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cameras were set up across the street in Parliament Square where Members of Parliament were questioned by reporters in order to keep the eager public informed on what was being said in the House. Shortly thereafter, Robin Day asserted that "no incident has done more to strengthen the case for televising Parliament.”13
The ceremonial opening of Parliament in the House of Lords in November 1964 was again televised, but the new Labour Government, like the previous Conservative Governments, felt that since there did not seem to be any evidence of widespread support for the idea, the Government did not intend to take any initiative.
Thus, it was through a private member's bill that the issue finally was brought to the floor of the House. On May 28, 1965, T. L. Iremonger moved:
That this House, believing that the maximum involvement of a responsible people in the processes of Parliamentary government is a sure guarantee of liberty, welcomes the interest shown in political issues raised in television studio confrontations in which Members elected to this House take part, but perceives a danger in thereby persistently diverting public attention from debates in this House to such fortuitous substitutes, and, therefore, is now firmly of the opinion that this House would more worthily fulfill its role as the supreme forum of the nation if its actual proceedings could, after appropriate experiments and by methods calculated not to impair its unique atmosphere, be projected directly into the homes of the people on their television screens. 14
A five-hour debate ensued, but the motion was withdrawn when the Leader of the House of Commons promised that the Government would give time for future debate after a Select Committee, which was studying the issue, had submitted its report.15
1966: Key Decisions The year 1966 proved to be a significant year regarding the televising of parliamentary proceedings. It was estimated that the television coverage of the state opening of Parliament on April 21 was seen in 1,850,000 homes.16 For the first time, this coverage included shots of the House of Commons. The Times correspondent reported: "It was an historic moment. For the first time in its 701 years the House had opened its doors to press and television cameramen for the preliminaries to the state opening."17
ATTEMPTS TO TELEVISE PARLIAMENT
On May 6 the House of Commons set up a Select Committee of eleven members, under the chairmanship of Tom Driberg, to carry on the work of the earlier Select Committee on Broadcasting of Proceedings (which in turn had continued the work of the Select Committee on Publications and Debates), but now instructed to broaden their scope to include a study of filming and photographing of proceedings.18 After many meetings and after collecting much oral and written evidence, the Committee published its First Report in August 1966, which recommended: “An experiment on closed circuits, in sound and vision, should be conducted for Members of Parliament only. After such an experiment the House should be invited to decide whether or not permanent arrangements for broadcasting should be made. 19 The Committee's report expressed the opinion that “a proposal to hold ... experiments would be likely to meet with strong support in the House."20 Other knowledgeable observers also predicted acceptance.21 The Committee's report was debated on November 24, but on a free vote, 22 the Committee's recommendation was narrowly defeated, 131 to 130.23 The main reasons for the defeat seem to be that a large number of MPs, assuming it would pass with no difficulty, either were not at the debate or left before the vote was taken, and the Government spokesman gave poor leadership in the debate.24
In the meantime, the House of Lords had been moving ahead with the issue. On June 15, 1966, they voted 56 to 31 to engage in an experimental period of televising their proceedings.25 Two months earlier the Earl of Longford, Leader of the House of Lords, had given strong impetus for focusing on the television issue when he
... the popular Press appears to be unaware of our importance. I am afraid that, whatever particular journalists may attempt to achieve, we have very little to thank them for. ... I am convinced that we in the House of Lords in modern conditions shall not make an impact on the nation appropriate to our talents until this House is well and truly televised; and not just on ceremonial and public occasions, but as a matter of course. ... I believe that this is the only way in which the masses, the general public, will broadly take an interest in what we are doing. 26
During May the political correspondent of the Times had written:
[The House of Lords] ... were first to provide a press gallery, first to introduce microphones, and more recently were first to begin
experiments with tape recorders as aids to the official Hansard reports. . . . There is no doubt that the spirit of innovation is at least as strong in the Lords today as it is in the Commons. In the last few years, with the increase in the number of life peers, there has grown up a positive hankering among the peers to have their work reported and better understood, and they betray none of the nervousness about television intrusion that is to be found among some senior
members of the Commons.27 In July a Select Committee of fifteen was appointed to explore how best to implement the decision to experiment with televising of proceedings.28
Thus, the year 1966 witnessed some significant decisions, and the issue became more publicized. Letters pro and con began to trickle in to newspaper editors, 29 and the Times saw fit to begin their clipping file on the issue.
