|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Bragg: Perhaps I may rise to say that with the greatest of respect the noble Baroness has the wrong man. I am very sorry indeed, but I am afraid she will have to produce better evidence than that. There is no way in which I could possibly have said anything like that on any occasion. However, that is life. We get quoted and sometimes we get misquoted. I am quite happy to take both.
I shall be brief. I support the amendments of my noble friend Lord Puttnam. I have found common ground with many speakers, in particular my noble friend Lord Borrie and the noble Lords, Lord Thomson and Lord Crickhowell. The amendment anchors the Bill to public service and public interest. As I, and many other noble Lords, said at the beginning of the debates in Committee, that is where a lot of us start from and to where we want to return. It is the core of, we hope, this excellent Bill, which many of us are trying to make just a little bit better andto borrow an expression, correctly quotedto "tweak" it a little. That is what we seek to do. The amendments help that task massively.
I find myself in the strange position of disagreeing with my noble friend Lord Gordon. I think that plurality is different from diversity, but that diversity depends upon plurality. We can discuss that issue much further. We can play the matter either way, depending on the size of the groups concerned. We have seen that plurality can come in very small areas, such as the regionality which has been referred to. It can come from single owners because of the inevitable
Plurality is the key to this entire Bill and to our broadcasting. It is why we have the broadcasting we have. We must keep returning to that point. It is why the other day several of us strongly made the point that ITN should be allowed to be as powerful as other news servicesto have that kind of plurality which is also diversity. There is also the plurality in our constitution, over which many people have fought very hard for a long time. That should be reflected in the Bill, because, as has been said, we are talking about matters which affect our lives very deeply. They affect what influences our lives, what forms our lives and the way in which we challenge other people in our lives. The matter goes to the heart of our society and our daily exchange of views and opinions in that society. It is a difficult and cumbersome democratic society but one which is, many of us think, better than any other around and worth not only keeping but improving. The amendment would go some way to improving it.
I said that I would be brief, so I conclude on this note. If the amendment is adopted it will send a clear signal that the core of the Bill is public service; it is gathered around the way in which we have done broadcasting. We are pleased to have done it, and we wish to continue doing it.
Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve: I wish to speak briefly, not to plurality and diversity, on which Members of the Committee have been so eloquent, but to the proposed subsection (2C), which goes beyond plurality and diversity, requiring,
What individuals also need if they are citizens is a balanced and accurate presentation of news. We know from the regular MORI polls that there is a great differentiation between the way in which the public view newspapers and the way in which they view the broadcast media. The trust of newspaper journalists is generally very much lower. In fact, they are less trusted than the politicians. On the other hand, the television news is trusted much more than politicians.
The proposed clause would do a great deal to support democracy by securing not only the requirement that there be diversity and plurality in our media, but in particular that there be an obligation to provide balanced and accurate representation of the news, as is already required of broadcast media. That would be splendid.
We have not yet succeeded in writing into Clause 3 any public interest duty upon Ofcom. The proposed clause would go some way to remedying that deficiency. The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, spoke very eloquently to the insufficiencies of competition policy alone to deal with this matter. Sometimes there is a very good case for having a belt and braces. If competition law will not be sufficient to secure these other objectives, we would do well to accept the new clause.
The Lord Bishop of Chester: When the Committee discussed possible appeal procedures on earlier amendments, the inability of competition law to cover satisfactorily complaints about, for example, content was raised several times. Clearly, competition law offers strong protection for the consumer, but it cannot always protect the interests of the citizen.
A media plurality public interest test of the kind proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, would offer a similar degree of protection for the citizen and hence support Ofcom's principal duty to protect the interests of both the consumer and the citizen.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: I take up the point argued by Lord Gordon of Strathblane. It is interesting that he quoted "The Jewel in the Crown" as one of the finest examples of what commercial television has done. I have been discussing the main strands of the Bill with Sir Denis Forman, who, I am sure, the noble Lord will accept is one of the jewels in our broadcasting crown. He is fiercely in favour of this set of amendments, largely because he believes that the economic imperatives of media ownership these days tend to work inexorably more in the direction of profit than anything else, that there are tendencies in the mass media market place for standards to fall rather than rise, and that a great deal of leadership, courage and determination is required of owners and their chief executives to pull standards up.
