Jon Stewart mocks Parliamentary rules on satirical use of Commons footage

You may not have picked up on this story last week, but it appears that Jon Stewart did…

A bit of background first…
As might be expected, the appearance of Rupert and James Murdoch before the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee on July 19th generated a great deal of media interest both here and abroad (now there’s an understatement for you!).  It was no surprise either, therefore, that US comedian Jon Stewart (he of the Daily Show fame) took the opportunity to lampoon the Murdochs in much the same way as he so often lampoons the News Corp-owned Fox News.  Further to this, he also then did a segment on David Cameron’s appearance before the Commons on the Wednesday, in which he faced some particularly tough questioning from the Labour benches (and they didn’t even include the pointed question from the ‘Beast of Bolsover’ Dennis Skinner on his meetings with News International executives).  Stewart is in rapt admiration of the combative nature of our legislative assembly, crying out ‘That’s awesome! That’s your C-SPAN? That’s f***ing awesome!’ (C-SPAN is the US equivalent of BBC Parliament, broadly)  You can watch the segment below (apologies that I can’t get the embed code to work properly!):

Watch the video here.

So far, all seems normal.   I love watching the Daily Show and was annoyed when Channel 4 decided to drop it from it’s weekday programming on More4, only leaving a solitary ‘Global Edition’ episode late on Monday nights.  Now, I don’t usually remember to watch this, but on the following Monday (25th July), I happened to be by the TV at just gone 11pm and saw that it was due to start, so I tuned in.  Or so I had hoped.  Unfortunately, to my disappointment, the announcer said that the Daily Show Global Edition wouldn’t be airing this week, replaced by some random documentary about Michael Jackson. ‘Well that’s just great,’ I thought. ‘Typical’ and went to bed instead, not thinking any more about it.  However, saw that I wasn’t the only who had noticed this – Blogger Chris Spyrou asked on Twitter why it wasn’t shown, to which the ‘Channel 4 Insider‘ responded ‘Sorry compliance probs so we couldn’t show’.  TV writer Graham Linehan followed up asking what these problems were and received the response ‘We are prevented by parliamentary rules from broadcasting parliamentary proceedings in a comedic or satrical context.’

This was apparently news to many people, although was presumably well known by producers of shows like Have I Got News For You and Mock the Week, as they would no doubt have used such footage otherwise.  The story was also picked up by Helen Lewis Hasteley in the New Statesman, who blogged about it first here. (H/T to her for filling in some more of the details on the story that I hadn’t seen previously.)

No video's please, we're British

It was via her blog post that I saw the link to the Mediaite website, which appears to be one of the few places that you can view clips from the Daily Show in the UK (that I’ve found so far anyway).  (If you try to view clips on the Daily Show website, you get response shown on the right:

Having watched the clip and found it both hilarious and an interesting moment of praise for the robustness of Parliamentary debate, I found myself even further disappointed that the episode wasn’t permitted to be shown on UK television.

In addition to the above, Jon Stewart also appears to have become aware of this rule and followed up with a further segment this Monday – watch it below (apologies again for the lack of embedding, not sure why it won’t work):

Watch the video here.

Stewart mocks the rule on two grounds – firstly, on the basis that the show was broadcast in such ‘havens of free speech’ as ‘Chad, Somalia, Saudi Arabia and Yemen… I’m huge in the Yemen’, it seems a bit restrictive that the show was not allowed to be screened in the UK (although one suspects that if the show happened to be highly critical of the Saudi royal family, it might not be passed through so easily).  Secondly, because of the general amount of pap that is shown on Channel 4 otherwise, ranging from Gillian McKeith encouraging a lady to change her diet to achieve more ‘aromatic’ poo to live autopsies and any kind of sexual activity they can get a film crew near enough to.  (Thank goodness he’s not discovered ITV2 or BBC3!)  I’ll admit that neither of these arguments is particularly convincing, but they make for good comedy nonetheless.  Helen Lewis Hasteley has written a follow-up blog for the New Statesman here, which rounds things up nicely, however the debate will certainly go on as to whether it’s time for a change in the rules to allow comedians and satirists to use footage from Parliament in their shows and sketches.  For starters, I’d recommend listening to this excellent discussion on Radio 4’s Today Programme last Friday, with Roger Gale MP and comedian Steve Punt of The Now Show.  I’ll leave you with an excellent quote from Roger Gale on whether the rule should be changed:

“I don’t think we need any help from satirists or comedians to make us look ridiculous, we’re capable of doing that for ourselves.”

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