RIGHT TO REPLY, a new ATV fortnightly programme in which people who are criticised can hit back, makes its bow on Monday. Here, WILLIAM CLARK, who will conduct the programme, talks about this bold plan for “counter-attack”
The essence of our civilised way of life in Britain is that, in theory at least, everyone is given the right to reply. That is what Parliament, with its elaborate system of debates, is all about.
That is the root of our judicial system — that no one is sentenced unheard. And that is what we mean in everyday conversation by the phrase, “Well, let him have his say.”
I have been struck recently by the number of personalities who seem suddenly to become the subject of attack because of some big issue in which they have become involved. The issue may concern politics, social affairs, the arts, or sport.
But the attack is so much louder and better publicised than the original statement that I often have felt I have come in half-way through the argument, and have never heard the beginning. What was it, I wonder, that stirred up all this fuss?
What I hope to do in this new programme, Right to Reply, is to get back to the real beginnings of an argument by giving those who have stimulated controversy the chance to re-state their case and meet their critics. I do not intend to make this a platform for scapegoats, or people with persecution mania. I want to make it a forum where men and women who are the standard-bearers of significant issues of our day may boldly and clearly reply to criticism, misunderstanding and opposition. Their Right to Reply will involve the freedom to state their own case without being badgered.
I believe that television offers an ideal medium for this sort of exercise. The British Press has an honourable record for allowing anyone they attack directly to reply, but equally there is a tradition that the reply is only a correction of facts. It is not easy to argue back with a newspaper. On TV, the reply can be direct; the two sides can meet and argue together.
It often happens that someone who is attacked by three or four newspapers is praised by two or three others. If he is a hardened public figure, or if he is a rather timid person unused to public controversy, he will shrug his shoulders and say, “That is as fair as I will get.”
But how many people read ALL the newspapers? Very few, and so they may get only one side of the argument. Right to Reply will give a better chance to know both sides, because I shall always make sure viewers are told the case to which a reply is demanded.
What sort of people will take part? I hope there will be two or three currently controversial personalities in each programme. Most of us are interested not only in political argument but in the way people live and the sort of entertainment they enjoy.
I would like to sec a film producer replying to the critics of his film, telling us what he really was trying to do; or a striker replying to public criticism; or a football player explaining just what did go wrong. A reply by someone who has been sharply criticised often tells more than all the critics have done.
I believe we should be brave, too, and let people from outside Britain, who are criticised as unfriendly to this country, have their say. Seeing ourselves as others see us is good, healthy exercise and I feel sure the people of Britain will never resent hearing the case of their own critics, or even their enemies.
Democracy thrives on the Right to Reply.