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Impartiality Rules (Television News)

Volume 514: debated on Monday 26 July 2010

1. What representations he has received on broadcasting rules on political impartiality in television news. (10670)

I thank the Secretary of State for that precise and illuminating reply. He will know that the British public value the political neutrality of TV news in this country, so will he confirm that the Government have no plans to change the rules governing political impartiality on TV news, and that they will expect broadcasters on digital terrestrial television to conform to those rules in the future?

I can confirm that we have no plans to change the impartiality rules, but we will take no lessons on impartiality from the Opposition. There are two people responsible for impartiality in British broadcasting: the head of Ofcom and the head of the BBC Trust. One is a former Labour councillor and the other is a former Labour special adviser.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the BBC also needs to remain neutral on international politics, and that, if it is to be believed about its position on Israel, it needs to publish as a matter of urgency the internal report that it commissioned on its apparent anti-Israel bias?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question, and he is absolutely right that impartiality needs to apply across the board. I am well aware of his concerns about the issues surrounding the publication of the independent report into the BBC’s coverage of Israel, and I am very happy to raise those issues with the BBC Trust if he would like to supply me with any new information that he has about them.

I agree entirely with the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Paul Farrelly), but there is another matter on which news broadcasts are not neutral: they have a degree of imbalance on matters relating to the European Union. Will the Secretary of State seek to ensure that in future broadcasters reflect the nation’s view on Europe, not their view?

I very much welcome the hon. Gentleman’s question. The BBC Trust recognised in a report that it published, entitled “From Seesaw to Wagon Wheel: Safeguarding Impartiality in the 21st Century”, that the BBC was behind public opinion on issues such as Europe and immigration, and the BBC recognises that it must ensure that that does not happen again. However, as Culture Secretary I have to be very careful not to direct the BBC in any way editorially, because in a free country that is a beacon for democracy it is very important that the national broadcaster be independent of the Government. However, that is not to say that the hon. Gentleman’s point should not be addressed in the appropriate way.