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CORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 1818-i
House of COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE the
Television: Rules of Coverage
Monday 20 February 2012
Peter Knowles, Simon Mares and Esme Wren
Evidence heard in Public Questions 1 - 53
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
This is a corrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee, and copies have been made available by the Vote Office for the use of Members and others.
The transcript is an approved formal record of these proceedings. It will be printed in due course.
Taken before the Administration Committee
on Monday 20 February 2012
Sir Alan Haselhurst (Chair)
Dr Phillip Lee
Mr John Spellar
Mr Dave Watts
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Peter Knowles, BBC, Simon Mares, ITV, and Esme Wren, BSkyB, gave evidence.
Q1 Chair: Good afternoon. Thank you very much indeed for making time to come and see us to give evidence in our mini inquiry or lighttouch inquiry into the question of the Rules of Coverage. We have had some written evidence but not necessarily from yourselves, although I think from ITV, but not from Sky or from the BBC, so would you wish to make any short statement beforehand?
Peter Knowles: I would be happy to. Thank you very much.
Chair: Thank you. I will then go to Esme and, Simon, you can add anything, if you want, which is not already before us.
Peter Knowles: Thank you, Sir Alan. Our position is that we like the way coverage is done at Parliament. We think it works for the viewer; we think it is helpful; it achieves its objectives, but we can see ways of making it better. We have a good starting point, rather than one where we see the current arrangements as being a terrible problem. The ability to understand the geography of the Chamber and what is going on in the debate would be improved, I think, if the Rules of Coverage were less prescriptive in terms of what can be shown by way of listening shots. They are very detailed with more "don’ts" than "dos". What we have found over the years is that the directors, who work to the Director of Broadcasting, who is sitting behind me, and to your control, actually show great good sense in how they operate to those rules, and I think they could be given more freedom without in any way infringing on the dignity of Parliament, but in a way that would actually help the viewer to understand what is going on in the debate and the relationship between the different parts of the Chamber.
On a specific issue, I need to follow up on whether we had not supplied any submission, because I thought that you had received a fourpointer from us. I will run through those four points in a moment. The second issue, as we have discussed before, Sir Alan, is that the camera angles in the Chamber are incredibly unflattering to the occupants of the two Front Benches because they are so high, which means that the Front Benchers are seen mainly from the top of their foreheads and top of their heads. That is not a great look for many of us. We would suggest that it would be a very good idea to explore the possibility of other camera angles, which would get to the face of those on the Front Benches. It is not a problem for anybody not on the two Front Benches; the angles are fine. It is an absolutely physical point as to the angle of sight for the cameras.
In the fourpoint submission that you were meant to have received we were also interested in whether it was possible, in very limited circumstances, to see visitors in the visitors’ galleries when they are named from the Floor because, several times recently, we have had doormen and other officials of the House, who have been retiring, who have been there with their families being thanked for their work from the Floor. It has been very strange that the camera cannot then look to them. I understand the point that the Public Gallery, apart from any other considerations you might have, is thoroughly behind glass, so even if you wished it to be seen it probably could not be, so this is a very specific thought about the other visitors’ galleries.
The fourth and final point is as to whether we could give any consideration to some kind of access on a trial basis, or just as a oneoff for filming for educational purposes to get us started, to see the Members going through the Division Lobbies, past the tellers. There is a gap in understanding as to how Parliament works, so there is a case for oneoff access for educational purposes. Beyond that, there would be value in actually having that movement and that action at a time when, for example, one of the main news bulletins was reporting a close Division in its main story, whereas at the moment, as you know, the coverage is the wide shot with very subdued sound. I do understand that there are huge sensitivities around access to the Division Lobbies, but I wonder if it is possible to consider some form of access to them.
Esme Wren: On many of those points, Sky agrees. The main thing for us is just trying to make the exchanges in the Chamber more accessible, more compelling and to bring in a younger, newer audience to watch things such as PMQs, statements or debates. I would definitely concur that the shot that we are given at the moment from the two Front Benches is not quite adequate. It is quite hard to be drawn in for some time when you are looking down on somebody. It is nice to see a good eyetoeye exchange between the two contenders, so we support what our colleagues have said in their statements.
Secondly, the other thing that we would be very keen to get is more reaction-it tells you more about the atmosphere of the Chamber when there is a debate-and more listening shots. Of course, the main focus would always be the person speaking. We would not want to take away from that, because that obviously is eventually or ultimately what we use in the broadcast, but, just to give it some sort of context, it would be useful to get some wider pictures from the Back Benches too.
The third point is the visitors’ galleries. If there is a special mention, as there was in December of the guard who was retiring having served many years in the Houses, we could have done a nice feature on that if we could have seen him and put it on a different platform, not necessarily on television, but a nice online piece. That is another way of bringing a wider audience into what is happening in Parliament. On those three points we agree. Unusually, I think all three of us are singing from the same hymn sheet.
Simon Mares: Esme took the words right out of my mouth. I was going to say I think we are singing from the same hymn sheet. We all have an interest in getting as much Parliament on television as possible, and we want the shots to be as interesting, within the rules and the guidelines that are laid down, as possible. I have to say I have given the written evidence; I am quite happy to take questions on it.
Q2 Chair: What would you believe to be the advantage to the viewer beyond what you have said generally about the coverage being better? Does that matter? The number of viewers seems to be rising satisfactorily. Isn’t that enough? Aren’t we providing a sufficient account of what is going on, so that to change in any way, to enhance, is not going to lead to chasing the ratings or anything like that?
Simon Mares: I think you are looking for a better view of what actually goes on in the Chamber. At the moment, because of the angles that are used and the slightly-how can one put it?-staid guidelines, you do not get a proper representation of what goes on in the Chamber. I would not say we are misleading the viewers, but we are not giving them the full picture. What we are saying is we would like to give them the full picture. One of my colleagues did comment that everything evolves over time, and these rules were laid down in 2003. It does look a bit dated now. When you look at everything else that is being covered and going on, you suddenly take a step back in time when you come to the coverage of the Commons. Perhaps we ought just to be looking, refreshing and renewing, and looking at whether, from experience, we can change and tweak. Like my colleagues, we want to focus on the person who is speaking; we do not want the camera roving around all the time. We just want a wider selection of shots so that interest can be maintained. On your point about increasing viewing figures, we have had a lot more Urgent Questions recently, which makes the Chamber much more immediately relevant, which is why people are tuning in and we want to keep them tuning in as well.
