Factsheet 1966: Taste, Accuracy, Impartiality in ITV Programmes 

13 September 2018 tbs.pm/66531

In the Television Act 1964 the Independent Television Authority is required, among other things, to satisfy itself, so far as possible, “that nothing is included in the programmes which offends against good taste or decency or is likely to encourage or incite to crime or to lead to disorder or to be offensive to public feeling”. The Authority is thus required to make the decisive judgment in matters involving wide differences of individual views. Inevitably, the Authority incurs criticism. On the one hand are those who think that “interference” with creative talent is contrary to the general interests of freedom of expression. On the other hand, many believe that very close control should be kept over anything on television which might be judged to have a bad influence on moral attitudes and behaviour, especially among young people.

In this situation the Authority, to quote the Chairman (Lord Hill), uses “the simple yardstick of commonsense… A line has to be drawn. We try to draw it in a sensible, human way”. He has emphasised, at the same time, that the Authority wants all those who spend their time making television programmes to feel that they are “working not only in an expanding medium but in an encouraging climate of freedom, and can give to television their full abilities, talents and perhaps genius; that they can work to their full creative stretch”.

The Authority seeks to apply this yardstick by means of regular consultation with the companies, both formal and informal, and at a number of levels. Two basic requirements exist – that programmes before 9 p.m. should be regarded as for “family” viewing, and that in any depiction of violence the terms of a Code drawn up by the Authority shall be observed. Consultation usually succeeds in resolving difficulties but from time to time the Authority finds it necessary to rule that a programme shall not be shown, shall not be shown without some amendment, or shall not be shown before a certain time.

 

 

In addition to laying upon the Authority responsibilities about taste and decency, the Television Act says that so far as possible the Authority must satisfy itself “that due impartiality is preserved on the part of the persons providing the programmes as respects matters of political or industrial controversy or relating to current public policy”. The Act goes on to say that for this purpose a series of programmes may be considered as a whole. Not only must “due impartiality” be preserved but also the Authority must ensure that programmes of this kind exclude any expression of the opinion of the programme makers, i.e. an editorial attitude is not permitted. Consultation between the Authority and the companies again usually succeeds in removing difficulties in interpretation, but the Authority occasionally finds it necessary to make a ruling with which a company may not agree. It is not always recognised that, in doing this, the Authority is carrying out a statutory obligation.

The Act further requires that “all news given in the programmes (in whatever form)” shall be presented with “due accuracy”. National and international news bulletins for all areas are provided by Independent Television News, a non-profit-making company, in which all the programme companies are shareholders. The Authority is represented at meetings of the board of ITN and the appointment of Editor is subject to the Authority’s approval. Individual programme companies present local news and also news features, and the contracts require that arrangements “for preparation, editing and presentation of news and news features shall be subject to the prior written approval of the Authority”.

 

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