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Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, I want to show part of the foundation on which this great edifice is to be built. I happen to have been the chairman of the Broadcasting Complaints Commission for the past four years. I say humbly that at times in this debate, apart from the noble Baroness, I have felt that many noble Lords do not realise what actually happens on these bodies. Perhaps I may briefly tell the House something of what they do.
The commission is a quasi-judicial body fulfilling an ombudsman type role. That is, it is to provide moderate redress--I accept that its sanctions are limited--to people with legitimate grievances with regard to unfairness and infringement of privacy.
I point out that the area, the group, the constituency, is limited, because complainants have to have a direct interest in the programme concerned. They must either have appeared in it or it must have been about them. The courts, in a famous judicial review, have limited the right of so-called pressure groups to claim redress from the commission. The investigation takes an enormous amount of time, because the complaints are deeply felt. Last week, and a fortnight ago, there was a hearing that lasted seven hours. The complaints may seem piffling or eccentric at times. But I assure the House they are deeply felt, and justice has to be done--justice subject to the courts.
My Broadcasting Complaints Commission will be one part of the new body. I shall not enter into the ideology of the plans put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont. I have a certain sympathy; I see the problems that my noble friends face. But I have to say that the combination of my body with the Broadcasting Standards Council would produce a body totally and absolutely incapable as it stands at the moment of doing what is required by these amendments.
The second amendment, which abolishes direct interest, would mean, if we extended impartiality, that it is highly likely that after the "Today" programme, particularly in the months preceding an election, we should have about 1,000 people ringing us. We should need the wisdom of the Almighty in providing a solution to the problems that would come before us. I claim a certain sacramental grace, but I doubt if I should have that! Imagine "The World at One" on Ireland. The whole of Ulster would ring us.
At the moment my organisation has a staff of seven, and I believe the combined body would have a staff of 25. The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, said that the Radio Authority managed on a staff of 30. I point out that it passes on all its complaints on unfairness and privacy to us, which we deal with very well.
If we are considering what is proposed by the noble Lord, he cannot merely be attached to the combination of these bodies. We are talking about another animal, something different. It may be that we need something different. We may need a national broadcasting commission. But I assure the House that the ideals would not be achieved by simply sticking it on to this combined body. It does not have the resources, or the skill--nor is it the right body to do what is needed.
Lord Renton: My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, perhaps he will allow me to intervene. He realises--does he not?--that the ITC has those very powers in relation to independent television companies which are licensed. Therefore why should not the same powers be used in relation to the British Broadcasting Corporation?
Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, I cannot speak with great authority about the Independent Television Commission. The noble Lord opposite could say more. All I can say is that it has used its powers very sparingly. The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, would say that it has not used them as effectively as he would
Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, I was much moved by the powerful intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, but I am in a difficulty because nevertheless I feel very strongly that I wish to support the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, particularly on the question of direct interest. Incidentally, before I go further, I should say that, as a former governor of the BBC who served under "Duke" Hussey, I have the greatest admiration for him and, I hope, some understanding of the difficult problems of governors.
Reverting to the question of direct interest, I am very much concerned not about current events but about the presentation of history and misrepresentation in the presentation of history. I find it difficult to contemplate that if we had, say, a totally biased programme on Churchill, only Churchill returning from the grave would be empowered to protest about it. That does not seem to me to be reasonable. I am very concerned that something should be done--I do not know what or how--that will enable people to complain about such things and have their interests listened to properly.
The BBC itself in its Charter provides for the treatment of controversial subjects with accuracy and impartiality. Misrepresentation and bias in the presentation of history do not square with that. Somehow, something has to be done to enable that situation to be corrected.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, I should declare an interest as I am deputy chairman of the Broadcasting Standards Council. Therefore, I followed the debate this evening with particular interest. It would be quite improper for me to speak for the Broadcasting Standards Council. I can simply give my personal views on some of the issues that have been raised so far. I followed with interest and a great deal of sympathy the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington. Perhaps I may apply to the question of dealing with matters of political controversy the kind of experience that I have had on the Broadcasting Standards Council. I hope it will be helpful.