Q3 Thomas Docherty: If I understand you correctly, you would like us to spend approaching £50,000 of taxpayers’ money in order to make, as it would appear to some people, our Front Benchers look better. Is that a fair assessment of what you are actually asking us to do? You are not offering to pay the £50,000 costs of doing this, are you?
Simon Mares: No, we are not.
Q4 Thomas Docherty: You have already stopped paying half the costs of running PARBUL. You would now like us to find another £50,000. Would you accept that some of your print colleagues may find this to be an interesting Sunday story, if we were to agree to do this?
Simon Mares: When you have a budget for televising material or whatever, you have a repairs and renewal bit of it. You do not set things up and never change them.
Q5 Thomas Docherty: I know, but we have to find another £1 million, because you guys pulled out of paying half the cost of running the Broadcast Unit.
Simon Mares: I was not involved in that decision.
Q6 Thomas Docherty: The broadcasters pulled out and now you want us to find another £50,000, effectively, it would appear to some people-obviously I would say that certainly our Front Bench does not need any help at all-to make our Front Benchers look better. That fundamentally is what you are asking us to do.
Simon Mares: Is it to look better or is it the fact that, at the moment, as we have said, the geography of the Chamber is such that we get shots of tops of heads?
Peter Knowles: On the point of looking better, there is a very simple point to be made here that, if you are hard of hearing, you find it incredibly difficult to understand what people are saying if you cannot see their mouths and faces. That is actually how people who are hard of hearing listen.
Rosie Cooper: Absolutely and you just-
Chair: Rosie, sorry; you are not in order.
Q7 Thomas Docherty: I understand that argument, but do you not accept that some of your print or, indeed, new media colleagues will see this as MPs spending up to £50,000 of taxpayers’ money on making themselves look better? You are not saying that you are going to pay this. You want the House authorities to find another £50,000 to do this. Is that correct? Do you want the House to find the money to do this?
Peter Knowles: The budget for the cameras and the infrastructure around them has been with Parliament for very many years, going back at least 10 years-not 20 but around 10 or more. I do recognise the point you are making, and I do see that any expenditure by MPs or by Parliament can be picked up and criticised by people of ill will. It can happen. You have invited us to respond to your inquiry, and the question behind your inquiry is if there is a way of doing this better. Actually, we can see a way of doing this better. You have jumped to the endpoint, which is how much it would actually cost. What we are saying is more openended than that: is there a way in which you can use your cameras differently to get a better angle, so that we can actually see the faces of the Front Benchers?
Q8 Sarah Newton: On that very subject of using cameras better to help communicate the work of Parliament, I think we all have a big interest in this to make sure that people are better understanding Parliament. Obviously you have a really important role to play in enabling us to do that. One of the submissions was about Committees. Obviously in this Parliament, Select Committees have a lot more clout. They have independent Chairmen and elected people going on to them. Some of the really interesting work for the public is done on Select Committees, but they are not always broadcast. Also the other Chamber, sometimes for constituents or the regional news, is more important than the Main Chamber because individual Members of Parliament or groups of Members of Parliament can raise something that is vitally important to their region or city, for example coastguards are vital to all the coastal communities. I would really like you to give us an opportunity to listen to how we can better improve, with existing resources, the cameras that we already have. Perhaps if you wanted to bring in extra cameras for certain meetings, how do you feel we could improve the broadcast output of Select Committees and Westminster Hall debates?
Peter Knowles: Thank you. There is one significant constraint on Select Committees’ coverage, which is that they cluster around each other in terms of when they meet on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. That brings with it a number of problems. There is a practical problem in that the infrastructure only supports coverage of four Committees at the same time. Actually, even if that was solved and there was infrastructure to film five at the same time, there is only so much space in the news bulletins that can be given over to political stories of a certain kind. In terms of ontheday coverage, I am not convinced that, if there were five Select Committee setups, you would get a proportionate increase in coverage. The airtimes of Today in Parliament and Yesterday in Parliament are all fixed. The biggest difference from my point of view that would be made is if it was possible for the Select Committees to move back towards the position they were in a few years ago, when their meetings spread more widely across the week. That would make a huge difference to coverage. I realise there are all sorts of reasons and pressures that push them together in the middle of the week, but any teasing apart of that would be helpful.
Esme Wren: I especially agree with, let us say, a Friday, when the regional radio stations that we service may have more space in their bulletins, when the general news agenda-it is a bit of a presumption-seems to be slightly different, so taking something from a Select Committee actually would be of greater interest. That would be pushed harder. We always go through the listings and send out to our IRN contract people who is appearing and whether it is a local MP on a subject that they may be interested in. You suggested the coastguard story; we did push that quite hard. We run out the clips. On things like our online service and iPad we are trying to do a lot more with streaming than we ever had, because we have these new platforms. We do not have the channels that BBC has, but I would say we probably are running more Select Committee coverage than we have previously.
Peter Knowles: If I might add to that, it is not just Fridays, but Mondays and Thursdays. If there was a better spread of the Committee hearings Monday to Thursday that would be really helpful. As for Westminster Hall debates, I am not sure what the solution is there, but what has been really interesting to observe is the ability of the Backbench Business Committee to raise and deliver topics that have really caught the imagination, where there has been a terrific speakers’ list of people wanting to take part, very interesting topics and terrific audiences to follow. So it can be done. I have not come to this session with a particular recommendation or solution for Westminster Hall debates, which can often get ignored-you are absolutely right-but it is interesting seeing what BBCom has done in terms of thinking things can be different.
Q9 Chair: Taking up what you have just said, Peter, is the viewer reaction to Parliament perhaps related as much to the topics being discussed at particular times, rather than the need to see a fancier or more imaginative way of displaying the proceedings?
