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Post-1968 Developments During 1969 the question of whether or not select committees of the Commons should be televised received renewed attention, due to experiences of the Select Committee on Race Relations and Immigration. The committee held hearings early in the year in various towns around the country in its endeavor to secure information on the problem of nonwhite children dropping out of school.44 Television followed the committee but had to rely on interviews with committee members and witnesses outside the committee room or in other settings, which proved to be unsatisfactory for a variety of reasons.45 Somewhat irked that the leadership of the Commons did not permit their sessions to be televised, the 16-member committee (composed of both pro- and anti-television people) “agreed unanimously that it would be worth trying an experiment involving the televising of the proceedings of Select Committees meeting outside the House."46
On Friday, November 21, 1969, the House of Commons held a five-hour debate on Robert Sheldon's private-member's bill calling for the Commons to experiment with television. The passage of three years since the historic debate of November 24, 1966, the experience of the Commons with their sound experiment, and the experience of the Lords with television, of course added some new information and insights, but essentially the major issues (to be summarized below) were still the same. The motion, however, did not pass.47
In December, 1969, a joint committee of both Houses which had been studying the legal aspects, recommended that if there were audio-visual coverage of debates, the media should be given absolute privilege as is now given to members of Parliament. This goes beyond the qualified protection given the mass media in the Defamation Act of 1952.48
The issue of televising debates faded away as attention focused on the 1970 election. But the televising in color) of the ceremonial opening of the new Parliament on July 2, 1970,49 was a reminder of the appeal of the television medium, especially in color. Issues of great magnitude such as the turmoil in Northern Ireland and the entry into the European Common Market have renewed with greater vigor the claim that parliamentary debates should be televised to the
public. In November 1971, over 40 MPs requested a debate on experimentally televising debates.50 What will result is still unknown.
Comment: The Issues Involved Many significant issues are involved for Britain—and they apply in varying degrees in the United States as well.
Feasibility: By now it is quite clear that the mechanical apparatus necessary to record in sound and vision can be installed and operated without disrupting proceedings. It is generally conceded (although many are still not convinced) that any edited program of the televised proceedings (a late evening half-hour edited version is the form most commonly spoken of to reach the public) could be constructed with sufficient swiftness, accuracy, completeness, fairness, and propriety—although even advocates admit it would be difficult. Advocates claim that televising and broadcasting debates has worked well in other countries, but opponents are quick to point out weaknesses in the comparisons. Support for televising seems to be growing among the MPs, especially among the newer, younger ones who have grown up with the medium; but as yet there is no clear demand for it from the public. Legal aspects of defamation are yet to be definitely clarified. Will the speakers and televising authorities have unquestioned right to immunity? The high cost of recording, publishing, and storing the visual record, and to a lesser degree the sound record, is still a major stumbling block. But thought of creating such a rich historical archive is appealing.
Desirability: Advocates contend that democracy will be strengthened, for the general electorate will become better informed about, and will be brought closer to, their government. Opponents, however, point out that such familiarity may well breed contempt for, or at least boredom and disillusionment with, the complex, time-consuming, uninteresting, and sometimes bizarre nature of democratic proceedings. Some fear that parliamentary debating will become an increasingly meaningless ritual, for real decision making will take place behind some closed doors where no cameras will be lurking. Advocates contend that power and prestige will shift from the presently overly powerful executive back to the legislators, where it belongs. Advocates predict that political programs and panels on television and radio would not be pushed aside as redundant or artificial, for interest
in them might well increase with the televising of parliamentary proceedings. Furthermore, newspapers might be stimulated to devote more space to parliamentary affairs. But newspapers are demanding that if television enters the debating chambers then so too should flash cameras, and few if any MPs relish that possibility. Critics contend that the intimate, dignified atmosphere so fundamental to parliamentary debating will be ruined, and speakers will play to the television audience, becoming theatrical performers. Many fear that television will give exposure and prestige to abnormal behavior, to flamboyant speaking, to photogenic qualities, to moments of conflict, and to extreme points of view, so that the unemotional, intelligent, nonaggressive, middle-of-the-road person will go unnoticed and unsung. Advocates, on the other hand, feel that the camera will expose and reduce superficial theatrics, ungentlemanly behavior, unnreasonableness, incompetence, arrogance, and insincerity; and that the statements made will be on a higher plane and will be more carefully prepared.
