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Lord Orr-Ewing: My Lords, I want to follow the theme outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, as regards the 1990 Act. Many people have praised that legislation but it has also been much abused. Indeed, everyone seems to say, "That ghastly 1990 Act". In fact, it has worked rather well. I remember being told by Liz Forgan in a room upstairs that, if we passed those regulations, we would be absolutely snowed under with court cases and no one would be producing programmes--they would be answering accusations in court that they had transgressed the rules. But none of that has happened. The level of penalties has been raised by the ITC which bite occasionally. In fact, they bit rather hard on Granada in the autumn when the company was fined £600,000. I know that that seems a great deal of money to us, but it is not very much in the television world.
I turn now to the complaints which are listed in the well-laid out complaints bulletin which I read every month. I have one criticism to make. The bulletin has been well summarised but those concerned invariably say, even when awful things have happened which have been described and objected to by complainants, that it is not "upheld". But, who ticks off whom? Are there any transgressions? One complaint in 10 is upheld, but we are never told what happens as a result. I am afraid that too often it is not a case of the first X1 at the BBC, nor the second X1, but the young third X1 who deal with these things. They do not have much idea of what is contained in the producers' guidelines. I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, said about the guidelines; namely, that they are extremely well worded. Every time I read the guidelines I admire the wording. I only wish that the relevant staff read those guidelines, signed a document stating they intended to observe them, and then put them into practice. However, that has never been done. I must confess that I would prefer the guidance to be made compulsory rather than remain voluntary. Then we might get somewhere.
The ITC has a code of conduct. It may be imperfect. I can recall occasions when the most awful material was broadcast. But that also happens with the BBC. Sometimes complaints are not upheld. I recall the famous programme about the last temptation of Jesus. It was considered not to be a religious programme as it did not fulfil the criteria established for religious programmes. Some 8,000 people wrote to complain about the programme. That shows a considerable strength of feeling on the part of the public. Nevertheless, their complaints were not upheld. There have been misdirections under the ITC. The matter should be considered.
The department has attempted to comfort us by stating that the BBC governors can look after their own internal administration and can supervise senior personnel, producers, editors and all other members of staff in the organisation. There are still 20,000 people in the organisation although it has cut its staff by nearly 5,000. I am not convinced that the organisation can
The whole picture is changing in this area; the technology is developing rapidly. If we leave the matter for 10 years, people may consider that we have misjudged the position, and the morality of our country may suffer as a result. After all, the BBC--God bless it--is fairly keen on attacking the centres of our organisation and the Government. Too often the police have been condemned for over-reacting and the Royal Family's behaviour has been criticised. Various other organisations which have evolved over centuries and which constitute the key to the morality of our country have been criticised.
After our previous discussion at Report stage, I returned home and watched a film on BBC 1 which started at 10.30 in the evening. In the film a young girl of 15 entered a pub and was then gang raped by three men. It was an American film. I have no idea why it was bought. Why do we buy that sort of programme rather than support our own film industry? Why do we spend money importing programmes which show a lack of taste, decency and morality and broadcast them into homes in this country? The programme started at 10.30 in the evening and finished at midnight. I do not take seriously the argument that it is all right to show programmes depicting certain material after a certain time at night. I have 14 grandchildren. I know that they can operate the television and record programmes. Some people suggest that one should not complain about the subject matter of programmes broadcast after nine o'clock at night as children will not see them because they are in bed. The people who say that obviously do not have grandchildren. They are up all sorts of hours and they can record these programmes so I would not take too lightly the excuse that it is all right.
In anticipation that the Government would come under pressures from their staff and the BBC, I tabled an amendment to give the Minister the power--not laying down--to set up a broadcasting ombudsman. I am hopeful that we can strengthen the powers of the BSC, which is our first desire, and not allow the corporation to continue to act as judge and jury in its own case. I know the critics will say that the ombudsman process is slow. It is true that complicated cases may last a year.