Peter Knowles: I am sure that is right. I am sure the story comes first, and the innovation of Urgent Questions that Simon referred to is, without a doubt, the biggest and most positive change that we have seen, where the news agenda for the day and Parliament’s agenda for the day are coinciding far more often in a very interesting way, and that is being reported. It means there are parliamentary actualities in the news bulletins and that the BBC News channel is going over to Parliament far more often than it ever did. Instead of the viewer getting the sense that Parliament is Prime Minister’s Questions and that is it, it is a very different feel. You are absolutely right, Sir Alan, that the story comes first, which is what we are talking about there, but following on from that does it matter how the shots are delivered? Yes, it does. People are much more likely to watch for longer if there is variety in the shots. After all, in terms of a slightly more liberal use of listening shots, that is something that would not cost a bean. That is a matter of direction using the cameras that already exist. The point about the Front Benches and additional or new cameras for those is more a very straightforward argument: we know that you cannot see the Front Benches terribly well for so much of the time, and that is an issue for the viewer.
Q10 Mr Watts: On my colleague’s point of view, it may well be that, if the brief was given to you some time before the austerity measures started to come in, it is bad timing, in a sense. It would be very difficult to justify spending this sort of money at a time when other things are being cut left, right and centre. Specifically about the camera shot in the Gallery, there is a particular reason why the Speaker always says you are not supposed to refer to anyone in the Gallery because, if that happened, it is more likely that, over a period of time, you would get a Gallery that may react and want to see itself as a demonstration or whatever might happen. If you start down that road of actually shooting into the Gallery, you may well find out that people will name individuals, groups or campaigns, and then you will have a reaction in the Gallery that is not what Parliament intended when it televised first. I would be interested to hear your view on that point.
Peter Knowles: I can understand your line of reasoning. This is something that is still entirely under your control through your Director of Broadcasting. These are your cameras; your people are working through a sub-contracted company. If you were unhappy with the way in which rules are being interpreted, and everything is in the interpretation, then it would be very easy to rack back on that. Would demonstrations be likely, not in the Public Gallery but in the visitors’ galleries? I would be surprised if that became a problem, but I think it would be easy enough for you to take control of that problem.
Q11 Graham Evans: I can see exactly where you are coming from. You want to be able to do something like a reallife docudrama. I understand where you are coming from in modern media filming techniques, but could you point to a similar democracy, a similar Parliament, where they have a televised camera situation similar to what you are asking for? Can you tell me of a country’s parliament that is open to what you are requesting or requiring?
Peter Knowles: I cannot specify one, but the scope here is a very free range. At the one end of the spectrum, far more constrained than we are here, is the US Senate, which is very poorly attended and where shots are still on the head and shoulders, which is where broadcasting started life in the Commons. That is one end of the spectrum. I do not know of anywhere that is a freeforall-they all do have rules of coverage-but Holyrood has a more natural feel, which is what we are describing in terms of listening shots. If you think about this room and how we are arrayed, it is very formal and yet the way any one of us looks at another is not fixed. I am not fixed on your face the whole time. I am looking at other people around. The way the human eye and brain work is to take in the wider scene and other people’s reactions all the time. It is a very unnatural viewing experience to be locked off on the person who is speaking and only them. We are not locked off as it is, but we are advocating another step or two down that road to seeing the Chamber as you would if you were in the Public Gallery, with people responding to each other.
Graham Evans: A point just made there is that the world’s biggest democracy, the United States of America, has very limited access to the media and, other than Holyrood, which is relatively recent, there is no other Parliament in the democratic world that actually has what these gentlemen are asking for. I tend to agree with some of my colleagues here, pointing at this particular time, Chairman, with the economic situation. It is perhaps something that may be desirable from a broadcaster’s point of view but not perhaps from a taxpayers’ point of view.
Chair: You are straying into deliberation territory, as opposed to questioning the witnesses.
Q12 Dr Lee: Can I say that I disagree with my colleagues? I think £50,000, in the scheme of things, is a relatively small amount of money to engage the public more in the political process. I totally get what you think about creating a change of images; I think it is more than justifiable, particularly in view of some of the things we spend our money on in the parliamentary estate. I would like to put that on record. Mine is more of a suggestion really. What I have noticed, in the short time I have been here, is that some wonderful speeches have been made that have not got any coverage. Invariably they have been made by new Members, because there are quite a lot of new Members, who are down the pecking order because they are new Members in the Chamber. I can think of-and forgive me, these are both Conservatives-one by Kris Hopkins in the Chamber on the Libya debate, and another one by Bob Stewart in a Westminster Hall debate about genocide, because Bob had been in the Balkans. Both of those speeches, I suspect, were missed by a great majority of the general public.
I wonder whether it is possible or feasible, via various different platforms, to have a greatest hits of the week, almost like a trawl through all of the speeches. You can make the decision, of course, on those speeches that perhaps need a bit more of an airing. I say this because I think that some very interesting people have come in, and the public, in an effort to try to get them to trust and respect Parliament more, needs to know that some very bright, able and experienced individuals make good speeches on issues. It does not really fit in, because what tends to happen, say there is an Urgent Question on foreign policy, is you get the Foreign Secretary and the Shadow Foreign Secretary, and then you get all the other former Foreign Secretaries.
Chair: Phillip, I should just say that is not a Rules of Coverage question. It is slightly outside the scope.
Q13 Dr Lee: Allow me some latitude, Chair. What I am trying to suggest here is that, in getting more access, at the same time in return can we have more coverage of speeches that perhaps do not get broadcast? Is that fair enough?
Chair: Marginally, yes.
Peter Knowles: Could I now briefly respond? Dr Lee, we try to get the best, most interesting and most significant speeches of the day into our daily reports-our halfhour Today in Parliament and the equivalent programme on BBC Parliament. We do not always succeed; things do get missed or some days become so superbusy that, with the best will in the world, we cannot deal with it. What we try to do is use our weekending programmes. We have Today in Parliament on a Friday and The Record Review on a Friday on BBC Parliament to help us mop up the best of what has happened. Sometimes we are conscious that we have missed something and will make a conscious effort to get to it at the end of the week. You are right about the quality of speeches from the new intake. I would agree wholeheartedly with that.
Q14 Sarah Newton: This is just a quick question, because I have already had a chance. We need to go back to the other platforms, because more and more people are actually listening to local radio or going online. Even newspapers have online content. Are there any issues about the material that you are able to receive from Parliament now that are specific to that format? Most of our conversations have been about TV broadcasting. Certainly we have talked about radio, I appreciate, but for the online content, are there any things you want us to think about in improving what Parliament gives to you to improve that online access?
