Page 4, 16th February 1973

16th February 1973
Page 4
Page 4, 16th February 1973 — ITV: licensee or libertine?

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ITV: licensee or libertine?


It is strange but true that Independent Television, to give commercial television its official name, is probably the least independent of any private enterprise business whose companies' shares are owned by private investors and in the majority of cases quoted on the London Stock Exchange.

The British Steel Corporation or British Airways may well lead a life less fettered by government control and they are after all within the nationalised sector. Considering that ITV was born only in 1954, it is odd, to say the least, that a teenager should have become so constrained in a period notable for an upsurge in the power of youth.

The reason is, I believe, due to the fact that the majority of people think that just precisely the opposite is true. The popular belief is that ITV was started by a sinister Right-wing lobby which was intent on achieving one purpose – acquiring a licence to print money for the few at the expense of the many.

Furthermore that, regardless of the provisions of the Television Act of 1964 which replaced the Television Act of 1954 the Independent Broadcasting Association (formerly the I.T.A.) has been powerless to stop the corruption of society towards immorality and violence by the dreadful brainwashing of "the box."

This fear, exaggerated and prejudiced as it may be, has been the reason for erecting a barrier of restraints and controls upon an industry which is basically both creative and profitable. The 1.B.A. has the power to censor any programmes it wishes or terminate the contract of any programme contractor.

It can raise its licence fees, change the viewing areas and erect or fail to erect the transmitters desired by the programme controllers. In fact its power over the companies is almost total.

As if this were not enough, the Government has seen fit to impose a Special Exchequer Levy on a sliding scale on advertising revenue received, as opposed to profits made. thereby taxing the programme companies in a way which is totally unique and unheard of in any other industry.

The programme controllers have the talent, enthusiasm, and capabilities to produce the best television programmes in the world, and by and large they do so, thereby fulfilling their respon sibilities under the Television Act to inform, educate and entertain. Before jumping on the Mary Whitehouse / Ross MacWhirter bandwagon it is necessary to see how these two bodies, the programme companies and the I.B.A., work together to produce the public service they carry out, bearing in mind that the ITV service costs the public not one penny, new p. devalued or otherwise.

The B.B.C. exists by its licence fee. ITV is paid for by its adver tising it has been said that the ITV viewer buys his own "gramophone" but all the "records" are free.

The I.B.A. is required by the Television Act to provide televi sion services of information, education and entertainment and to ensure that the programmes are properly balanced and main tain a high standard. The Authority is also responsible for controlling the frequency, amount and nature of the advertisements.

It is also responsible for the selection and subsequent supervi sion of the 15 existing programme contracting companies. In all these matters the Authority is answerable to public and Parliament.

The chairman of the I.B.A. is in touch with the day-to-day ac tivities of the Authority and its ten members (in addition to the chairman) meet monthly. The real executive power lies in the hands of Mr. Brian Young, DirectorGeneral. , He and the leader of the various departments must make the on the-spot decisions which,

as in a commercial company, cannot be constantly by passed

and referred to a decision of the board of directors or in this case the members of the I.B.A.

For that reason it does not seem so surprising to those closely connected with commercial television that a film or programme referred by one of the programme companies to the 1.B.A. on a question of its suitability for viewing should be seen by the director-general, but not by all the members of the authority.` To assist and guide all the members and staff of the I.R.A. the Authority has numerous advisory bodies which it has set up to assist it in the performance of its public duty.

There is, for instance, the General Advisory Council, con sisting of 22 people from all walks of life who meet quarterly and give frank and unbiased advice on the content of the programmes. There are also Regional Committees and an Advertising Advisory Committee and also panels or committees to advise on medical, religious and charitable appeals.

In 1971 the Authority set up a Complaints Review Board. It has also laid down a Code on Violence owing to many complaints and criticism on this subject, and this code must be observed by all those planning the production and scheduling of television programmes.

In the face of these facts it is unrealistic to argue that the I.R.A. has been complacent or failed to equip itself with the best available advice and the necessary powers to see that programmes are not shown which may offend against good taste or decency.

