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Broadcasting

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 13th May 1965.

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Photo of Mr Ian Orr-Ewing Mr Ian Orr-Ewing , Hendon North 12:00 am, 13th May 1965

I make this point only because the whole purpose of a small broadcasting station is to do it quickly and cheaply. It is the equivalent of a cyclostyle press. I do not mind if the quality is not very good or whether it broadcasts for only five hours a day. Five hours is more than enough. If those running the station can derive a living from it and entertain people and arouse enough local interest for perhaps two hours during the mornings and evenings and an hour at lunchtime, why should they be denied the right to do it?

I agree with all that the hon. Member for Faversham said about the opportunities which exist for local sound radio stations. I do not think that we should assume that there is room for only one in any town. I was recently in Boston, where there are seven local broadcasting stations. I know that that is a large town, but we should not assume that there is room for only one station in a town and plan on that basis.

Speaking as someone who represents a dormitory area, I should like to mention another respect in which a local broadcasting station can be of tremendous value. I refer to the broadcasting of traffic information morning and evening. In Boston a helicopter could hover over our heads to which we listened all the way. We could hear perhaps that there had been a smash at a certain bridge and that all traffic was asked to divert this way or that. This is essentially a local matter. Timing is important. It is no good feeding such information back to the B.B.C., because it is of interest only to the local community.

Another reason why I am in favour of the local stations, apart from my general philosophy as to why people should be allowed to entertain people, is the potential in the export market. Clearly under-developed countries can afford this type of equipment. For television, the cost of the initial transmitting equipment and the receivers may be far beyond the reach of most under-developed countries, but the cost of transistor receivers and simple local broadcasting and transmitting equipment is not beyond their reach.

I come to the question of who is to control the second I.T.A. channel? Who is to oversee it? I am not talking in terms of censorship. Who is to administer it, as the I.T.A. tries to do now with the present contractors? The way to do it is to broaden the I.T.A. so that it becomes a Broadcasting Authority. It would then have a general oversight over the standards of the B.B.C., of the I.T.A. and of local broadcasting stations. If people say that this is too near censorship, I would point out that we have long accepted the British Board of Film Censors which we do not find undesirable and which most of us support. Most countries have some sort of broadcasting authority.

This would also have the tremendous merit to which reference was made earlier that it would decentralise from the responsibility of the Postmaster-General any Questions in the House concerning particular programmes, bias or slant. The Postmaster-General should be very careful before he interferes. This is the sort of function which could be properly carried out by a broadcasting authority on the lines which I have suggested.

Up to now the Postmaster-General has been the authority on powers, wavelengths, the allocation of time and hours. Some of these responsibilities could also be decentralised to the broadcasting authority.

On the use of wavelengths, the Post Office is a tremendous user of the radio spectrum. It has a vested interest in it. I do not believe that it is in the long-term interest, or making the optimum use of wavelengths, that they should be concentrated in the hands of someone who is a very considerable user. It might well be that we should set up something like the Federal Communications Commission which looks after these matters in the United States. This is exactly the solution which was recommended in the Beveridge Report, which constituted a very much more thorough examination of broadcasting problems than the more recent Pilkington Report.

May I summarise what I have said? I believe that the time has come to get on with the second channel in commercial television. It would be wrong to encourage the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. to spend money in duplicating on u.h.f. the programmes which exist on bands 1 and 3. I support the development of local broadcasting, because I believe that it could be of service to the people. Lastly, we should broaden the I.T.A. so that it has a general oversight over all broadcasting in this country and to make sure that the standards of all the authorities are roughly equal and fair.