Let me make one point first. Suppose the amendments were agreed and suppose that there was an argument as to whether there had been unfairness towards the Conservative Party or the Labour Party in the "Today" programme or "On the Record" or whatever. Would your Lordships trust me personally to be one of the members of that body which ought to examine whether the Conservative Party or the Labour Party have been fairly treated? I do not think that I would be qualified to do that. Frankly, I do not know where one would find people who would be qualified to do that on a body of that kind.
There is certainly another argument. Noble Lords talked about standards of taste and decency, excessive violence and the portrayal of sex on television. It is that which takes up a great deal of time--almost all the time--on the Broadcasting Standards Council.
So if one simply says that it is important to have a body which looks at taste and decency on television, the work of that body would be negated by throwing upon it the responsibility of dealing with political parties. I believe that it is neither practical nor sensible to impose those particular duties on a body which has not been designed for that purpose and which is very busy doing those other things that your Lordships say are so important that they need to come under scrutiny. I urge your Lordships not to throw such a new responsibility on the Broadcasting Standards Commission.
Let me say a few brief words about direct interest. I do not want to follow the argument about whether an historical figure has been well presented or not. Frankly, I do not see how one could find a body of people who could make a judgment. It would require Oxbridge historians to look into such matters. I do not see how people like me can possibly be qualified--I may have prejudices about Churchill, for or against him--to go into the historical balance of whether or not a programme had been portrayed properly.
One can put the issue into a more contemporary context. Suppose a body of that sort had to deal with the question of Nigeria and the Shell oil company; it is a mind boggling thought as to whether we should give a bunch of 15 people the responsibility for adjudicating on the way in which a specific television programme had been fair or unfair to the Shell oil company in its work in Nigeria. It is a daunting task to put before a body of that sort and would not work happily.
On a further aspect of direct interest, perhaps I can give, from personal experience of the Broadcasting Standards Council, an answer to the question as to why the Broadcasting Standards Council deals with complaints from people who may not have viewed the programme. We do not normally do that, but one obvious example will win support. A mother or father may complain that a programme shown early in the evening is unsuitable for children to watch. The child has been sent out of the room or off to bed so as not to be able to watch the programme. Sensibly, the parents will complain and say that it is not a proper programme to be shown at a time when children can be expected to watch without parental supervision or before the watershed. That is an example of where it is proper for the Broadcasting Standards Council to listen to a complaint made on behalf of somebody else. The mother or father may not have been offended, but they are concerned about the effect the programme could have on a young child. It is a reasonable proposition and we act accordingly.
It is also difficult for the Broadcasting Standards Council to be sure, when an adult writes a letter of complaint, that the adult actually saw the programme. The adult will say that there was a programme, quote the time and say that there was too much violence or bad language, or whatever. It is difficult for us to vet whether or not that individual actually saw the programme itself.
That is different from the situation of the Broadcasting Complaints Commission which, as the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, said, deals with individuals whose privacy has been breached or about whom an unfair programme has been made. By dealing with people who have a complaint to make, one can obtain evidence from them and weigh up the extent to which that complaint about breaches of privacy or unfairness is valid. That is a different process and an easy to understand process compared with looking at whether or not a historical figure or a historical event has been portrayed fairly or properly.
Therefore, whereas I understand the feeling or the mood which wants a body independent of the broadcasters--the new Broadcasting Standards Commission will be just that; it will have no interest in industry and be totally independent of it, as are the two component bodies of the BCC and BSC--we should not ask that new body to take on those responsibilities. It would simply not be appropriate for it to do so.
Viscount Astor: My Lords, I was concerned when I heard the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and that of my noble friend Lord Pilkington. They seem to suggest that the two bodies--the Broadcasting Standards Council and the Broadcasting Complaints Commission--are not suitable to take on the duties of the amendment. That is not a very good argument. Parliament should decide the law and those bodies should be made to carry it out. That is their purpose. At the moment, it seems to me that the cart is driving the horse.
The important point is that we are putting together two different bodies; one is concerned with complaints and the other with standards. They perform two very different functions. There is bound to be a certain tension when those two bodies are put together. The arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, have some merit. However, I am concerned about the word "political" in his amendment, and I have various other worries. But we have an opportunity to get this right, and we must get it right. I have not heard the right answer tonight. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will consider what has been said this evening, because there are certainly anxieties which can be addressed.
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