Broadcasting of Parliament (Annual Review)

– in the House of Commons at 3:32 pm on 15th March 1983.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Dr Edmund Marshall Dr Edmund Marshall , Goole 3:32 pm, 15th March 1983

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide for the annual review of arrangements for the broadcasting of parliamentary proceedings. When the present arrangements for sound broadcasting of the House were agreed in 1976 they had my support. While I could see difficulties arising from those arrangements, I believed that such difficulties should be put to the test of experience. If they proved to be real, we could apply our mind to them.

One potential difficulty that gave concern to many hon. Members centred on the question of editorial control of parliamentary broadcasting and whether the tapes of our proceedings would be subject to excessive cutting with extracts interspersed with the chatty comments of the radio reporters. The anxiety was that parliamentary broadcasting would be used by broadcasters for their own ends and that the House would lose control of the way in which its proceedings were being presented at large.

It seems to me that that anxiety has been justified by the changes that were brought about last autumn in the format of "Yesterday in Parliament" on BBC radio each morning. The old format was factual and objective, giving the listener a clear impression of what had happened in Parliament on the previous day, showing that our prime function is not to entertain but to deliberate on the serious issues in the life of the nation. But the new format of "Yesterday in Parliament" is deliberately angled to be entertaining, with a jazzing-up of the presentation by a lively commentary.

The reason given by the BBC for the change is simply that people switched off when the old style of programme came on. It is wrong that the broadcasting of our proceedings should be determined by the size of the audience. Parliament must not become the pawn of the audience researchers and ratings. Therefore, the House should remind the broadcasters that the ultimate control of the broadcasting of our proceedings is in our hands, not theirs.

To support that basic principle, I quote from page 79 of "Erskine May": no doubt can exist that if either House desire to withhold their proceedings from the public, it is within the strictest limits of their jurisdiction to do so, and to punish any violation of their orders". Although I do not wish to withhold our proceedings from the public, broadcasters need to be reminded of the correct position as it is described in "Erskine May".

My Bill provides for the introduction of formal machinery for a definite annual review of parliamentary broadcasting. A report would come to the House each year on whether any changes in the arrangements are desirable. That would help to keep the broadcasters on their toes and reassert the sovereignty of the House in all matters relating to its proceedings.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Dr. Edmund Marshall, Mr. Jack Dormand, Mr. A. J. Beith, Mr. Stephen Hastings, Mr. James Molyneaux, Mr. Tim Rathbone, Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas and Mr. Phillip Whitehead.