If we do not strengthen the BSC he or his successor might need to take up the option of appointing a broadcasting ombudsman. We would be following the example of many other countries, particularly Scandinavia. We may gain by having that facility up our sleeve and therefore force the governors to be even firmer in their reactions.
I therefore support my noble friend in his amendments and hope he will decide whether we are going to vote on them tonight or leave it until Third Reading. This is the last chance that I can see anywhere for at least 10 years, well into the next century, so surely we ought to take this opportunity, or the Third Reading opportunity, to vote on this issue.
Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe: My Lords, I do not normally speak on broadcasting matters because of my position as the Vice-Chairman of the BBC but this is an important matter. The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, said that he had never heard a case put against what he was saying, so I hope my limping efforts will perhaps go some way towards redressing the balance. The Government in their recent White Paper on the BBC recognised that throughout the world its diversity, its programme independence and its accuracy are bywords.
The governors look after the public interest. I never engage in hypothetical discussions about the public interest, but I know the public interest when I see it. Protecting the reputation of the BBC for truth and impartiality to me is a sacred trust. Those of us who were alive during the war know the contribution the BBC made to morale and the war effort and how people in occupied Europe actually risked their lives to listen to the BBC. Even today when parliamentarians travel abroad they hear everywhere of the excellence and reputation of the BBC.
There has been a lot of talk recently about quangos--even tonight it has crept into the discussions--and how unrepresentative and unaccountable they are. But many of the people who say this have fallen into the oldest and easiest political trap of starting to believe their own propaganda. The stereotyped nonsense which is talked about quangos and their personnel bears no resemblance to the governors that I know and work with at the BBC. What sort of people do they really think we are if we are going to crumple under pressure and allow people to bully the finest public broadcasting service in the world? The governors of the BBC are determined that our programmes are fair and accurate and our programme makers behave impartially.
Many years ago I used to train a junior rugby team and I had to referee the home fixtures, if your Lordships can imagine such a thing. My poor boys had to work very much harder to score points than the visitors because I was so keen, so insistent on showing that I was impartial. I probably went too far the other way.
The governors accept the challenge of the Annan Report that they should be seen to govern. As chairman, Marmaduke Hussey has given very effective leadership to the BBC. Nobody can fairly accuse Mr. Hussey of giving the management an easy ride. In An Accountable BBC we set out a clearly defined role for the governors as regulators in the public interest. The governors have established a Programme Complaints Unit, independent of the programme makers, to investigate and rule on serious complaints. The Head of Programme Complaints' findings are appealable to the governors.
The new agreement, which has only recently been considered by both Houses of Parliament, incorporates the clause in the Broadcasting Act 1990 relating to impartiality. An impartiality and accuracy code is being drawn up and will be enforced by the governors.
As your Lordships know, Sir Christopher Bland has been appointed chairman in succession to Marmaduke Hussey. Sir Christopher has wide experience, including a term as vice-chairman of the former IBA, so he is an experienced regulator. Yet before Sir Christopher had even taken up his appointment, before the new charter and agreement had come into effect and before the impartiality code has been published it is suggested that all those arrangements are swept aside and a second regulator is asked to second guess the governors.
Having two regulators is not doubly effective. It is a recipe for confusion and ineffectiveness. An example of that dichotomy is that recently the governors judged a "One o'clock News" report about a horrific massacre in Burundi to be unsuitable for broadcast before the watershed. Yet the Broadcasting Standards Council later ruled that the report was quite acceptable.
Attempts to mould public opinion are now legion. Your Lordships will know that only recently desperate efforts have been made to identify a common interest between Rupert Murdoch's financial empire and the interests of the ordinary viewing public.
We hear a great deal about broadcasters' inability to maintain political impartiality. However, that tells us less about the broadcasters' failings than about the increasingly desperate tactics of the parties to intimidate news editors into favouring their political cause. It is for the governors to distinguish between alleged complaints of that kind--the vast majority--and legitimate concerns. I hardly think that we can expect an inexperienced body such as the Broadcasting Standards Commission to make those distinctions, particularly in the frenetic atmosphere of the forthcoming general election.