As several speakers have said, this set of amendments supports that latter strand, balancing the brute economic one. It is a question of the cultural rather than the economic, of values rather than prices, or, as the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, and the right reverend Prelate said, of the citizen rather than the consumer.
Lord Harris of High Cross: I was hesitant to intervene and would normally persist in my disciplined silence. I was for 12 years an independent national director of The Times, which ensured that ears were closed against anything I said. But, behold, I stand before the Committee as a new man. I resigned from The Times and am now two years into recovery, so I can draw on my experience during that period.
I stand in awe in the presence of so many self-appointed experts and authorities on competition, taste, truth, balance and all the rest. If one is involved in a newspaper one is reading other newspapers and also watching the media. I find astounding and hilarious the notion that the fearsome hand of Rupert Murdoch reaches out from Australia, America, China or wherever he currently is to regulate, rule and influence. It is a complete myth. Even within The Times, his flagship paper, there is great diversity and variety of presentationinfuriating diversityon politics, art and all the other matters that papers deal with.
Therefore, I am very uneasy about the notion of a public interest clause to be administered in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, thinks appropriate. The public interest, I was taught as an economist at Cambridge some decades ago, is frequently a refuge for every kind of special interest that can present itself with a fine face by a well appointed PR machine.
I am particularly anxious that we do not get Ofcom embroiled in the matter. Ofcom has no experience or knowledge of newspapers. It brings together regulators in the electronic media. I have great confidence in the noble Lord, Lord Currie of Marylebone, who is building up his team partly of former regulators and partly of quite new brooms. But the notion that we can go on loading Ofcom with ever more detailed interventionist responsibilities is misguided. It is also unnecessary.
I am very depressed to find here so little confidence in the work of our variety of newspapers, which is far better than in America or on the Continent, based upon consumer preference, the consumers voting with their money and changing their minds when they wish to do so. We have a press to be proud of and should not go poking around all the time looking for some pretext to close in and tighten regulation.
Baroness Buscombe: I have listened to the very good debate on these amendments with considerable care. Although we really want to see our media ownership rules liberalised to encourage market entry and to promote competition and diversity of ownership, I see also the merit of having some form of public interest test to act as a backstop to ensure a plurality of voices and, as the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, said, voices sufficient to satisfy a variety of tastes and interests, with many speaking to many. The noble Lord referred to the remarks of the Minister Kim Howells in another place, who said we know what we do not want. But it is how we achieve that.
I also hear what the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, says when he talks about letting the genie out of the bottle. Liberalisation of ownership, which, I stress, we wholly support, may lead to consolidation, or ownership may venture in the opposite direction, and a thousand flowers may bloom. But, in any event, a plurality of voices, with many speaking to many, is what matters. It is about real choice for the viewer and the listener. That said, I am reluctant to support any move that adds a layer or a further barrier to entry to the market for commercial operators in this already extremely tough environment, particularly given the existence of an already very dominant playerthe BBC.
Members of the Committee have expressed concern as to whether competition rules would be sufficient. As the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, said, we are not talking about a can of beans; we are debating the future of a very precious, unpredictable commodity. It is no more important than any other industry, as my noble friend Lord Fowler said, but it is an unpredictable, living thing. I see what the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, is saying when he talks about future-proofing the Bill. That is a good point. I worry about the lifeline of the Bill.
I was fortunate enough to come into your Lordships' House to listen to a debate yesterday on a Motion to take note of the report of the Select Committee on Economic Affairs on globalisation. Although the Select Committee concluded that the opportunities created by globalisation outweigh the dangers, my ears also pricked up at the quote of Ken Tynan, who was concerned that we should not,
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|