Simon Mares: The general point has been made about the style and everything, but I would add that we are planning a major relaunch of our online offer. I am hoping that that would be able to pick up the point that Dr Lee made. There is so much going on and sometimes it is an issue of timing. If it happens after our main local regional programmes at six o’clock, we are then looking at 24 hours’ time. In terms of the immediacy of news, it is difficult. If we have an online position where we can highlight and direct people, "This is something, if you are interested in… This is something you should be looking at. How about looking at this speech or that speech?" I would hope that we would be able to do that. You are quite right; there are a lot of gems that get rushed past and not spotted.
Esme Wren: I was just going to add to that that often Sky originally would just take a clip of a speech or something like that, but now, as Simon was saying, we now say, "You can continue to watch that on the iPad," where we could continuously livestream something. Somebody in the audience would stick with it for much longer if they could get a better shot of that person and actually see them speaking. That would improve the coverage for that.
Q15 Nigel Mills: We spend a lot of time here wishing the Government would make more announcements to Parliament and less directly to you guys out on the green or somewhere else. As attractive as ITV’s evidence is that, if you had this better shot, you would be more inclined to show the announcement being made to Parliament or the speech, rather than trying to get a more natural shot somewhere else, is that something that you would actually seriously want to do? Do you think it would be better viewing to have this announcement in Parliament than made outside in an interview format?
Simon Mares: The example I gave was where what was conveyed in the interview was, almost word for word, what was in the House. When you looked at the shot in the House it was from the top of the head, whereas when you saw the interview-I think it was probably done in the Central Lobby or on the green-it was looking the camera or the reporter in the eye and doing it. I am not saying I can guarantee that we would use it every time, but there would be a greater use of those kinds of announcements, I would have thought, from the House, seeing it being given to the House, than thinking, "We’d better get a clip as well because the shot isn’t as good." The point I was trying to make there was that it would hopefully put the House back in the centre of issues, rather than, as you say, covering an announcement out of the House.
Q16 Nigel Mills: On a different topic, when you are all doing sports coverage you have all manner of wonderful gizmo cameras stuck in ever smaller places. Do you actually think, between you, you have the technology so you can find a camera small enough to give you the quality of picture, which you can sneak somewhere it will not disrupt other things, or do you think this is a difficult thing to achieve?
Peter Knowles: I do not think it is a difficult thing to achieve in terms of the Front Benches. I think it is a matter of positioning the cameras rather than anything that is extraordinarily hightech like the camera in the cricket stumps. I doubt if we are going that way, but I know you are going to be hearing from your Director of Broadcasting in the next part of this session, and I bow to his judgment as to what might be a way of achieving this.
Q17 Thomas Docherty: On this idea of filming the Division Lobbies, I am assuming, first of all, that you mean the exits to the two Division Lobbies and are not talking about putting a camera into the Division Lobbies. Is that correct?
Simon Mares: That is what I asked for, yes. It would be lovely to have one in the Division Lobby, but I did not think I was going to get it, so I was not going to ask.
Q18 Thomas Docherty: I do not know if you are familiar with the area behind the Speaker’s Chair and the area at the entrance. It is fair to say that they are relatively busy during a Division. Could you again clarify, for my mind, whether you are talking about having a camera that hangs from the ceiling or a cameraman, first of all?
Simon Mares: I would have thought a camera hanging from a ceiling, if we are looking at doing it more than once or twice. I would have thought you would not be looking at putting in the capital investment to install the equipment if it was just an experiment that you might then decide you do not want. It might be that, while you are trialling it, you actually have a physical camera operator taking the shots, or a remotely controlled lower camera but, if you then decided that you were happy or everything worked, you may look at using an automatic camera, because then that could be controlled from the control room in number 7.
Q19 Thomas Docherty: I think that is a different thing being said to me now but, if we are talking about a cameraman, then it becomes, particularly behind the Speaker’s Chair, a very difficult environment, in that there is contraflow going on and lots of people standing around. It is also one of the places where, genuinely, it is an opportunity to catch Ministers on both sides of the House. Would you accept that it may be prohibitive in terms of then allowing that free flow of discussions between Members of Parliament and Ministers if you either have a physical camera operator or the sense of having a camera hanging in the vicinity? Does that make sense?
Simon Mares: I understand your question and entirely where you are coming from. There are two points, one of which is that people have to know the camera is there, so there is no walking out, having a chat or whatever and not knowing the camera is there. It has to be very clearly signposted that there is a camera there-this is being filmed. Secondly, you could look at the angles or at some way where you could work it out so that you could give an impression of the Division, and an idea of the excitement and the atmosphere, without necessarily zeroing right in.
Q20 Thomas Docherty: Forgive me, Mr Mares, and I ask this genuinely: if it is about excitement and glamour-I wouldn’t be sure that many Divisions of the House of Commons are about excitement and glamour-surely you have that already. I think back to my youthful days when you had the last John Major Government. There were some pretty tight votes going on and Newsnight would tend to cover some of them. Surely, if it is a genuinely tight vote, what you tend to get are lots of MPs in the Chamber itself, either sitting on the Benches waiting for the results or standing. Do you not get that already genuinely?
Simon Mares: You do, but you do not see what they are doing. You do not see the Division. It is a bit like a Shakespearean play; it is all taking place off stage. We are all talking about something but we cannot see it. That is the first point. Secondly, to go back to the John Major Government, if you remember watching those broadcasts, there was a lot of commentary over them because there was no sound from the Chamber. Pictures without sound, with the exception possibly of The Artist recently, are a nono on television.
Q21 Thomas Docherty: Just clarify then. Are you suggesting that we would broadcast sound?
Simon Mares: It is a wider shot. At the moment, you have no sound at all, so you have this long shot going on for a long time, without any sound.
Q22 Thomas Docherty: It strikes me that this is salamislicing. What we end up doing, Mr Chairman, is it sounds like-and correct me if I am wrong-that we are now saying, "We will let you film the vote." The next thing will be the sound of the tellers counting people through, which has implications for parliamentary reporting in itself, and then it will be that you want the sound of the bustle of the Chamber. I genuinely do not see where this ends. It sounds like, from what you are saying, you will come back and come back, and ask for a bit more each time to try to sex it up. I would have thought going to war does not require any sexingup. I would have thought the Health Bill and the Welfare Reform Bill do not need sexingup. Are you saying that you do not think that your pundits and news editors are able to adequately cover, at the moment, the decision that we have in theory tonight about Iran, the decision that we took on Libya or, back before my time, that decision about Iraq?