In this respect there can hardly ever be a clear breach of the Television Act because, like the much legally-bandied word "obscenity," good taste and decency are almost impossible to define.

A supporting and not opposing role is played by the programme contractors, who obtain their franchises from the I.B.A. for a period of not more than six months, with no guarantee of renewal. They produce the programmes, which are transmitted by the transmitters owned by the I.B.A., either by making the programmes or purchasing the right to do so from other companies.

The sole service of the revenue Khich must pay for the programmes is the advertising revenue derived from the advertising shots or commercial breaks, which occur at mandatory suitable moments in the transmission of the programmes.

By the time the cost of programmes and the rental to the 1.B.A. have been met and the administrative costs of technicians, producers and executives are taken into account, not to mention rates, heating and lighting and many other expenses, there is no excessive surplus for the shareholders who invest in this highly volatile and politically vulnerable branch of show business.

The present television industry, even on one of its cyclical upswings, is certainly no licence to print money.

The amount of co operation between the programme companies and the I.B.A. is one of the more heartening features of ITV. Every month, under the chairmanship of the Director-General, the heads of the I.R.A. departments meet in round table conference with the principals of the programme companies. This assembly is known as the Standing Consultative Committee.

A rather similar Consultative Committee is the Programme Policy Committee, which meets under the chairmanship of Lord Aylestone, the Chairman of the ITV is almost certainly the only industry where members of a government corporation responsible for that industry can sit down monthly with representatives of all the companies concerned and where an exchange of views can take place not only between the Corporation and the companies but between the cornpanics themselves.

In fact the companies have their own system of consultation. This is through the medium of the Independent Television Companies Association (1.T.C.A.) whose general purposes committee meets monthly to discuss matters of policy within com panics and formulate such policy for presentation to the I.R.A.

Just as the I.B.A. has lesser committees so the 1.T.C.A.. and there are also monthly meetings of the British Bureau of Television Advertising, which was formed to promote and envisage the concept, use and understanding of television as an ether tising medium and on which all ITV companies are represented.

In the eyes of the I.B.A. all companies are equal but some companies are more equal than others. These are the five major companies, Thames, London Weekend, ATV, Granada and Yorkshire.

These arc often called the network companies, because onden a network agreement the regional companies, which are smaller because they have less viewers in their allotted areas, take the programmes made by the majors.

The largest regional company is Southern Television and the smallest is Channel Television. An average output of programmes locally made by a regional company would be in the region of 15 per cent. of its total programmes. The regional nature of commercial television is the substantial difference between ITV and BBC.

It is in the regional nature of ITV that its strength lies. Rather like the Common Market, the amalgam of regional companies can talk with equal force to the majors, and this assists the whole industry in presenting its united views to the I.13.A.

Recently we have had a great national controversy in what has

become known as the Andy

Warhol affair. The object of my setting out the structure of ITV in this article is to show that safeguards already exist within the industry to prevent viewers being subjected to programmes which are corruptive or obscene or in some other breach of the Television Act.

There is no need for an outside censor, corporate or otherwise, and certainly , if every citizen in the land is to be provided with a do it yourself censor kit the production of all programmes will be paralysed. Whether or not Mr. Warhol's work makes such a contribution to modern art that it justifies any programme on it at all is a matter, on which I feel some considerable personal doubt.

ATV, who made the programme, probably considered that it had a minority appeal to viewers in the populated areas of the Midlands. The DirectorGeneral, who saw it, presumably agreed. But B for the somewhat one sided advance publicity, the programme would probably have engendered in such viewers who did not assert their inalienable right to turn off their sets, a mixture of incomprehension and

tedlifuarnSledgehammer in the shape of the full panoply of the law is brought up to crack the Warhol nut one wonders what instrument will be required to deal with the invasion of "Last Tango in Paris," if this particular film arrives in this country from that city.

The public, while rightly concerned with maintaining moral standards, should 1 think view both the I.R.A. and the programme companies with more knowledge and understanding and less emotion. Entertainment is a difficult business which can never please all the people all the time. One needs to bear in mind that proverbial saying: Don't shoot the pianist. he is doing. his best."

The Earl of Lisburne is deputy chairman of Westward Television.

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