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Public Service Broadcasting

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Part of the DUV : Sozialwissenschaft book series (DUVSW)

Abstract

Chapter 1 has shown that British broadcasting has been in constant transition. The same applies to the concept of public service broadcasting. Depending on the environment in which broadcasting operated over the years, this also had an influence on how those responsible for legislation and in charge of the broadcasting institutions approached broadcasting. What consequences this has had for the concept of public service broadcasting will be investigated in the following chapters.

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References

  1. 1.
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    Beveridge Report I (1951), recommendation 1. In its evidence to the Beveridge Committee, the BBC had stated that it needed the monopoly to pursue its public service mission. Competition, the BBC argued, would lower standards and undermine the basics of broadcasting as a public trust. See Beveridge Report II (1951), paras 4–8.Google Scholar
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    Being solely a commissioner of programmes, Channel 4 also revolutionised programme production. For a more detailed account of Channel 4’s public service remit, how the channel came into existence, how it worked for the first ten years, and what effect it had on the British broadcasting system, see Harvey (1994).Google Scholar
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  49. 46.
    Peacock Report (1986), para 580. What kind of programmes this includes is outlined in para 563.Google Scholar
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    This also polarised opinion regarding public provision of services, an issue that has been debated fiercely until the 1990s.Google Scholar
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    The following example illustrates how competition from commercial companies forced the BBC to rethink its programming philosophy: in its early days, the BBC television news was read by a newsreader who did not appear on screen. ITN (Independent Television News, ITV’s news provider) adopted a different approach with the newsreader addressing the audience directly. Since this was much better received by the audience, the BBC followed suit and changed its slightly outdated presentation technique, taking over ITN’s presentation style.Google Scholar
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    Regarding programme production Peter Goodwin remarks that ITV’s public service broadcasting remit was not wholly lost as a result of the Broadcasting Act 1990: after countless debates, very specific requirements were written into the licences of the new franchise holders. In his opinion, the main problem regarding the production of programmes that follow public service ideals lies with the ITC, which is intended to regulate with a ‘lighter touch’: how will the ITC react if it is faced with the options of either relaxing previously made promises or risking that an ITV company will not survive? See Goodwin, Peter (1992): Did the ITC save British public service broadcasting? In: Media, Culture and Society (London, Sage), Vol. 14 (1992), pp. 653–661. An assessment of the impacts of the Broadcasting Act 1990 on ITV programme productions is also given by Mike Watts of Central Television.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Annex to the BBC’s Licence and Agreement (1981–1996), published in BBC (1992c): Guide to the BBC 1992. London: BBC, p. 64. Other promises include the objective of due impartiality on controversial subjects and avoiding, as far as possible, offence to good taste and decency. The new Agreement is slightly clearer on matters relating to programme content, asking the BBC to maintain “[...] high general standards in all respects (and in particular in respect of their content, quality and editorial integrity) [...] offering a wide range of subject matter (having regard both to the programmes as a whole and also to the days of the week on which, and the times of the day at which, the programmes are shown) meeting the needs and interests of audiences [...].” Broadcasting. Copy of the Agreement Dated the 25th Day of January 1996 Between Her Majesty’s Secretary of State for National Heritage and the British Broadcasting Corporation. [In future referred to as 1996–2006 Agreement] Cm 3152. London: HMSO, 1996, clause 3.1. See also subclause 3.2 which specifies the requirements. (Aspects relating to BBC programmes will be discussed in greater detail in chapters 5.4 and 6.4.) Both Charter and Agreement came into effect on 1 May 1996. (Broadcasting licences are now granted separately by the Department of Trade and Industry.)Google Scholar
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    Prosser (1992), p. 175. Prosser concludes further that “[...] the system operating in Britain until the end of 1990, while not containing any clear definition of public service broadcasting, attempted to ensure that such broadcasting took place by a number of disparate means.” Prosser (1992), p. 179.Google Scholar
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    Tracey, Michael (1993): The Ceremony of Innocence: An Interpretation of the Condition of Public Service Broadcasting. In: Stevenson, Wilf (ed.) (1993): All Our Futures. The Changing Role and Purpose of the BBC. London: British Film Institute, p. 40.Google Scholar