Simon Mares: No, I am not saying that. What I am saying is that it would be nice to be able to actually see the MPs voting to be able to picture what we are talking about. I do not know whether you take constituents around but, when you see people taking groups round, they laboriously explain to them how the Divisions take place, because they do not see or understand it. I am postulating this as another way of explaining further how this place works. It would mean that you would not have so many pundits telling you what was going on; you would actually see it for yourself.
Esme Wren: If you don’t mind, may I just add to that that it is very hard to sex up a camera that is potentially locked off. There is no movement in it; it is just going to give you the shot that it is delivering. In that sense, it is just reporting the procedure so that the correspondent can tell you what is happening according to the shot that that lockedoff camera is providing. There is nothing more you can do with it. There is no move; there is no panning round; there is no particular recording of a conversation. It is a lockedoff shot that just enables us to tell the story in better detail.
Q23 Mr Watts: Isn’t the most likely way of getting more people interested to do a more interactive service, so there is someone explaining what is going on during that debate, rather than looking to the camera shots to do that? It seems to me that is exactly what TV does on a regular basis. If it wants to get interest, it will have someone commentating expressing what is going on and what it is likely to happen. If it is a tight vote, it would be speculating on what that vote is likely to be. Is that not the only way you are actually going to do it? I honestly do not think that changing shot is going to make this a more attractive product than it would be without that level of investment.
Esme Wren: It is quite hard to tell a story about what is happening with a very limited number of shots, especially if they are wide. I do not know if you know but, every week for PMQs, Sky News does a preview piece with our deputy political editor Joey Jones. It is a forensic look at PMQs, what we had last week and what we can expect from this week. He picks out very interesting points about people’s reactions or how various speakers responded. I think that really draws in an audience. As you say, it kind of takes a sports model but fits it to Parliament. That is a really interesting way of reporting the proceedings. To really top that would just be to get a couple of extra shots, so we can give even greater detail and explanation of what has happened.
Simon Mares: I do not think it is either/or; it is both, I would suggest. Yes, you need a bit of punditry, but better shots would make a better package all ways round.
Q24 Simon Kirby: I am not sure if it is a matter of sexing it up or making it more transparent. I am a great fan of letting my constituents know what we all get up to, whether we are value for money and whether the process is all it should be. I do have a worry about who pays for it. At the end of the day, the three of you sit there; you charge subscriptions to viewers, you sell adverts and you receive many millions of pounds from the taxpayer already, respectively. My issue is not about whether it is right or appropriate. It is who pays for it. Have you any comment on that at all?
Peter Knowles: I am happy to have a go at that. The situation that pertained under PARBUL was not quite unique but very close to being unique in the world, in that, in almost every other Parliament, the Parliament takes on the cost of broadcasting its proceedings. That is absolutely the norm. It is possible to find exceptions if you go through the Gazetteer; I think there are only two. It has been the case for a very long time-I could not give you the exact year-that the Parliament here has paid for the cameras and the infrastructure. The only change was last year in terms of running costs. That was what was exceptional. It was not that this Parliament has moved to an unusual position. In taking on the running costs, it is in line with just about every other Parliament in the world.
One of the problems with the previous arrangement was the one that Sarah Newton was asking about indirectly concerning online distribution. It was proving increasingly difficult for Parliament to make its material available internationally, and to a whole range of new broadcasters and new outlets, under the old PARBUL arrangements. It was a model that was devised for a time of two or three broadcasters, preonline. One of the big advantages that you now have, which your Director of Broadcasting can exploit, is that you can actually make the material available freely to whoever is a responsible adult, anywhere in the world. That was one of the main reasons why Parliament decided to bring it in-house. So the costs just about everywhere in the world do belong to Parliament.
There are very great costs to us broadcasting Parliament. BBC Parliament, the TV channel, in terms of its distribution costs on Freeview alone, is going to cost at least £5 million. I cannot give you an exact figure-it is in the £5 million to £8 million range-because it is part of a bundle of frequencies that are bought and paid for together by BBC, but producing and distributing a channel like BBC Parliament is not costfree. It is a very major investment. I have a team of 30 people between BBC Parliament, Today in Parliament, Yesterday in Parliament and the big website that we run, Democracy Live, and we continue to fund all of the running costs to do with Select Committees. At the time of the changes to the arrangements around PARBUL, there was not a clear mechanism that anybody could see as to what the new mechanism would be for selecting which Committees are filmed. A great number of Committees meet-30 or so in a week-but which ones get the full broadcast treatment and which do not? There are web cameras here but no broadcast cameras. Actually, we came up with the very pragmatic view that the price mechanism was relevant and useful in this. We choose which Committees to opt into and pay for them. It is still a mixed economy, to a degree.
Q25 Rosie Cooper: Could I ask why broadcast media agreed to contribute to the costs before this year? What were the reasons you agreed to pay, if it is so unusual throughout the world?
Peter Knowles: It is before my time, but my understanding is that Lady Thatcher, or Mrs Thatcher as Prime Minister, was most reluctant for Parliament to be filmed. She was completely against the idea, and gave her agreement on the basis that "They can pay for it." That is the story that is passed on.
Q26 Rosie Cooper: What changed last year?
Peter Knowles: What happened was that one of the smaller commercial broadcasters indicated that it did not want to carry on paying.
Q27 Rosie Cooper: Which broadcaster would that be?
Peter Knowles: That was Channel 5.
Q28 Rosie Cooper: Channel 5 was the lever for which you got the taxpayers of this country to cough up over £1 million for you to broadcast.
Peter Knowles: It was first, though already another broadcaster had dropped out by way of ceasing trading, so we had a shrinking number of broadcasters. In terms of the conversations that were had, it was very clear that Parliament was uneasy about the BBC having a dominant, majority role, as it would have done in PARBUL. It was no longer an even balance. Our shareholdings were becoming the majority shareholdings. Equally, it was evident that this was an anomalous position. It did not fit with how Parliaments elsewhere did business, and it was getting in the way of making the pictures available internationally. PARBUL, instead of being an enabling outfit, was actually becoming an obstacle. So there were a great many factors at play there.