Should the people be permitted to see and hear their legislators at work in debating chambers and committee rooms? Will government leaders in Britain and the United States be seen and heard daily by thousands rather than by a few hundred huddled in the galleries? The British have increasingly probed the question during the 1960s, with the "archaic” House of Lords first to amble into the camera lights, delighted to show their heels to a hesitant House of Commons, the nervous holder of the purse. Experiments, voluminous oral and written testimony, and much committee labor have built a substantial body of information on the issue and inve laid to rest some of the more extravagant claims both for and against electronic reporting. Although many unanswered questions remain, it might not be unreasonable to predict that someday the Hansard pencil will be supplemented by tape and film. (Note: See p. 451 for information on Parliament's October 1972 decision against televising debates.)
Footnotes 1 See Parliamentary Debates (House of Lords), Sth ser., vol. 212, cols. 5, 15, 33, 53-55, 112–13.
2 Parliamentary Debates (House of Commons), 5th ser., vol. 599, cols. 202–3.
3 Ibid., vol. 612, col. 866. Bevan went on to suggest continuous coverage on a separate television channel.
4 Ibid., vol. 618, cols. 1025–27.
7 Ibid., vol. 684, col. 78; vol. 685, cols. 1360–61; Manchester Guardian Weekly (Dec. 5, 1963), p. 6; (Dec. 12, 1963), p. 4.
8 Manchester Guardian Weekly (Nov. 21, 1963), p. 6. See also ibid., (Feb. 21, 1963), p. 15. His views were reaffirmed in a letter to the author, June 30, 1966.
9 Robin Day, Television: A Personal Report (London: Hutchinson & Co., 1961), chapter 13.
10 The Case for Televising Parliament (London: The Hansard Society for Parliamentary Government, 1963). The kernel of his views had been expressed earlier in a letter to the Times (London) (Nov. 13, 1959), p. 13.
11 Colin Seymour-Ure, “An Examination of the Proposal to Televise Parliament,” Paliamentary Affairs, XVII: 172–181 (Spring 1964).
12 Allen Segal, “The Case for Not Televising Parliament,” in Bernard Crick, The Reform of Parliament (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1964), pp. 262-69. See the second edition (1968), pp. 296-306.
13 Day, The Case for Televising Parliament, p. 5.
14 Parliamentary Debates (House of Commons), vol. 713, cols. 1033–34. See also Manchester Guardian Weekly (May 27, 1965), p. 4; (June 3, 1965), p. 4.
15 Parliamentary Debates (House of Commons), vol. 713, col. 1133. 16 Times (April 30, 1966).
17 Times (April 22, 1966). See also ibid. (April 21, 23, 26); Manchester Guardian Weekly (April 28, 1966), pp. 4, 9; Parliamentary Debates (House of Commons), vol. 727, cols. 43-44, 118-119, 125, 355-362.
18 Ibid., col. 2118.
19 First Report from the Select Committee on Broadcasting of Proceedings in the House of Commons (London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1966), pp. V, xxxii.
20 Ibid., p. XXX.
21 For instance, see Manchester Guardian Weekly (April 28, 1966), p. 4, (Oct. 27, 1966), p. 4; Observe (Aug. 7, 1966).
22 A free vote is when the parties take no official position on an issue, so the Members can vote as individuals. In this instance, those voting in favor were 79 Labour, 44 Conservative, 6 Liberal, and 1 Welsh Nationalist; those opposed were 67 Conservative, 62 Labour, and 2 Liberal. See the Times, (Nov. 26, 1966); Manchester Guardian Weekly (Dec. 1, 1966), p. 4; Parliamentary Debates (House of Commons), vol. 736, cols. 1729–1733. This clearly illustrates that party affiliation is not a major factor in this issue.