It is common knowledge that party political staff are becoming more and more professional, so much so that they are now referred to as spin doctors. Often aggressive, sometimes abusive, one of the main weapons in their armoury is to allege political bias. Perhaps I may briefly weary the House with my experience as Chief Whip in the other place, not only dealing with complaints from colleagues about broadcasts but also running a simple programme monitoring scheme throughout the country. All that time virtually no bias was ever detected, either in the BBC
We have to strike a balance between getting information and being manipulated. BBC programme editors have been instructed to assert their right to edit, and to put the phone down on the spin doctors if necessary. The Managing Director of News and Current Affairs has had to establish a weekly review of the state of attempts to influence BBC coverage.
Party advisers have had to be banned from the BBC news room at Millbank. It is now standard procedure in the BBC to run through all telephone calls, faxes and letters to see what is fair in the way of complaints and what is unfair, and where there are lessons to be learnt producers and staff are informed. As your Lordships may know, a great deal was learned from the "Brent Spar" episode, which was the first great expose of pressure group activity.
Complaints have to be considered for patterns and signs of orchestration, because it has to be faced that while many complaints are genuine some are made deliberately in order to try to manipulate or are made with malice. To show a cloven hoof for a moment, I have already confessed to the House on a previous occasion that when I was Chief Whip in another place I would occasionally sit colleagues down with instructions to make repeated telephone calls to telephone poll numbers in order to distort the results. Lest I fall foul of the leadership, I hasten to add that this was very much Old Labour.
Under this Bill and in the new Charter and Agreement, the BBC is being asked to play a key role in the future of British broadcasting: setting programme standards for a growing and changing industry; taking a leading role in the development of digital terrestrial television; becoming a leading world broadcaster in television as well as radio; and developing commercial services. The governors of the BBC, like the Independent Television Commission and the Radio Authority, have a great responsibility to ensure that British broadcasting develops to the highest standards of impartiality, taste, decency and fair trading.
You have asked the governors to undertake a difficult task and you have given us a Charter, Agreement and Impartiality Code which give us the powers to ensure compliance. Please do not trip us up before we have even started to do the job that you have asked us to do.
Lord Renton: My Lords, having known the noble Lord, Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe, for many years in both Houses of Parliament, perhaps I may say that I have always respected him, and tonight I agreed with a great deal of what he said, but not with all of it.
As my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing pointed out, there is a serious situation with which, I suggest, we must deal in the Bill--and deal with it effectively. The most serious part is the continuing amount of violence and sex on television, not only after the magic hour of 9 o'clock but sometimes before it. As my noble friend pointed out, one has only to study the Broadcasting Standards Commission's present complaints bulletins, where they virtually have no power over the BBC, to realise that this matter is causing concern among the public. It causes concern especially among those families with young children and among all concerned with crime. In various capacities I had a good deal of experience of what happens in our criminal courts. There is no need for those events to be repeated on television.
The present system has failed to deal with the issue. The Independent Television Commission, the standards commission and the complaints commission do not have power to deal with the BBC on this matter. However, according to the noble Lord and to the Government, as well as being responsible for the BBC the governors are regulators of its programmes. I believe that that is a misconception. They are not regulators in law. There is no statute which refers to them as regulators. The BBC Charter does not refer to them as regulators; neither does the Agreement with the Government. Until now, if they are assumed to be regulators in fact, I say with respect to the vice-chairman and the remainder of governors, they have not succeeded in performing their function. That is why there is so much violence and sex on TV.
The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, has produced an argument, with simple amendments, which I suggest is unanswerable. I shall be interested yet again to hear what my noble friend Lord Inglewood has to say in answer to it. I am rather anxious to have the attention of my noble friend on this matter. My noble friend Lord Chalfont produced an unanswerable case for giving the new British Standards Commission power to deal with this matter in a way that would cause the BBC to bring its entertainment programmes to the high standard that the rest of its programmes generally meet.
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