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Lord Fowler: Having slightly disagreed with the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, on his previous intervention, I shall put that right immediately by agreeing strongly with his proposal in this amendment. If we accept the concept of a hierarchy of duties to assist the regulator, it seems that, as the noble Lord, Lord McNally, said, one of the most fundamental is to uphold the principles of public service broadcasting. That is a fundamental value that we should hold dear.
That is something we will want Ofcom to continue to value. For once public service broadcasting is not, in the immortal words of my noble friend Lord Peyton, "a mild, unarguable piety"; its remit is set out in great detail in Clause 260. The only difficulty, as my noble friend Lord Crickhowell said, is that it comes very late in the Bill. It seems that whatever else the amendment does, it puts public service broadcasting at the beginning of the Bill and states the value that we place on it. That is fundamentally important.
Public service broadcasting is not just a pseudonym for the BBC. The BBC does uphold those principles, but so do other television broadcasters. One might say that those principles are, and should remain, the characteristics of British broadcasting. That is my view. The principles are fundamental values: the dissemination of information; the provision of education and entertainment; the broadcast of cultural activity in the United Kingdom; and what I perhaps value above all as an ex-journalist, comprehensive and authoritative coverage of news and current affairs with an overarching provision within the legislation that such broadcasting should be impartial.
It seems that that is what we should be aiming to achieve. We do not always do it, but those are the values we seek after. It is important that we have objective reporting. We do not try to force some editorial line down the throats of the public. We set out the facts and the position as best it can be seen and allow the public to make up their minds on that presentation. There has been some criticism of the coverage of the Iraq warparticularly that of the
I speak as a strong supporter of the action taken. But I do not want my news accompanied by flags waving in the corner of the screen, let alone background music, which was the case in one or two other broadcasts. There is a contrast between news coverage or objective reporting and propaganda. We should be very clear on the distinction and very protective of our traditions in that regard. One can get the balance wrong, but that should not prevent us aiming for such a balance.
I strongly support the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, and the other comments made. We would be fools to downplay the principles of public service broadcasting in this country. It is worth fighting for. We should put it at the top of the page as one of the principal aims of any government with any sense in this country.
Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: I am the third participant in Committee to confess that I was not present at Second Reading. This is therefore my opening salvo. The noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, said that he had been at a funeral. My noble friend Lord Peyton, like the 18th century Margrave of Baden, said that by his absence he was doing a service to your Lordships' House.
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My noble friend has entirely misheard or misunderstood me and does me great injustice. I thought that I made perfectly clear that I was present at Second Reading, but, unlike other noble Lords, in the capacity of a learner who wishes to increase his understanding.
Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: I am most grateful to my noble friend for his intervention. I delete the reference to the Margrave of Baden, who was absent and necessarily also silent. My noble friend was clearly silent. He must forgive me, as I was not in the House, and, therefore, could not have known that he was present in that capacity.
Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: I was absent. I offer an apology to my noble friend Lord Peyton. Due to a particular application of Murphy's Law, whenever the Department for Culture, Media and Sport wishes to bring forward a Bill for Second Reading in this House, the business managers always schedule the debate for a time when I am attending a
While my noble friend Lord Peyton was doing a service to noble Lords by remaining silent, I was in Kilkenny and Tipperary doing a service to myself. I learnt for the first time that, in another application of Murphy's Law, when in 1495 one of my direct ancestors burnt down the cathedral on the Rock of Cashel, his explanation to King Henry VII was that he had been misinformed that the archbishop was inside it.
I speak from an extremity of the House, topographically rather than politically. It may be due to that topographical quirk that I happen to be personally nearest the grave of Lord Reith. As someone concerned to remain audible to the Committee, if we were not going to discuss public service broadcasting until Clause 260, the noise of Lord Reith turning in his grave would become extremely trying to Members as far from the main business of the Committee as I am. Therefore, I support the noble Lord, Lord Phillips. I particularly congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, whose rearrangement of a particular parenthesis was exceptionally helpful and would have been approved of by Lord Reith, for whom I am temporarily speaking .
For the remaining stages of the Bill, I have no interest to declare. But I was twice resident in the United States for a total of nearly four years. I recall very vividly how much the public sector broadcasting channel meant to exiles from this land in the United States.
As I recall, in a recent poll on what this country means abroad, the largest percentage13 per centsaid that it was represented by British broadcasting. There is no question that the BBC plays a significant part in that reputation being enjoyed across the world. Its role is superior to anything else, including, obviously, the influence of the parliamentary tradition.
For understandable reasons, American Bills have double-barrelled names. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, implied that the Munroe doctrine was becoming the Jowell-Munroe doctrine. The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, said that it was a British Bill rather than an American one. I join the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, and his other supporters in hoping that we can have the reference to public service broadcasting included in the Bill at the earliest opportunity and prove that it is British rather than American.
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: I am sure that noble Lords do not wish me to probe at any depth or to seek to penetrate the murky ancestral past of my noble friend. But, as the debate continues, I feel that my status as someone wishing to gain understanding rather than to impart it is quite safe and almost unique in the Committee. Everybody else has so much knowledge.
I echo the words addressed to the noble Baroness by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, about not saying "No, no, no" throughout. If she stuck to that negative attitudeI am sure that she will notit might provoke even reasonable, patient people like me to protest. There is a deplorable tendency, once a Bill is launched, for the Minister sponsoring itthe noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, knows this very wellto develop a maternal love for it. They will not have anybody peeping into the perambulator and saying, "What a hideous baby".
The Lord Bishop of Manchester: I express great sympathy for the points made about public service broadcasting and its importance. I have made similar comments in earlier debates on the subject. We must never take public service broadcasting for granted in this country. It is good to see in this Bill that this is the first government to try to define public service broadcasting. I look forward to the more detailed debates on that later. For the moment, I support what has been said about the need at the very beginning to strengthen our definitions, statements and the order regarding public service broadcasting.
I also want to express sympathy with the concerns voiced today by the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam. I am sure that noble Lords will agree with me in the hope that, as Committee stage develops, the very helpful and wise interventions made by the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, are not always responded to in a negative way from the Government Front Bench.
Perhaps I may turn briefly to Amendments Nos. 7 and 8, to which the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, has referred. These amendments seem to me to restore what must have been intended by the Government all along. Given that there are quality thresholds for the granting of broadcasting licences, legislation ought not to open the door to the suggestion that achieving the necessary quality is a question of average performance or that the better programmes in some way make up for the less adequate ones.
Quality is a subjective word, but one which regulators have had no difficulty in embracing in the past. I suggest that it is logical for the range of programmes taken as a whole to appeal to a variety of tastes and interests which are represented in a great variety of the populace, whereas it does not seem so logical for quality to be determined by an average. In any case, where would this stop? Would the appearance of programmes judged to have reached
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