Rosie Cooper: Can I just go on to state my own position? While we are dealing with the austerity measures that are currently being handed out, if you like, in the name of the House authorities, in which I have stated previously I have little confidence; and while frontline public services are being cut; while people who desperately need services, be it the Health Service and/or legal aid or whatever, are having the amount available to those groups of people cut, there is absolutely no way-I agree. In essence, I think if you went to any of the taxpayers and said to them, "Here is a shot from here, a shot from there. Is the difference worth £50,000?" they are going to say "no". If you are not paying for it, and until you are paying for it, if I take an opposite view-Mrs Thatcher’s view-then I do not believe that, at this time, the taxpayer ought to be asked for a penny more just to change a shot. They are not getting anything different. They can still hear the message; they can hear the speech. The picture may be different. It may be easier for your good selves, or whatever. I do genuinely think it is disingenuous to say that you want to do it to help the hard of hearing or disabled, of which I am one. I come from a family where both my parents were born deaf-one born deaf, one deafer than before. Therefore, if you came into my house, you would find the TV has subtitles on permanently. To use that as the excuse for this, when you can actually see it, is a bit-
Q29 Chair: That was a statement rather than a question, Rosie. Can I just come back to the specifics? I think you will have understood that there is some reluctance for extra money to be spent on this. For Parliament to want to be persuaded to do that, they would need to be convinced that there is some real advantage. The Director of Broadcasting has conducted certain experiments with placing additional cameras, which would help with the specific point that is being made that there is a disadvantage, which I think we recognise, that when you are filming the Ministers and Shadow Ministers at Despatch Box their heads are down. Would you not accept that, inevitably, the heads are going to be down from almost whichever angle you take them, because Ministers in particular, and also in some several cases Shadow Ministers, are going to be adhering to their script, for very understandable reasons? Therefore they might look up, smile and beam one minute, but they have to go back to their text the next. I do not know what the gain is, therefore, from trying to station additional cameras in the only places they could be, at ground level.
Simon Mares: If a Front Bencher is looking across at the other Front Bencher, if the shot is from above, you would still not see the eyes, because they would be looking across and the camera would be much higher. It is bringing the camera angle down so that the camera is looking at the person. I agree with you: if they are there reading a script all the way through, you will not see the eyes. But if they are doing what most Front Benchers seem to do, which is to look at their notes and then look up and make the points then, or they are responding to a point and looking at the person on the other side of the House, you would see the eyes. The problem at the moment is, even if you are looking straight ahead, you will still get a topofhead shot, because of the angle of the camera on the far side of the Chamber.
Q30 Chair: Does it not strike you that it is a very marginal improvement for an expenditure of £50,000?
Simon Mares: I would have thought it would significantly improve matters. That is my opinion; obviously the Committee would have their opinion. I would have thought it would make a significant difference.
Q31 Chair: Are there no improvements from presenting the activities in the Chamber-I will qualify it in that way-that would come from granting you wider flexibility with the alreadyinstalled cameras?
Simon Mares: Absolutely. That was the meat of the case that I made in the paper that I put to the Committee. When I read through the guidelines again, I thought the mission statement you gave the Director of Broadcasting and the director who is directing the coverage was very good, strong guidance in terms of presenting Parliament as it works, with respect and whatever. Then you go into a whole series of very prescriptive rules about not being able to use certain kinds of shots and things like that. My argument would be that you have a very strong set of guidelines; I would say that is what you need, and then cut away the very prescriptive, very detailed rules about exactly what kinds of shots you can and cannot use. They are your employees; they will know what you want and deliver what you want. On occasions, at the moment, you cannot have a closeup shot of someone speaking. I am not certain why that rule was put in there in the first place but, it strikes me, if you have a medium closeup, a wider shot and a closeup, then you have a wider variety of shots. Hopefully, with that slight bit of extra freedom, it is going to be a better representation of the House, more interesting to viewers and hopefully will keep them more engaged if you get rid of those very prescriptive rules of what you can and cannot do.
Q32 Chair: Forgive me, but I am not very technical. Digitalisation: if we became fully digital, would that not help you overcome some of the limitations that you feel are presently there, by being able to show on screen more information that would help to guide the viewer?
Simon Mares: I am oldfashioned in television; I always think the picture is the most important thing.
Q33 Chair: What I was thinking of was, if you wish to refer to a retiring Clerk or somebody like that who may be sitting there, there are dangers, apparent to some of us, to giving you carte blanche to film the Gallery in certain circumstances. We think it would build up from there, but you could show a still picture of the Clerk in question while someone was speaking about that Clerk. You could, in fact, have a narrative going down the side as well. I am borrowing from Sky News HD in this but, if you had those facilities, would that not overcome at least some of the problems you have been talking about?
Simon Mares: I take your point. That is obviously very specifically when you are referring specifically to our request to be able to film in the public galleries. The point I was making before was more particularly about filming the activities within the Chamber. At the moment, there is a whole series of very detailed rules, which I would say you do not need. You need the common sense of the people involved. You have had the sense to publish the rules, and you have the statement of objectives in terms of covering the Chamber. I would argue that that should be enough to enable your purposes and what we would like to be covered in the same way.
Q34 Chair: And cheap.
Simon Mares: I cannot see any extra cost, no. In fact, we would probably not have to print as many guidelines, so it might even actually be cheaper.
Chair: Thank you very much indeed. We have to hear from our Director of Broadcasting, who has been listening to you, if I am allowed to refer to the gallery on this occasion. We appreciate your coming in. You will see that you have a bit of a mountain to climb in persuading us on at least some of the aspects of this, but we will give serious consideration to the points you have been good enough to advance, both in writing and orally today. Thank you very much indeed.
Examination of Witness
Witness: John Angeli, Director of Parliamentary Broadcasting, gave evidence.
Q35 Chair: May we now welcome you back, John, officially while we are still in public session? I think that you would accept, would you not, that the idea of our expending more money on Parliament without there being a palpable gain in terms of transmitting the pictures is not something that readily commends itself?
