Radio Times/1923/11/23/Should Parliament be Broadcast?
Should Parliament be Broadcast?
The Question Discussed from Several Points of View.
The question as to whether or not the proceedings of Parliament should be broadcast is creating a considerable amount of newspaper controversy. This is somewhat surprising and indicates a high degree of public spiritedness on the part of the Press, because hitherto they have had the monopoly of letting the nation know who are the bright oratorical stars in Parliament.
So far as the B.B.C. is concerned it may be stated at once that the matter has not at the moment of writing even been discussed by the directors, so that it is impossible to state what is the policy of the company on the subject. But one would not be far out by saying "Barkis is willin'," if there is a widespread demand for it. One thing is certain, that if there is to be broadcasting of Parliament the B.B.C. are capable of doing it, and would like to do it. Of course, all sorts of would-be funny men have attempted to ridicule the idea and say that no surer way could be devised of bringing broadcasting to an untimely end.
These fears are groundless. Captain P. P. Eckersley, in addition to being a first-class humorist, a brilliant entertainer at the piano, a most gifted and attractive writer of articles and a hundred other things besides, happens, also to know a little about wireless engineering, and he is quite convinced that the thing can be done, without in any way interfering with the ordinary programme. Captain Eckersley and his staff have been giving a good deal of attention to the problem of submitting two programmes from the same station. As a matter of fact, he has effected double transmissions from one aerial on well-separated wave-lengths, and he is fully cognizant of the American experiments which have been made in this connection, and when the time comes it will be found that no technical difficulties need stand in the way. It is interesting to know how this scheme would be worked.
A Microphone Difficulty.
With the microphones at present in use at 2LO the maximum distance at which the speaker can be is about 15 feet, but considering the quality of the average Parliamentary oratory, so far as diction is concerned, it would not be easy to guarantee good transmission more than 5 feet away. This raises the question, how are the ordinary debates to be broadcast? The Hon. Members, as is well known, speak from every corner of the House, and it might not add to the dignity of the Mother of Parliaments if, before a Member spoke, someone had to rush round and bang a microphone right down before him.
That objection has already been made in public, but it is not so serious as one might suppose. There is at 2LO at the present time a microphone on wheels which is pushed to any part of the studio that is required. It would be quite easy to have a gracefully designed carriage on rubber tyres by which the microphone might be moved quite unostentatiously to whatever corner of the House it was required. It would create as little merriment at first, but soon it would take its place as one of the normal features of Parliamentary life.
Then it would be an easy matter to put cleverly concealed microphones on the historic table which divides the two front benches which would pick up the words of wisdom which fall from our leading statesmen.
There is one use to which Parliamentary broadcasting could be put which has not hitherto been mentioned. In the B.B.C. offices all the higher officials have head phones in their rooms and the various uncles in particular can often be seen whilst in the middle of other work snatching up the phones to see what stage the transmission is at, so that they may drop their work and rush into the studio if their presence is required. There could be head-phones all over the House of Commons, for the use of cabinet Ministers, high officials, and dignitaries of all kinds.
An Aid to Ministers.
For instance, a Cabinet Minister might be working in his office in Whitehall or Downing Street and he could say to his secretary, "See who is on just now." The secretary would say, "Mr. Blank." The Minister would say, "That's all right, there's no need to worry about him"!
At regular intervals the secretary would pick up the phones to see what was doing, then he would turn to his chief and say, "Mr. Dash has made a most serious accusation against your department." The Minister could hurry over to the House and deal with his accuser there and then if he could, because, everyone knows that once a story gets into the papers it can never he caught up, since, no matter how often it is refuted at a subsequent date, the original impression remains with many people.
How different it would be if the Minister in question, although working in his office, had heard the accusation and was able to repair immediately to the House of Commons and settle the matter at once!
This may appear fantastic, but there are possibilities in the suggestion. By means of wireless it would be possible for members of the Government to know what was happening in the House at any time. Many a snap division might be averted simply because reinforcements were rushed up in time.
And so one could go on elaborating in this way, but enough has been said to show that the possibilities of wireless Parliamentary broadcasting are endless. It is to be hoped "if and when" (as a famous statesman is fond of saying) the subject is raised in Parliament that it will not be dismissed lightly. If any Members of Parliament read this article perhaps they will be good enough to give the subject more serious consideration than they at first intended to do and realize that sooner or later Parliamentary broadcasting must be reckoned with.
It cannot be too clearly emphasized there is no question whatever of it interfering with the ordinary programmes. It would simply be a case of turning a handle of your receiving set—one way for Parliament and another for the broadcast programmes.
The Popular House.
As a matter of fact, since the advent of some vivacious spirits from the Clyde, Parliament is now much more popular than many a place of entertainment, and the present writer has had the unpleasant experience of going to Westminster and being informed that the House was full and that there wasn't even standing room.
The possibility is that listening to Parliamentary debates would be immensely popular—everyone knows the enthusiasm that was created by the broadcasting of General Smuts's speech, and everyone knows also how intensely interested the public were in the transmission of the speeches from the Lord Mayor's banquet.
The public does want to hear the great ones of the earth and to form its own judgment about them. The whole future of wireless telephony will be largely determined by the amount of first-class speaking transmitted.