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Monday, September 21, 2020
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Home BBC Watch Encourage these backbenchers to bring the BBC to heel

Encourage these backbenchers to bring the BBC to heel

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MEMBERS of Parliament can also be described as lawmakers. However the actual lawmakers are usually those MPs who are in the government. There is an opportunity for backbenchers on either side to introduce legislation in the form of Private Members’ Bills (PMB). Some have been very influential. It was David Steel’s PMB that legalised abortion in the UK after it was adopted by Harold Wilson’s government in 1967. Neither of Labour’s 1964 or 1966 manifestos explicitly mentioned this as a policy pledge. Had abortion been included in Labour’s promises, it is possible Alec Douglas-Home and the Conservatives could have won in 1964. 

The repeal of Section 28, a clause in the 1988 Local Government Act forbidding local authorities to promote homosexuality as somehow better than heterosexuality, was effected in England and Wales in 2003 only after backbenchers introduced an amendment which was supported by the Blair government. Repealing Section 28 was not mentioned in either of the 1997 or 2001 Labour election manifestos. Labour had tried to repeal Section 28 in 2000, but this had been rejected by the House of Lords, and this was even after all but 98 of the hereditary peers had been permanently ejected from the legislative process.

So backbenchers can make law, especially when backed by the government. However, most PMBs fall by the wayside, usually because of opposition by the government.

There are three PMBs that might be of interest to readers. 

British Broadcasting Corporation (Oversight) Bill 

This has been proposed by Peter Bone, who describes it as ‘a Bill to create an independent body to monitor broadcasting impartiality at the British Broadcasting Corporation’. It was introduced on February 10 and is due for a second reading on November 27, a Friday. The text has not been finalised, but would be available for the second reading.

BBC Licence Fee (Civil Penalty) Bill 

This has been proposed by Sir Christopher Chope and is ‘a Bill to make provision to decriminalise the non-payment of the BBC licence fee’. The second reading is on November 13, also a Friday. As above, the text is currently not available.

Public Service Broadcasters (Privatisation) Bill 

Also introduced by Sir Christopher, this is ‘a Bill to make provision for the privatisation of the British Broadcasting Corporation and Channel 4’. Since Sir Christopher is also calling for the decriminalisation of the licence fee, he seems to be hedging his bets here. The second reading is also set for November 13.

Fridays are when MPs are usually on their way back to their constituencies, and unless there is a crisis, the Commons does not sit for very long. If readers are interested in seeing these Bills progress, it may be possible for them to lobby their MP either by email or perhaps in person on the day of the second reading. Certainly during this current crisis and the recent demonstrations neither state broadcaster has covered itself in glory. I leave it to the reader’s imagination about how either broadcaster will dramatise the events of this year in a programme that will probably go out in late 2023 or early 2024. There is a definite genre of political dramas designed to focus the attention of floating voters with 12 months of an election.

For example Channel 4’s Coalition, broadcast slightly over one month before the 2015 general election, tried to remind viewers of Andy Coulson’s employment as David Cameron’s press secretary before his conviction and imprisonment on phone hacking charges, as well as ramming home the point that Nick Clegg had kept David Cameron in office. The actor playing Clegg was strangely cast as he was a relatively slight man who looked like a bookie. Channel 4 has continuing form here. Its dramatisation of the Leave campaign focused on Dominic Cummings and suggested that his strategy of using social media targeting voters via sophisticated algorithms was somehow sinister when it was actually very clever.

Labour often blame the news media when they lose a general election, as if voters are mere robots to be programmed rather than living breathing individuals capable of critical thought. However the creative media from our state broadcasters are blatantly Left-wing and collectivist in their outlook. This is due to the cushioning effect of a regressive household tax, if not the comfort of state ownership for Channel 4. If either broadcaster had to compete properly, they would probably stop imposing ideology and start cultivating viewers according to their taste, rather than that of television producers and executives. The first step to do this would be for these state broadcasters to face financial reality, and these parliamentary Bills could be a first step. It is up to readers to remind their MP of their opinion on this matter. MPs do not necessarily watch much telly and may need to be told what is going on.

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Paul T Horgan
Paul T Horgan works in the IT Sector. He lives in Berkshire.

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