“Those employed in broadcasting need to be trusted to make important decisions”

We must exercise great care in a debate on broadcasting standards. There is a long tradition of politicians in chambers repeatedly having a go at broadcasters and broadcasting. We must be extremely careful regarding the way we proceed and not just for the reason that many politicians cannot afford to be critical of the media because the day might come when those in the media might turn the tables and have a go at them. I am more concerned about the issue of principle.

Despite what we might like to think, we politicians occupy a privileged position. What we say in the House is included in the Official Report, broadcast on television and published in the media, and people pay some attention to it.

What we say can and often is broadcast, or at least we hope it will be. Our words are also published in the media and people pay attention to them. That is a privilege we ought not to abuse or take lightly. We should resist the temptation, and I am not saying anybody has not done so during this debate, to grab the opportunity to engage in partisan or sometimes even personalised attacks on broadcasters, especially in the political field.

The word “liberal” has been repeated many millions of times in recent weeks in America – who is a liberal, who is more liberal, if Senator Obama is liberal and what does “liberal” mean anyway.

It is another of those words. It is often used by people who are not socialist but they have a good view about what they think socialism is or should be and they indulge themselves in that. To come back to the notion of liberal, Senator Walsh went on to speak about people who wish to shape public opinion on an issue. Often when that point is made, it is a case of somebody saying: “I do not like those people shaping opinions; I would prefer opinions to be shaped by me or somebody who holds my viewpoint on an issue.” It is not an objection on principle but an objection to the person doing the opinion shaping.

This issue struck me quite often during the debate on a slightly different subject. It is an analogy worth drawing, although not many Members might agree with me. During the debate on political censorship and section 31 of the Broadcasting Act, as a broadcaster I was strongly opposed to the section for reasons which Senator Walsh might describe as liberal in the sense that I believe in freedom of speech and freedom of expression. I do not believe broadcasting should ever be permitted to be used for incitement, but we have legislation to prevent that. However, in terms of the exclusion of views or the expression of views on radio and television, it is necessary to exercise considerable care that we do not leave ourselves open to the accusation that we are simply trying to exclude views with which we disagree from being broadcast.

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