British Broadcasting Corporation
|✅ Paper Type: Free Essay||✅ Subject: Politics|
|✅ Wordcount: 1989 words||✅ Published: 1st Jan 2015|
Why For So Much of its History was British broadcasting organised as a public service?
By way of introduction, it is important that I explain about the British Broadcasting Corporation, known otherwise as the BBC, in order to get a better insight to what I will be explaining further on. Being the first and the Worlds biggest broadcasting organisation, it has been known to be a public service broadcaster, which has been up and running since 1922, providing services on the internet, TV and radio. I should highlight the fact that when we talk about a “public service”, we mean services which have been provided to us via the government. Though according to Ofcom, (Office of Communications) a problem lies when we define this term, as it has 4 meanings attached to it. “Good television; worthy television; television that would not exist without some form of public intervention; and the institutions that broadcast this type of television.” (http://www.ofcom.org.uk/consult/) The BBC first started as a private company by manufacturers, whom in order to encourage their radio sales to the public, needed to go through a dependable foundation. The government therefore intervened in this new change, until 1926, when the Crawford Committee decided that the BBC should turn into a public corporation. The objective of this essay is to realise why the BBC has been linked with the public service for a great period of time. I will now begin the main part of the essay, where I will be discussing the history of the BBC followed by reasons to why it has been what it is.
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Firstly, let me shed light on the word broadcasting. Broadcasting is the transmitting of programmes to be heard simultaneously by an indefinitely large number of people-is a social invention, not a technical one. This form of conveying out messages started in the First World War, but was not yet completely recognised until the 1920s. Due to this recognition, in 1922 there was an increase in demand for applications in setting up broadcasting stations, which needed to be controlled. Quoted by one of the company’s first employees, “the BBC was formed as an expedient solution to a technical problem. It owes its existence to the scarcity of air waves.” (Curran, 2003:110) In order to address the situation, rival manufacturers were persuaded by The Postmaster General to come together and join all the small broadcasting stations together into one station, which was The British Broadcasting Company.
The BBC was to be financed by both tariffs and a licence fee, which after some time proved to be unsuccessful for the rapid expansion of the station. Listeners were building their personal sets with low-priced foreign components, and applying for new licenses. The BBC was not in favour of this and manufacturers were irritated that the production was not proving to be as cost-effective as it should have been. As a result of this, the Sykes Committee was established to help out. Two years later, the Crawford Committee accepted the essential need of a monopoly and proposed that the private company should be swapped with a “Public Commission operating in the National Interest.” (Curran, 2008:111)
There were certain reasons to why the BBC was regulated, which we can consider. One of which, was that there was limited space on the frequency spectrum, which therefore meant that no organisations could appear freely without any government rule, so to limit this, the government had to step in. In other words, there were technological constraints. It was not technically possible to have numerous amounts of signals altogether, which could ultimately cause blockages.
Further more, the Post Office were forcing all the electrical manufacturers to create a single system as it was finding it very difficult to control the private broadcaster who were transmitting messages freely without obtaining a licence from them.
More over, being a more important reason was linked with the first managing director of the BBC, John Reith, whom believed that the aim of the BBC was to “inform, educate and entertain.” (Revue of the BBC Royal Charter, 2005:107) Being brought up within a Calvinism background, he viewed the world very differently and this increased his strengths and weaknesses on his view of broadcasting in general. “His duty as the managing director of a national company was to act in the national interest, which he interpreted along the lines of not broadcasting anything which might help to spread the strike and thus damage the nation.” (Sales, 1986:49) This quote therefore gives us the impression that according to Reith, the cultural life of Britain would improve, and whatever was to be shown should not only be done so to make the listeners happy, but at the same time to increase tastes and attitudes. Reith argued that the medium should be accessible to everyone, as he explained “There is no limit to the amount which may be drawn off. It does not matter how many thousands there may be listening; there is always enough for others.” (Curran: 2008, 113) For that reason, having a monopoly was crucial and support from the State was needed.
Following on, we can also take the example of USA into account. The way in which the model of organisation was in USA was not accepted by Britain, as the Politicians thought it was inappropriate and were not fond of what they saw, and moved to other models.
The way in which the BBC is funded needs to be examined as well. It is through the licence fee, under the Wireless Telegraphy Act, that enables the BBC to act in the public interest. This fee is paid by households and is undoubtedly a reason to why the BBC is a public service, as the public are paying and therefore the BBC should be publicly responsible.
