Cutting communications?

Baroness Deech

There was a great debate in the Lords today on the governance of the BBC.  It was initiated by Lord Inglewood, chair of the Select Committee on Communications.  I am very fortunate to be a member, fortunate because there are relatively few committees and many peers would like to participate, and fortunate because there are few issues as vital and topical right now as Communications.  The debate drew attention to the 2011 Report of the Select Committee on BBC Governance and Regulation, which made recommendations about internal and external aspects of the BBC and how it is scrutinised.  Not unexpectedly, the debate included contributions from the many peers who have specialist knowledge of the BBC and broadcasting – journalists, broadcasters, former Governors, Chairmen and Director-Generals.

One of the most interesting and controversial recommendations of the Report was that the way the BBC handles complaints from its audience should be clarified, speeded up and more objective.  Some thought that all complaints should ultimately be settled by OFCOM, others that the last word should lie with an external Ombudsman (most public services and industries today have an Ombudsman to give an impartial ruling on complaints). The BBC response to this recommendation was unenthusiastic, but it is now moving towards a review of complaints handling.

The Select Committee on Communications was set up by the House in 2006 and its establishment was, to quote Lord Fowler, “a triumphant piece of good judgment by the House, for we are now living through the most tumultuous period in media history in modern memory.” Now and in the next few years we are all involved with the issues of phone hacking, the Leveson Inquiry, injunctions, digital technology, social media, broadband, plurality of media ownership, the freedom of journalists to report in war zones (remembering the terrible death of Marie Colvin in Syria), a big new Communications Bill and the renewal of the BBC Charter.  Never was it more important to have a Lords Committee examining these matters and questioning the government about them.  Yet rumours abound that the Communications Committee is to be wound up and replaced by a series of ad hoc committees looking at media issues.  This would be a failure of responsibility and a diminution of democracy.  Ad hoc committees would be too much under government control, for the ministers would choose the topics, whereas the Select Committee chooses its own subjects for survey.  They would also lose the continuity, collective memory and expertise of the staff and the Committee members.  Nor would such a move save money.  It should be recalled that Select Committees  belong to the House, not to the Government.  I can think of no innocent reason for wanting to disband the Committee, and there will be a terrific fight if anyone tries to.

5 comments for “Cutting communications?

  1. MilesJSD
    02/03/2012 at 9:57 am

    You report that
    “the way the BBC handles complaints from its audience should be clarified, speeded-up, and made more objective”


    How about, not just the BBC but every public-serving instrumentality (including the Establishment, the Judiciary, the two Houses, and every Civil-Service branch) publishing and verbatimly-submitting-upwards, into disinterested scrutiny and consideration processes,
    every life-experience, question, and submission raised by any individual member of “the Public”, through any medium whatsoever, including through this Blog-Site?

    e.g. all the tens of thousands of well-formed matters and questions actually submitted by seriously self-sacrificing people, by both voice and writing, to the BBC’s ‘democratic “debates”‘ and ‘question-times’ ,
    that “there is no time for”
    (except to pay staff
    [and mark well please to pay them multiple-human-livings-each]
    to either ‘inside-trade’ or ‘incinerate’ all those real-life democratic-documents from ‘the public’) ?
    You fail us, baroness: we need you to define “complaints” that your topic narrowly limits us to.
    (In many departments an ordinary member of the public has little chance of communicating,
    simply because the only avenue is the Complaints one, which is so wrapped up in defensively closed bureaucratic-skills and ‘political-correctnesses’ that it is communication-hostile)

    and we need you to yourself answer the scrutiny question
    “why are you not including the above wasteful suppression of every citizen’s other raised-matters” ?
    (There is more, oh so much more;
    so to help the generally honest-to-God democratic-citizen, and the would-be honest peer, an “encyclopedia” of “spin-doctoring, political-correctnesses, brazen-faced-lies” is affordable
    “Do They Think You Are Stupid ?”
    (by Baggini; try via Amazon).

  2. Innocent Abroad
    02/03/2012 at 11:30 am

    Select Committees may indeed belong to Parliament rather than Government or even Government political parties, but it is the latter who need media magnates to support them at General Elections.

    How would you know, Lady Deech, who to vote for in a local or Euro-election if it were not for our wonderful Press?

  3. Gareth Howell
    02/03/2012 at 5:23 pm

    if it were not for our wonderful Press?

    Equally I do not share the Baroness’ enthusiasm for a propaganda machine of no uncertain proportions.

    I do enjoy the Radio 3
    output very much, and its message board from my first championship poem to the last letter of its day, but 99% of the remaining output
    is cheap, nasty,vulgar and a complete waste of time.

    Politicians’ interest can only be to ensure that their own selfish interests,and opinions, whether of business, church,synagogue,mosque or citadel,prevail.

    That is nothing to be proud of.

  4. maude elwes
    04/03/2012 at 7:25 am

    The last line of Baroness Deech’s opening thread says it all. ‘A terrific fight if anyone tries to.’

    These terrifc fights lead nowhere, as, the ‘Lords’ have no teeth. The Commons trample over opinion or diaapproval with a steamroller. They care not who, what or why an argument is brought.

    The Prime Minister in this ‘democracy’ has too much power. Blair and Brown being fine examples of that.

    And the BBC is simply a propaganda tool of government. It is biased, misleading and also deaf, dumb and blind to anything other than the agenda of the day.

    All the discussion and commitees in the universe cannot change that, unless, first, a change in intent becomes the paramount objective.

    • MilesJSD
      06/03/2012 at 2:54 pm

      Your “change of intent” needs to specify “improvement; advance; forwards”

      otherwise it’ll Dither, allow “backwards” or “closing-ranks-against”,
      like the “Climate ‘Change'” weasel-whitewashing-words still do.

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