Editorial: No Freedom of the Air for the S.P.G.B.

In the current argument between the Labour and Tory parties about the respective merits of commercial and non-commercial television both sides have something to say about the extent to which the one or other method will give a stranglehold to monopoly and crowd out small groups. The Labourites, in line with their general support for government control maintain that commercial T.V. would give a monopoly to large and wealthy commercial interests; to which their opponents retort that State monopoly has even less regard for weak independent views. The S.P.G.B., not being enamoured in the least of either private or State capitalism, can see no merit in either point of view. It is true that with commercial T.V. (or sound broadcasting) the capitalist rule prevails that the freedom of the air is for those who can afford to pay for it but it is also true that in all the 32 years of State controlled broadcasting in this country the S.P.G.B. case has never once been allowed to be heard.

This is not for want of trying. On numerous occasions application has been made but always some reason is found for refusing it. The latest application, made in August, 1953, has ended in the usual way. Not, of course, a blunt declaration that there is no intention to allow us to broadcast, merely polite reasons why it cannot be this time—but as these polite refusals extend over decades they add up to the same thing as a final no.

The first reason for refusal is that Party political broadcasts are reserved for parties represented in Parliament or putting forward a certain number of candidates at a general election. When we pointed out that this arrangement tests on an agreement of the large political parties and in effect gives them a monopoly to the exclusion of small organizations the B.B.C. replied saying that they resented this imputation. The exclusion of the small organizations from that series of political broadcasts did not, said the B.B.C. give a monopoly to the big organizations because there are other political broadcasts outside that series.

Fine, so we applied to come under one of them, as we have done before, and in order to fit in with the suggestion thrown out by the B.B.C. we related our proposed broadcast to the 50th anniversary of the founding of the S.P.G.B. To this we received the reply that our proposed statement does not offer a basis for a broadcast because there would not, in the opinion of the B.B.C. be sufficient public interest in the anniversary of the S.P.G.B.

So this latest attempt to get on the air meets the fate of the several earlier applications—a number of different ways of saying no.

We would add, for the information of Labour Party supporters who may think that things are different under Labour Government, that we received the same treatment under Labour Government as under the present and pre-war Conservative Governments

In the recent correspondence we reminded the B.B.C. that in 1949 the Broadcasting Committee under the chairmanship of Lord Beveridge, had recommended the B.B.C. to consider the possibility of a kind of “Hyde Park of the Air,” in order to give all minorities which had a message, “religious or otherwise,” some time to broadcast. (Report Para. 257). They also expressed the view (Para 259) that the allocation of opportunities to ventilate controversial views “should not be guided either by simple calculations of the numbers who already hold such views or by fear of giving offence to particular groups of listeners.”

Those recommendations evidently fell on deaf ears at Broadcasting House.

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