§ Mr. Marlow
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will put before the House measures to prevent traitors and other people who are at war with the United Kingdom from having access to the broadcasting media.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General is354W considering the application of the law to the making of the particular programme which has no doubt prompted my hon. Friend to ask this question. I make no comment on that matter.
It is a principle of long standing, and a good principle, that the broadcasting authorities should have editorial responsibility, subject to the law and within the general rules prescribed by charter and licence for the British Broadcasting Corporation or by Act of Parliament for the Independent Broadcasting Authority, for the content of their programmes. In the exercise of that responsibility they are bound on occasion to put out programmes of which some viewers and listeners will disapprove.
As my predecessors have recognised, once a Home Secretary, with his special responsibilities for broadcasting, finds himself in the position of saying whether he approves or disapproves of a particular programme, he is on dangerous ground. I do not want to comment in detail on the BBC programme in question. The director general has made it clear that the BBC accepts that it seriously misjudged the emotional impact of the programme. He has also publicly set out the arguments of journalistic principle on which the BBC justifies its decision to broadcast the programme. I know that the governors of the BBC, who are appointed to be the guardians of the public interest in these matters, are considering new guidelines for such broadcasts. I think it right to await the result of that consideration. I am sure that the governors will take note of the feelings expressed in this House and elsewhere in relation to it.
On the general question of broadcast interviews with self-confessed terrorists or their spokesmen, whatever organisation or cause they claim to represent, I would say only this, as a consideration which I hope the broadcasting authorities will weigh in the balance together with the journalistic principles to which the director general has referred. Terrorists and terrorist organisations seek and depend on publicity. A principal object of their acts of violence is to draw attention to themselves and gain notoriety. They fail or do not choose to 355W promote their causes by the acceptable and time-honoured means of reasoned argument and the democratic process. Instead, they bomb and murder their way into the headlines. In doing so they make war on society and outlaw themselves from its privileges. The broadcasting authorities owe them no duty whatever, and can owe society itself no duty whatever, gratuitously to provide them with opportunities for the publicity they want. That is simply to play into their hands.
Finally, the House will know that since 3 July the so-called Irish National Liberation Army, like the so-called Irish Republican Army, has been proscribed under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, in Great Britain as well as in Northern Ireland. I agree with my predecessors in regarding a broadcast with a member of an organisation that has been proscribed as wholly inappropriate.