Apart from analysing some factors which donated to the function of a public service, the relationship which existed between the BBC and the State can be looked into as it could have a part to play in why the BBC was organised as a public service for so much of its history. The BBC was neither self-governing of, nor managed by the government and was sympathetic of any values and institutions that were given by parliamentary democracy. In general they had a good relationship between one another, but sometimes the bond between Reith and the state was unsettled. However, this did not stop both parties from taking into account “a shared interest in reaching a mutually acceptable modus vivendi.”(Khun, 2007:43)
The General Strike in 1926 could also help to understand the relationship between the BBC and the State, due to it being a very crucial time for the BBC, as it was the first serious confrontation it had with the Government. This strike happened when the BBC was going through an important change. Due to the strike, which lasted for a period of nine days, newspapers were not being published and as result the whole country turned to the BBC. At this point in time the BBC was favoured by Winston Churchill, as he could see that the radio was a more adaptable method to communicate with the population and therefore asked the Prime Minister of that time, Stanley Baldwin to take control of the company. This decision was not in Reith’s favour as according to him, the company was doing very well being independent with the public, whilst avoiding any control by the government. Nevertheless, this was not an unavoidable situation, as under the BBC’s 1923 Wireless Broadcasting Licence, the government had legal rights to have the BBC broadcast what it wanted.
Before I finish off, it is worth noting that from the Second World War, it was an end of the BBC monopoly in broadcasting and a beginning of the duopoly, as ITV was then introduced. However, this did not stop the BBC from being highly regulated. It was still under government control. Due to the opening of ITV, there was an increase in the variety of broadcasting, which undoubtedly had caused competition between the BBC and its competitors. However, the BBC along with other public service channels were doing well, as they were “achieving the purposes of public service broadcasting” (Ofcom, Service Broadcasting Review:5) But we need to take into consideration the effect digital age will have on these methods of broadcasting. For example, consumers will have more choice, as they can watch or listen to whatever they wish via the internet. However it is considered that the BBC will “continue to make a strong contribution to the purposes of public service broadcasting, given its scale and the certainty of its finances to the end of digital switchover.” (Ofcom, Service Broadcasting Review:6)
As a final point, it is interesting to note that the only thing which comes close to the BBC in the UK is the NHS, both being a very unique and popular corporation, which has expanded an enormous amount since its first opening. BBC however started as a radio show and now provides eight TV services, ten national local radio stations and has the most admired website in the world. Therefore, what the future holds for the BBC is vital, as it is important that the Corporation keeps up to date with the digital age and technology, and more over the BBC should still remain to serve the citizens, especially the ones who pay for it through licence fees. According to the BBC Charter Review2006, the role of the BBC is “recognised and admired by the British public and extensive consultation on the future of the BBC has shown that the public want that role to continue” (Page 9) The Government have realised up to what level the publicly-funded broadcaster plays on everyday life, and as a result, it wants to keep it like this due to the gains license fee payers and society as a whole get out of it.
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In conclusion, it is possible to say that the BBC has had a positive outlook, being able to adapt to any change to audiences attitudes quite easily. It did remain a public service for a very long time until the 1980’s, until the whole notion of public service was called into question. The Thatcher government wanted to test out the notion of public service with broadcasting, by introducing a new thought linked with consumer sovereignty. Nevertheless, the fact that the BBC stayed under government control for a period amount of time acting as a monopoly, showed that it was successful in many ways. Yet, there are contradictions which exist, as many believe that the BBC should be fully regulated by Ofcom, whilst others disagree with this fact, as to them Ofcom did not have the BBC in mind when it had its goals laid out and also it is a busy regulator. As a result of this, the solution is to make sure the BBC board of governors provide successful regulation of the BBC in order to prevent the BBC being under Ofcom.
Throughout this essay, I have explained factors to why for so much of its history the BBC was organised as a public service. In order to achieve an overall answer, we as readers need to reflect over the reasons to why it continued to have any input from the government, which I have previously discussed. There are no explanations which show us that the BBC was not doing well under regulation, as since its change from a private to a public corporation in 1926 till today, the BBC has been the most popular broadcasting company in the UK and should remain to do so in the future.
· Curran, J. and Seaton, J. (2003, 6th edition) Power without responsibility, Routledge.
· Kuhn, R (2007) Politics and the Media in Britain, Palgrave.
· Sales, R. (1986) An Introduction to Broadcasting History, Longman.
· Ofcom, Service Broadcasting Review
· www.bbccharterreview.org.uk – A Public Service for all: The BBC in the digital age 2006.
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