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1953: Lords vote for commercial television

Peers have backed the Conservative Government's proposals for the introduction of commercial television - despite fierce opposition from some rebels.

The House of Lords voted by 157 to 87, a Government majority of 70, in favour of the plans as outlined in its White Paper on the future of television.

But today's victory came only after two days of vigorous debate in which some serious opposition to the idea of a commercial station paid for by advertising was expressed.

Pressure to end the BBC's monopoly on broadcasting has been mounting since the end of World War II.

The debate moved up a gear in 1951 when the BBC's charter came up for renewal. Although the corporation's biggest supporter, Labour's Clement Attlee, lost the general election the Conservatives did grant a new licence - with some modifications.

Last July MPs held a debate on the future of television and ordered an independent report to make recommendations for a second television channel.

Control of advertisers

The White Paper, published earlier this month, concluded: "As television has a great and increasing power in influencing men's minds, the Government believes that its control should not remain in the hands of a single authority, however excellent it may be."

The report said the BBC had held a monopoly for too long and a second channel run by the corporation would not address the problem.

During today's debate in the Lords, the Lord Chancellor defended the government's proposals.

He said fear and mistrust were behind the reasons why some Lords wanted to deny this right of choice; fear that liberty might develop into licence, mistrust of those who would produce the programmes, mistrust of those who would have the pleasure of listening.

The Lord Chancellor also dismissed any suggestion that a second channel might damage the BBC. This was a "foolish and falacious argument", he said.

The Leader of the Opposition peers, Lord Jowitt, expressed concern about the level of influence the advertisers would have over the content of programmes.

He said advertisers would not be persuaded to buy air time within a programme unless they approved of what it said.

But his fears were dismissed by Lord Layton, a Liberal peer, who said the advertisers would be more interested in purchasing power - and better quality programmes would draw bigger audiences.

Lord Waverley also expressed doubts about the effective control of the advertisers.

But Lord Hailsham had the last word in the debate, warning the Government it was antagonizing religious opinion and the whole of the educational establishment.

In Context
The discussion on the White Paper marked only the beginning of the debate on commercial television.

The Television Bill was introduced in March 1954. During several months of vigorous debate it collected some 137 amendments.

There were fears the whole bill would have to be scrapped but it finally received its third reading in July 1954.

On 30 July 1954 it received royal assent and became law. The Independent Television Authority was set up to supervise the TV companies and control advertising and the first transmission of the London ITV service began on 22 September 1955.

It was followed by other regional franchises, until by 1965 the whole country could receive commercial television.

The Independent Television Commission took control in 1990 until 2003 when the new watchdog, Office of Communications or Ofcom, took over its responsibilities.


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