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Honorable member, you need rouge

By Alexander MacLeodcontributor / February 22, 1988



London

THIS APPEARED IN THE 2/22/88 WORLD EDITION MEMBERS of the British House of Commons are cultivating their television images. Broadcasters are figuring out how to bring the cameras into the Commons without trivializing the proceedings or opening themselves to charges of biased or inept reporting. For, by the end of the year, Britain's lower house will be ``on the box'' for a six-month trial period.

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The decision to let cameras of the British Broadcasting Corporation and Independent Television News into the chamber was taken by a large majority and against the advice of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. In the end, those who argued that democracy would be best served by TV coverage carried the day.

Until now, the only model has been coverage of the House of Lords, where debates are sedate and disagreements rare. The upper house attracts some 500,000 viewers each week. The potential Commons audience is huge, and the lower house is a much more combustible arena.

The BBC and ITN are concentrating on two types of event: the prime minister's question period when, twice a week, Mrs. Thatcher and the Labour opposition leader, Neil Kinnock, confront each other in often angry exchanges; and important debates that, except on rare occasions, will have to be heavily edited before broadcast.

Young MPs voted heavily for the trial, which, if it succeeds, will become permanent. They see TV as a way to put themselves in the public eye more rapidly than the old system, under which youngsters wait years for preferment and the public exposure that goes with it.

As a parliamentary committee works out the best system of coverage, MPs with good looks and a clever way with words are looking forward to a new era.