Broadcast television

 

During the 1980’s and early 1990’s a new innovative form of broadcast television was developed in Britain with the establishment of Channel 4. It began broadcasting in 1982, a commercial channel which had a carefully formulated public service remit. In the beginning it was funded by the main commercial television companies until it became viable and able to generate its own funding through advertising. From the start it was controversial and addressed sexual and moral issues, it seemed to be giving a voice to marginalized and minority groups.

Its exploration of gay culture and the its positive representation of homosexuality had not been attempted before and attracted good viewing figures. The mainstream stations such as ITV and BBC 1 had never targeted these issues or these kinds of audiences outside of current affairs programmes. However despite its success Channel 4’s innovative coverage of gay culture provoked complaints from outraged viewers and conservative groups to the broadcasting authorities and the press. They condemned such programmes as immoral and corrupt.

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It appeared to some that the de-regulation of broadcasting had its pitfalls. For ultra conservative groups the positive portrayal of homosexuality was inherently corrupting to young people and struck at the moral fabric of the nation and traditional family values. So although Mrs Thatcher’s free market ideals heralded the de-regulation of broadcasting and the introduction of new forms of competition such as satellite television, she also had to contend with and appease the more traditional elements within her party. She did this by tightening regulation on taste, morality and decency.

This was an attempt by the neo liberals to reconcile both enterprise and the old conservative values of heritage and tradition. Governments have the right and some would say public duty to ban a particular programme or type of programme if they believe it breeches national security or is offensive to the public at large or even their particular brand of politics. In 1986 journalist Duncan Campbell’s report on the Zircon spy satellite was banned, his house was raided and Special Branch raided the BBC’s Scottish offices to seize films and documents connected with the programme.

In 1988, broadcasters were forbidden to show visuals of interviews with members or supporters of terrorist organisations in Northern Ireland at the same time as broadcasting their voices. (This ban included Sinn Fein, a political party with MPs elected to Westminster). In 1990 the “Broadcasting Act” was introduced and it gave powers to the Independent Television Commission and the Broadcasting Standard council to regulate taste and decency. The BBC followed suit in 1994 by introducing its own Complaints Unit.

It was felt by some that moral crusaders would dominate these organizations but most complaints came from ordinary people and they seemed more likely to complain about the BBC as it had a moral and social duty as a public institution to uphold high moral standards and values. With the growth of mass communication, travel and migration we now live in what has been called a global village. This new globalization and the cultural diversity it has created within nation states can also be seen as a threat to order as well as the above mentioned traditional family values, codes of good taste and decency.

These perceived threats in turn lead to calls by both ordinary citizens and their governments for re-regulation. There is a built in conflict between change and order and it has become increasingly difficult for governments to get the balance right on regulation in the case of broadcast television as well as the media at large. This is because what is seen as one person’s freedom of expression is after all an assault on another person’s sense of moral decency. The world today is often seen as being dominated by American culture, bland, superficial and plastic.

Our television is dominated by American imports such as Friends, Seinfeld, The X Files, The Simpsons, outrageous, highly controversial shows such as Jerry Springer and a long list of daytime soaps. Our children watch Disney videos, families regularly visit Mc Donalds for a Big Mac and can life really “taste good” without a Coke. This is known as cultural imperialism where the dominant cultural and economic forces attempt to overrun weaker economies creating a homogenized global culture.

For critics of cultural imperialism the de-regulation of the international cultural market has led to this cultural imposition by America and in effect is actually just another form of regulation. De-regulation may seem like freedom of choice but what it really means is a one-dimensional global capitalist culture. This has caused a backlash in many states around the world, as they perceive their own traditional cultures as under attack by this form of cultural imperialism.

There has been the introduction of protectionist policies ranging from the introduction of tariffs on cultural imports to the banning of satellite dishes in Islamic countries and Anglo/American music from French radio stations. In contrast to the one-dimensional global capitalist culture envisaged by opponents of de-regulation and globalization Canada, in an attempt to deal with its multiculturalism has accepted what has been called a “cultural mosaic”.

Its government chose to institutionalize this idea through legislation such as its Broadcasting Act of 1991, which gave the broadcasting system the responsibility to reflect Canada’s multicultural character in its programming. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has a duty to foster a shared national consciousness and identity that reflects the multicultural and multiracial nature of Canadian society.

This is supported not only through legislation but also through government funding. In Toronto the CFMT television station has developed a form of multicultural broadcasting that involves giving people from different ethnic backgrounds the chance to make programmes that reflect their own cultures in their own languages. TV City also in Toronto takes a multicultural approach to its staffing and offering open access to its studios by the general public.

Canada has had within its border critics of its multicultural approach by those who believe that all ethic groups should integrate into traditional Canadian Culture. In conclusion then we can say that governments may have a variety of reasons for attempting to regulate broadcast television. There may be pressure from within their own party or from the public at large. The state may do a lot of the regulating but ordinary people also regulate themselves giving credence to the ideas of Foucault and constructionist theories.

They may be seeking to impose their own political ideologies on society as shown by Thatchers de-regulation. There may be elements of protectionism at work where they see their way of life under attack from outside forces as in Islamic States who ban satellite dishes. The way they go about regulation is through legislation, political policy and financial funding. References: Book 6 Media and Cultural Regulation edited by Kenneth Thompson, chapters 1, 2 3 and 4. TV 11: Difference on screen.

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