John Angeli: Yes, I would agree with that. I think that what Peter Knowles was referring to was that, in the overall budget that we have, there may be ways of reutilising aspects of the existing budget. That might be something worth looking into. I have not yet looked into it. It might be possible to look at the way that we currently organise ourselves and spend our money and see whether or not there is a way of doing it outside of that. If it was additional cost, I am not sure that it would be a priority.
Q36 Chair: Do you, looking at this relatively afresh, see scope for revisiting the restrictions that we presently have in place on the use of existing cameras, so far as actual proceedings in the Chamber are concerned?
John Angeli: I think there is more that can be done with the existing setup. Looking at it coming in, under the Rules of Coverage, we are allowed to show a headandshoulders shot, but actually what we show much of the time is a hipswaistchestshouldersandhead shot. It is quite wide. I think that may partly be a throwback to when television was in 4:3. When we moved to widescreen, we kept the shot quite loose. Sometimes it is difficult for directors to stay tight on a shot when a Member is moving and, actually by being slightly looser, it helps them to keep the Member in line, but I think there is some scope for offering a slightly tighter shot without crossing the line at all.
Q37 Thomas Docherty: A very wise observer said that if Sky Sports went to the Premier League and said, "We want to sex up our coverage and we want you to pay for it," they would be booted out of the stadium concerned. Why have you not adopted the same strategy with the broadcasters?
John Angeli: The request for an eyelevel shot of the Front Bench is, I think, a reasonable request, putting to one side the cost.
Q38 Thomas Docherty: That is my question; it is about the cost, not the issue of the merits of the broadcast. Why have you even entertained the idea of spending up to another £50,000 to do this, rather than saying to the broadcasters, "If you want to do this, where is the money"?
John Angeli: I was taking it in stages, and the first step was if there is an eyelevel shot to be had in the Chamber that is appropriate, and then to move on to all of the surrounding issues that ensue after that. If there is a reason not to do it on cost grounds, then that is a reason not to do it, but I think it is reasonable to see whether or not there is a shot that Members and others can take a view on, as to whether or not it is a help.
Q39 Chair: Is it not the case you were trying to be helpful by giving the Committee a chance to consider these matters before you started entering into negotiations with the broadcasters?
John Angeli: That is exactly so. The request was from the broadcasters to ask whether or not it is possible. My belief is that it is possible to have an eyelevel view of the Front Bench. I am not sure that, with the current camera technology, it is currently appropriate, but at least we have looked at the first part. It is for members to decide whether or not it is desirable.
Q40 Sarah Newton: I think like a lot of other Members, and perhaps particularly the new Members, we have sat through, listened to and joined in debates. On those occasions I thought, "This is Parliament at its best, and why don’t the public get to see us at our best?" My question really goes back to the other questions I was asking before about access, broadening access and providing more opportunities to broadcast what happens in Select Committees, Westminster Hall or Adjournment debates when it is not the main news time, peak viewing, in the day or the afternoon. What thoughts could you share with us about how you feel access can be widened to enable more of that type of work of Parliament to be broadcast so that the media has access to it?
John Angeli: Previous Committees that have looked at Rules of Coverage have all touched on this. There is a bigger audience out there that does not currently find it easy to access the sorts of things that touch on their lives. I am thinking particularly about online audiences. I guess a good example coming up is that the Hillsborough disaster will again be debated shortly. It was only the changes in the rules surrounding PARBUL that allowed us to offer a shot of the coverage of the recent debate on Hillsborough in the Commons. Liverpool Football Club, which has a TV channel, took that coverage and has asked for the upcoming debate also to be made available to them, which we will do. My concern is that other media organisations and members of the public in the area may not have access to that. I think it is great that LFC TV has it-hats off to them-but I would like to think that the local newspapers in the patch could also access it.
To date, the way that we have provisioned our video coverage of procedure has been based on a broadcast model with a television signal to BT Tower, and we have not taken it much further. It is very difficult for particularly local newspapers to access parliamentary content and put those live streams on to their website or put them up on demand, given the current infrastructure. When we think about what our priorities are, my priority would be to ensure that more coverage of all Select Committees is made available and that local media in particular have the opportunity to access that content at a rate that is more commensurate with what they do in the online sphere. If I were punching the air in a couple of years’ time, it would be over the fact that local audiences have access to local debates.
Q41 Sarah Newton: I think we would all say "hooray" to that. Just a quick supplementary: we talked a lot about austerity and the House budgets being reduced. With the budget that you have at the moment and how you are being managed, do you have the flexibility to be able to deliver on that very admirable vision?
John Angeli: It starts on a wider issue actually and it is not really Rules of Coverage, but I think Parliament has to work out an audio/video strategy. How are audio and video provisioned? I am including quite a few things in that, including how audio and video are accessed in the House, how Members get hold of coverage of their own contributions, as well as how it is made available more generally. I suspect that, if we looked at the entirety of the budget spent on audio and video services within Parliament, we might be able to do more for the same. That is really how I would approach it.
Simon Kirby: Can I put it to you that making excuses about technology, even discussing Rules of Coverage or AV strategies, is a total red herring, in my opinion? What people out there who pay their taxes after working hard want to hear is how we can take this great product that is Parliament-if I may liken it to a soap opera, it has a great script, great actors and is set in a fantastic location-and sell it for millions of pounds, and see it as a fantastic product, rather than something that costs us huge sums that we give away for nothing. Surely that is far more important than worrying about where the cameras go.
Chair: But it is outside the scope of this inquiry.
Simon Kirby: It is, and you will forgive me, Chair, as a new member of this Committee, for asking that question.
Chair: It is history now, to a large extent. It can be gone into on another occasion.
Q42 Mr Watts: John, how much do you have in your budget to actually go ahead with this? That is the first question. Is this something that you have a budget for? Secondly, was it the media that came to you or did you go to the media about it? Who suggested this? Was it your suggestion or was it theirs?
John Angeli: Is this for the camera in the Chamber?
Mr Watts: Yes.
John Angeli: This was a request at the last Administration Committee meeting by the broadcasters.
Mr Watts: So the broadcasters asked for that.
John Angeli: They asked for it, yes.
Q43 Mr Watts: The second issue was about, if you were required to do this, whether there is a budget and how much is in that budget.