1968 Experiments The Select Committee of the House of Lords held hearings in January 1967, and in March their report was accepted.30 It laid plans for an experiment to take place in early 1968, and also called for the extension of the Committee's jurisdiction to include sound broadcasting as well as television. Additional steps were taken in November through January to carry forward the plans for experimentation,31 which began on Monday, February 5, 1968. The first day was a "dry run” for technicians to secure command of all necessary mechanics involved. The next three days, with approximately 70 to 150 peers present, were the “take” for the experiment. Norman Shrapnel of The Guardian vividly described the historic first day's activities:
... some of them (the Lords) thought it about the most significant day in Parliament since Mr. Hansard first sharpened his impertinent pencil, and perhaps they were right. ... Their lordships—servants of progress and ever conscious of the need to be a jump ahead of the Commons which is so determined to reform them-pretended not to notice the bright lights and the enormous cameras shooting at them from all angles. ... The Lords were . . . superbly unaware of the 30 new lamps that had unaccountably slipped in among the 10 chandeliers, but several happened to be wearing dark glasses, and one looked like a veteran tennis star with an enormous eye shield. . . . Far from being driven kicking and screaming into the modern age by the other place (the House of Commons), the brontosaurus had led the way. It was on the air.32
In equipped viewing areas in the Palace of Westminster, Peers, Members of the House of Commons, and the press could observe the televised proceedings. On Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of the following week (February 13-15) complete, thirty-minute, tenminute, and five-minute edited summaries were made available. The political correspondent of the Times, David Wood, commented on the result:
For what seemed minutes on end we watched one old boy after another with his head well down over his notes, like a golfer driving off from the tee, going through a monologue as though he had a Dictaphone for audience. One soon felt sure that any parliamentary Hansard in extenso would need speakers to change their style to address the outside audience, rather than their audience in the Chamber, much as speakers nowadays do at party conferences. Is that what Parliament wants? The contrast between most backbench speakers and the highly professional commentators who did the links was sharp, and encouraged a familiar feeling that the commentators ought to be made life peers in the next list because they are obviously much abler at the business of government than those who serve. That is to say no more than that those who go on telesion will always be judged by the medium's own criteria.33
In the meantime, the House of Commons had been making arrangements for recording their proceedings in sound. On December 11, 1967, after a two-hour debate, the House of Commons approved “the making of sound recordings of its proceedings for an experimental period for the purpose of providing for Members specimen programmes."34 House Leader Richard Crossman suggested this experiment with sound broadcasting alone for “not merely its merits for mass communication but its merits from the point of view of historical record, since, surely, a sound version of our proceedings is worth recording and keeping for ourselves, even if we decide not to publish it to the world.”35 This represents an interesting judgment on Crossman's part and an important shift of emphasis: to keep an historical record rather than educate the populace, which was the main premise in previous discussions on sight and sound combined. Opponents felt that this was merely the old “foot-in-the-door” strategy—a subtle way to get television in by first giving entry only to sound. Furthermore, opponents still felt that there was no strong desire coming from Members of Parliament or the public, but that the impetus was mainly from mass-communication industry people. 36 Also, the cost, although admittedly very small compared with tele
vision, was still great enough to argue against the experiment in sound. The debate was also of particular interest, for it was the first occasion for summarizing comparative advantages of sound over television.
The experiment in sound began on April 23, 1968, and continued for four weeks.37 This closed circuit radio experiment involved the addition of only one microphone, and cost only about $10,000, almost all of which could be covered by BBC. (The cost of television experimentation and of permanent sound and sight coverage, if it came to that, would have to be borne by the taxpayers through action by the House of Commons.) Some standing committee sessions were also recorded. But the Government had no plans at that time to explore further the possibility of a television experiment. 38
Late in 1968 the House of Commons hesitated to go further with radio coverage. In November a three-man subcommittee of the Services Committee,39 after studying the spring experiment, recommended that an edited sound broadcast of Commons proceedings (approximately 28 minutes to be carried on BBC Radio 4 at 11 PM) should be undertaken and that on special parliamentary occasions, live and continuous broadcasting could be offered.40 But in December the Services Committee voted 9 to 2 to reject the subcommittee's recommendation because "present financial circumstances preclude any recommendation for expenditure on a project which is known to be controversial."41 The Committee did recommend, however, to explore further the possibility of some modified, less expensive experiment.
In the House of Lords consideration of television moved ahead, but not very rapidly. After studying the February 1968 experiment, the Select Committee on Broadcasting published its report in June, 42 but the House of Lords did not debate the experiment until March 20, 1969.43 The debate focused on feasibility, not desirability. It seemed apparent that three main problems needed to be resolved before any more progress could be made: (1) the legal aspects of defamation and Parliamentary Privilege had to be clarified, (2) the House of Commons had to change its mind because the Lords could not go it alone, and (3) technical advances had to be made (especially some control of the bright lights needed for color television) in order to make the physical conditions acceptable.