23 Parliamentary Debates (House of Commons), vol. 736, cols. 1606–1733.
24 Manchester Guardian Weekly (Dec. 1, 1966), p. 6, (Feb. 9, 1967), p. 5, (March 9, 1967), p. 6; Times (Nov. 25, 1966), Parliamentary Affairs, XX: 12 (Winter 1966–67); letter from Robin Day to author (Feb. 9, 1967); Parliamentary Debates (House of Commons), vol. 756, cols. 100, 108. Only 40% of the total membership of 640 in the House of Commons voted.
25 Parliamentary Debates (House of Lords), vol. 275, cols. 65–136; Times (June 16, 1966).
ATTEMPTS TO TELEVISE PARLIAMENT
26 Parliamentary Debates (House of Lords), vol. 274, col. 37.
30 Parliamentary Debates (House of Lords), vol. 281, cols. 435-441, 541-542.
31 Ibid., vol. 286, cols. 47-48, vol. 287, cols. 1382–86, vol. 288, cols. 776–78.
32 Manchester Guardian Weekly (Feb. 8, 1968), p. 2. See also Times (Feb. 3, 1968), p. 2 (Feb. 5), p. 4 (Feb. 7), p. 8 (Feb. 14), p. 2 (Feb. 19), p. 6. For the substance of the debates, see Parliamentary Debates (House of Lords), vol. 288, cols. 909-1364.
33 Times (Feb. 19, 1968), p. 6. See also Manchester Guardian Weekly (Feb. 15, 1968), p. 7; Parliamentary Debates (House of Lords), vol. 281, col. 440.
34 Parliamentary Debates (House of Commons), vol. 756, col. 137.
37 Ninth Report from the Select Committee on House of Commons (Services) (Oct. 24, 1969); Times (March 13, 1968), p. 2 (April 30, 1968).
38 Parliamentary Debates (House of Commons), vol. 760, cols. 30–31; Times (March 5, 1968), p. 6.
39 The question of televising proceedings had now been assigned to a subcommittee of the House of Commons Services Committee, a permanent committee of the House always under the chairmanship of the Leader of the House.
40 Times (Nov. 7, 1968), p. 4 (Nov. 8), p. 10; Manchester Guardian Weekly (Nov. 14), p. 8.
41 Manchester Guardian Weekly (Dec. 26, 1968), p. 8. See also Times (Dec. 18, 1968).
42 Second Report by the Select Committee on Broadcasting the Proceedings of the House of Lords (June 27, 1968). See also, Times (July 6, 1968), p. 3. The First Report had been published on Dec. 4, 1967.
43 Parliamentary Debates (House of Lords), vol. 300, cols. 1069-1123; Manchester Guardian Weekly (March 27, 1969), p. 8.
44 Times (March 26, 1969), April 1; Parliamentary Debates (House of Commons), vol. 791, cols. 1654–56.
45 See the remarks of the Committee's chairman, Mr. Arthur Bottomley, in Second Special Report from the Select Committee on Race Relations and Im. migration (March 19, 1969), pp. 3-4; and Parliamentary Debates (House of Commons), vol. 791, cols. 1654–56.
46 Ibid., col. 1656.
471bid., cols. 1617–1718; Manchester Guardian Weekly (Nov. 29, 1969), p. 16; Guardian (Nov. 22, 1969), p. 8; Times (Nov. 22, 1969), p. 2. Technically, the vote was on a motion "to put the question,” which received 75 yes and 32 no votes (the small number is not unusual for a Friday); but a motion to close debate needs at least 100 voting in the majority, so the motion did not pass, and for all practical purposes postponed indefinitely consideration of experimenting with televising debates.
48 Times (Dec. 19, 1969).
49 For some photographs of the assembled House of Commons, see Times, (July 3, 1970), p. 8.
50 Manchester Guardian Weekly (Nov. 20, 1971), p. 10; Times (Nov. 18, 1971), p. 14.