John Angeli: No, there isn’t a budget. If I am honest about it, with what I have said to Sarah about where the priorities would be, my priorities would be to ensure that there is wider access to a broader audience than is currently the case. Within that, I would say that the BBC, Sky and ITV can all help, and I am sure would be open to the idea that, if we were able to make more coverage available to them at a high enough quality, they would also help to ensure that that could happen.
Q44 Mr Watts: Finally, cameras do not last forever. When do you anticipate that the present system would become defunct and need replacing anyway?
John Angeli: We go through cycles of refurbishment for control rooms and cameras. We have a major refurbishment requirement for 7 Millbank, which was due for renewal one or two years ago. Probably by about 201314, it will become a real issue for us. I think we can keep it going until then, but that is the opportunity to look at how we go about video coverage of Parliament.
Q45 Graham Evans: Have you seen the website figures for online access to the Parliamentary archive? Coverage on the Commons Chamber, for example, despite using the current footage and camera angles, has gone from 287,000 in 2010 and has risen, within 12 months, to 659,000-a huge change. Even the Committees have gone from 195,000 to 604,000. That is phenomenal growth using the current technology and current camera angles-good, bad or indifferent. With that sort of growth, where do you see it in 12 months’ time or two years’ time, without any investment? How would you see it growing for the likes of the good people of Merseyside who do not have access to LFC TV, without actually having to spend a huge amount of money in the process?
John Angeli: The figures will, I hope, continue to rise. I should say that last year’s figures, the figures that I have quoted to you, the earlier figures, were in a general election year, so they are slightly suppressed, but I think there is still significant growth in the number of people coming to the Parliament site for coverage. I do not think there is any major new additional spend required to provision local media with online feeds. The more difficult question is whether they have the technology and the budgets themselves to provide that streaming capability on their websites. My guess is that, while we do see a fair bit of traffic come to the parliamentary website, it would be better if people were coming across a parliamentary debate through their local media channels, because that is probably going to see a dramatic rise in the numbers of views that we would get.
Q46 Rosie Cooper: Could I just ask: the refurbishment of 201314, roughly how much will that cost?
John Angeli: We are looking at a refurbishment in the region of £3 million to £4 million.
Q47 Rosie Cooper: When TV cameras were originally put in, who paid for the cameras at that time? If Mrs Thatcher thought they ought to be paying for it, she would not have put money in the budget to do it, would she?
John Angeli: No. I do not know whether it was split. I would have to check for you.
Q48 Rosie Cooper: Before this gets very much further, rather than being treated like a rubber stamp on a load of idiots, somebody ought to arrive here with some of the real facts as to why we are being asked this. My view, categorically, is if I took what you are asking for out there, to an ordinary member of the public, and said, "Do you think this is value for money, this shot, this shot and all the rest of it?" after they had stopped laughing-and I understand it is important to broadcasters and, actually, if you are paying for it, you can have-
Chair: Rosie, this witness is not paying for anything.
Q49 Rosie Cooper: Okay, my apologies. If you were to get the money in, then I am sure a lot of other things could be considered. Really, I would put it to you, if you could find £50,000 in your budget that you can use for other things, my question to you would be: why have you been wasting that money every year until we got to this point?
John Angeli: There are a couple of things really. I have not said that it would be a priority for my office to provision an additional camera in the Chamber. What I have said is that I have gone as far as to establish that there is a shot, but whether or not we would want to make that a priority at this stage or whether it is desirable is really a matter for consideration. I have also not said that I could find £50,000 in my budget but, if I did, I would either have it nabbed away from me or I would go down the road that we have been discussing previously of broadening access to other audiences, which perhaps are not wedded so much to Prime Minister’s Question Time, but would like to know a little bit more about what is being said in Westminster Hall.
Rosie Cooper: I would be very grateful if, at some point, maybe not today, we could have a real overview of the history of it, how we got here and where we are in financial terms. I don’t know whether it was Thomas or Dave who was talking about creep. We have gone from Mrs Thatcher, if that is the correct assessment of what happened at that time, saying we will pay for nothing to now, when not only are we paying for everything, but it is like jam tomorrow-what more can we have? I really think we have gone on a journey.
Chair: Rosie, we have gone on a journey way outside of the scope of this particular review. You have made these remarks on at least three previous occasions. It is not within the scope of this inquiry. You may wish to pursue it in other way, but not within the scope of this inquiry.
Q50 Nigel Mills: Two questions. First one: they are asking about having pictures of the Gallery. Is that something that you can deliver with the existing camera mountings or not?
John Angeli: Yes, it probably is doable for the visitors’ galleries. It is, I suspect, not doable for the Public Gallery, given the current setup.
Q51 Nigel Mills: The second question: the images you have shown us of, what was it, QBall camera-it sounds like a snooker development-how much would it cost to get these on trial and trial this for a day, or is that just not feasible?
John Angeli: It would be feasible to do an experiment, but it would probably cost £2,000 or £3,000. There are obviously some other concerns that would need to be addressed before a trial took place.
Q52 Rosie Cooper: Could I just ask one final question? I am really trying to get an understanding and it is just a question. Can any of these thoughts or decisions actually be implemented without this Committee and/or Parliament or whoever? Could these be implemented without our having a say? So many of these decisions just happen and, by the time we get them back again, they will have happened. Could any of this just happen?
John Angeli: Sorry, in what sense?
Rosie Cooper: Could a camera appear here or there on an experimental basis? Could we have decision creep?
John Angeli: No, I do not think so.
Chair: A resolution of the House is required, Rosie.
Q53 Graham Evans: A technical question: as regards having a camera for the Gallery to see individuals or groups of people there, on many occasions it is really either quite controversial or maybe quite upsetting for individuals in the Gallery. Although they have come to see the debate in the House, if they say, "We do not want to be filmed," what would be the situation then?
John Angeli: As the broadcasters have made clear, Parliament owns the camera crews and the Gallery, and everything that gets filmed or shot is a parliamentary decision and they take the feed. I would imagine that, even if we were to go down this road, it would need to be cleared with anyone who was to be filmed that they were to be filmed, and they would have to agree. I cannot imagine a situation where it would be done otherwise.
Chair: John, thank you very much indeed. We appreciate it. That is the end of the public session.