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    In the preface, the BRU makes clear that the aim of their publication was “[...] to define those main elements of public service broadcasting as it has evolved in Britain which, it is argued, should be retained within whatever systems are devised to provide broadcasting as new communications technologies come into use. It is not therefore a defence of the existing public-service (broadcasting) institutions as they are today or as they may become; it is concerned with the whole landscape of British broadcasting, now and in the future.” Broadcasting Research Unit (1985), p. i. The document was acknowledged by the Peacock Committee and included in their final report. See Peacock Report (1986), para 33.Google Scholar
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    Peacock, Alan (1989b): The Future of Public Service Broadcasting. In: Veljanovski, Cento (ed.) (1989): Freedom in Broadcasting. London: Institute of Economic Affairs, p. 53. His contribution considers the case for retaining a public service element in a broadcasting system that is ‘consumer-driven’.Google Scholar
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    For the following see Blumler, Jay G. (1993a): Meshing Money with Mission: Purity versus Pragmatism in Public Broadcasting. In: European Journal of Communication (London, Sage), Vol. 8 (1993), Number 4, pp. 405–407. Particular attention also needs to be drawn to Tracey (1993). Tracey examines in great detail the crises of public service broadcasting institutions and illuminates why this is the case. Moreover, his contribution is concerned with the discussion of sociological aspects relating to the ‘public’ element in broadcasting.Google Scholar
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    The latter approach is favoured by those arguing the case for a Public Service Broadcasting Council. Channel 4, being solely a commissioner of programmes, is often pointed to as an example that this would be possible. However, there are still a number of reasons for having one large vertically integrated institution like the BBC. (See also chapter 6.5.)Google Scholar
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    Mulgan (1993c), p. 92. According to Mulgan, institutional survival has become the BBC’s primary concern, rather than consideration of its distinctive role and what principles should guide its participation.Google Scholar
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    Extending Choice (1992), p. 18.Google Scholar
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    Extending Choice (1992), p. 25 (my emphasis).Google Scholar
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    It is obvious that a small production company cannot provide the above even though they are perfectly capable of producing public service programmes. Something similar applies to large ITV networks who have come under severe financial pressures as a result of the Broadcasting Act 1990, and do not have the above points as their top priority.Google Scholar
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    In a study for the European Policy Forum Chris Hopson, former advisor to David Mellor at the Department of National Heritage, elaborated nine objectives which, in his opinion, need to be met by a public service broadcaster of the 1990s and beyond. They are: 1.) an audience focus; 2.) quality; 3.) diversity and choice; 4.) accessibility; 5.) universal access; 6.) editorial independence; 7.) efficiency and value for money; 8.) accountability; 9.) national identity. See Hopson, Chris (1992): Reforming the BBC. Public Service Broadcasting in The New Market. London: European Policy Forum for British and European Market Studies, pp. 15–16, where the individual points are explained in greater detail. It is interesting to note that almost all the objectives outlined by Hopson also feature in Extending Choice. Michael Checkland has a similar view on this matter. In order to survive in the marketplace of the 1990s, the BBC has to meet the following objectives according to Checkland: provision of a diversity of high quality programmes at the popular as well as the minority ends of the market; cost effective use of the licence fee and accountability; and highest and most reliable editorial practices.Google Scholar
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    See Checkland, Michael (1989a): Introduction. In: BBC (1989): Impartiality. Representing Reality. London: BBC, p. 6.Google Scholar
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    Murdock (1994), pp. 173–174. It is this shared experience of exchanging ideas about a previously ‘consumed’ broadcast programme that John Tusa calls “social cohesion”. See Tusa, John (1994a): Implications of recent changes at the BBC. In: The Political Quarterly Vol. 65, No 1, 1994, p. 7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Murdoch, Rupert (1989): Freedom in Broadcasting. 1989 MacTaggart Lecture delivered at the Edinburgh Television Festival on 25.8.1989. An abridged version of the speech is reprinted under the title Television choice — and quality in: The Times, 26.8.1989, p. 8, from which the quote is taken.Google Scholar
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    See Cento Veljanovski in British Film Institute (ed.) (1993), pp. 92–100.Google Scholar
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    Since all the changes applied to the BBC since the late 1980s (see chapter 5) also resulted in a changed understanding of public service broadcasting, chapter 6 will raise some of the issues at stake and thereby examine what consequences this is likely to have on the concept of public service broadcasting in the future.Google Scholar
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    As will be shown in chapter 5, the BBC tried to incorporate all the above into a new understanding of public service broadcasting.Google Scholar
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