British Broadcasting Corporation.

Part of Orders of the Day — Supply. – in the House of Commons on 29th April 1936.

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Major ASTOR:

As a member of the 1923 Sykes Committee on Broadcasting, and also a member of the Ullswater Committee, I should like to say a few words on some of the points in our report which are not controversial, and give my reasons for supporting the recommendations that I did support. Our main task was to recommend any alterations or improvements which we thought would better enable the British Broadcasting Corporation to carry out their function of giving the best possible service, the greatest possible measure of enjoyment and interest and benefit, to the greatest number of people. The first consideration, of course, is the listener. There is a very wide variety of listeners, a variety in taste and outlook and feelings. If the British Broadcasting authority is to achieve any measure of success surely it is of the first importance that it should be sure of a regular revenue, an income, that its policy and management should be impartial and independent of any sectional or commercial interests. The experience of the past few years and the evidence put before us certainly showed conclusively that the present constitution of the British Broadcasting Corporation is well suited to its purpose. We have referred respectfully in our report to the wisdom and foresight of our predecessors in the Crawford Committee, and it is fair to say that other countries regard our broadcasting system as a model.

We took the view that subject to all reasonable safeguards and subject to the ultimate control of Parliament, the broad- casting authorities should be given a fair measure of autonomy. Their first task is to keep in touch with the listeners through the medium of letters, advisory councils, and criticisms in the newspapers and in the House of Commons, and thus to maintain a fair balance and the highest possible standard in their programmes. Of course we examined carefully the criticisms which were brought before us. In some cases the criticisms came from both Hanks, and cancelled each other out. In others they were obviously made under a misapprehension. In other cases we were unable to get any evidence to substantiate or support the criticisms made. But, on the whole, and considering all the difficulties which confronted them I feel that the tribute expressed in our report, and which has been expressed elsewhere, to the work of the British Broadcasting Corporation is fully deserved. Like all human institutions they are not infallible but, at any rate, they show a readiness to accept suggestions and many which we have made have already been put into operation.

With only comparatively minor alterations we recommend a renewal of the present charter, except that in the matter of the licence fees we recommend that a greater proportion should go to the British Broadcasting Corporation. Owing to the rapidity with which their plant depreciates, the research work they have to carry out and the development of the Empire broadcasting services it was proved to us that their present income is not adequate to the maintenance of their programmes. It is only fair as a first charge, of course, that the Post Office should be repaid for expenses in connection with the collection of the licence fees and the detection and removal of interferences. In the case of a financial crisis which the country has been going through it is only fair that the British Broadcasting Corporation should pay their share towards the national recovery at the expense of having to curtail their own activities. In normal times I question whether the State has any moral right by an indirect form of taxation to any share in the licence fees, at any rate, until all reasonable needs of the British Broadcasting Corporation have been fully met. In the charter, the renewal of which we recommend, the constitution of the British Broadcasting Corporation is based on a revenue derived from licence fees and on a monopoly, subject to various safeguards and the control of Parliament.

What are the alternatives to this systems? In some countries the Government controls broadcasting; it is entirely in their hands. In other countries it is based on sponsored programmes and advertisements. In this country we find a very general and strong feeling against the broadcasting of advertisements, and one finds a similar feeling in countries which are suffering from broadcast advertisements. To allow the principle of revenue derived from advertisements would, I submit, be bringing in a consideration which we a re most anxious to avoid. It has been urged that in the interest of trade the broadcast of advertisements should be allowed. I recognise, we all recognise, the great pulling power that the broadcast of advertisement does have, but the public before now have shown that they do not regard that as the only consideration. They insist on a certain limitation and have rejected forms of advertising which have offended the ordinary individual's eyes or ears. There is, of course, an agreement between countries now that no country should broadcast, in the language of another, matter which is not acceptable to that country and contrary to its wishes. We know that two foreign stations ignore this agreement in the case of advertisements. Anyone can buy time from these stations and use it within wide limits. For instance, is there any check on undesirable or misleading advertisements through these stations?

It is true that a man with a receiving set gets both the advertisements and the programmes which go with them, but no one can regard that as an argument for opening the door wider for relay exchanges. These exchanges have been increasing to a great extent recently. They enable people to listen-in cheaply and they also cut out Interference. The question now at issue is whether these relay exchanges should remain in private hands or be taken over by the Post Office and the British Broadcasting Corporation respectively. I think this is an important matter. Perhaps on the technical side we can agree that the Post Office has the experience and the facilities to maintain existing lines, to lay new ones and to avoid duplication. I think that probably it is also true to say that the Post Office would be more likely than a private company to extend the system into a wider field in the country districts and beyond the localities of the dense population.