmes by a commercially-operated, profit-driven satellite owner. It would be ridiculous if we did not acknowledge that.
On the basis of the contributions made in Committee today, I do not think that that is the view of Members of the Committee. That is something from which we must seek to protect our television services.
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