Public service broadcasting

 

Although heavily regulated, ITV was effectively now a medium owned for promotion, and commercialisation. But the licensing fee still remained, as the fee would maintain its current status of Reith’s ideas of a public service. Thatcher had attempted to make the channel a subscription based fee, but this never materialised. ITV was heavily subsidised by advertising, so many people did not have to pay to view ITV. The BBC became ever more increasing unpopular, because regardless of whether you watched it or not, you had to pay a yearly licensing fee to maintain your TV subscription.

People felt that they should pay for it only if they were to watch it, and were actively involved. The second pillar that came under scrutiny was Reith’s idea that the BBC needed to maintain its monopoly status in order to ‘reinforce commitment to quality. ‘ The BBC never really enjoyed their monopoly status for too long, as the Birth of commercialised television gave rise to competition. What he meant about ‘commitment to quality’ was to reinforce the quality of programming, through his three main themes. This was to educate, inform, and entertain.

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With the arrival of commercialised TV, he saw as favouring entertainment, and that quality of broadcasting, where education, and informative programmes may have existed, slowly vanishing from our TV sets. And in this sense, he was right. The arrival of satellite and cable channels allowed for the proliferation of channels, and entertainment as a result is ruling our airways. But, Reith’s idea about ‘commitment to quality’ is still with us, just not m the format that he set out so many years ago. Mixed programming on a single channel does not occur that often.

With the many different channels now available to us, programming quality has been ‘devalued. ‘ Jean Seaton in her book ‘power without responsibility, the press and broadcasting in Britain’ wrote, “The victims of media concentration are variety, creativity, and quality, while the proliferation of broadcasting channels in the hands of a small band of operators, ‘liberated’ by government policy from the obligations of public service variety, is likely to make matters worse. ” Programming quality can now never be as good, because cheaper programmes are made as audience ratings become the prime directive for smaller independent broadcasters.

Although the market has become more liberated and there is more choice, cheaper programmes means low quality watching for viewers. Reiths third principle for public service broadcasting, and maintaining that service has changed. ‘The idea that broadcasting should be national, cutting across class, sectarian, local and social diversions’ and being a ‘powerful means of promoting social unity’ (K Williams), has certainly adapted at least in accordance to commercialised and the now, more then ever segregated audience.

Sky channels in particular have become subscription based, with the ‘standard packages’ that you can buy, and the ‘pay per-view channels. ‘ This cut off access to the more economically less well off individuals for society, because it became an added expenditure to which they would not afford. And much of what is now shown on TV is very much ‘international’ based, rather then ‘national’ based. American style programming have now become very much dominant, and has become a cheaper source of material to be placed on TV. Hoggard referred to this as ‘cultural imperalisation of American junk.

‘ Television content has a very international feel to it. Channels like CNN and NBC and FOX television have provided us with the three main principles of Reithian ethics (to educate, inform, and entertain) but from an American Perspective, and not of a national, more British perspective. But in trying to keep to Reithian principles, the BBC still broadcasts from a national and regional aspect. News is often seen as informing us on a national and regional basis, providing us with information for public purposes. And the fourth and final principle, to promote ‘middle class ethics’ and observe Stern Christian’ ethics has been abandoned.

Much of what we view on television no longer contain a strong middle class emphasise, or strong Christian morality. Much is dominated by populist programming choice. Sport, drama, and mass entertainment in general are central themes in television. There is still a dedication to Christian beliefs, where Sunday service is shown on BBC2, but is not have a central role, as it once may have had. Cultural diversity programming exists on channel 4, in line with the idea of ‘multicultural Britain’ and the assimilating nature that programming orientated by Christianity no longer really exists.

And ‘middle class ethics’ that Reith once talked about, has again been lost among history. With the change in the working industry, from a manufacturing to tertiary industry, and the accumulation of more wealth among the lower social classes, the middle class line seems to vanishing and disseminating all the time. Much programming is slanting towards a mass populist perspective. So, we see that the notion of ‘public service broadcasting’ that Reith set out has changed and adapted. Each committee has slightly altered the meaning of what ‘public service broadcasting’ should actually fulfil, and what it might contain.

The aims of the Pilkington committee and how to serve the public, and broadcast in respect to public needs was ‘catering for all sections of the community, reaching all parts of the country regardless of cost, seeking to educate, inform and improve, and prepared to lead public opinion rather then to follow it’ (Jean Seaton). Radically changing this approach, was the Annan report in which ‘broadcasting should cater for the full range of groups and interests in society, rather than seek to offer moral leadership.

‘ So public service broadcasting is no longer controlled, but much more liberal, and very pluralist in nature. Much of it is catered for public interest, rather then showing a mixed range of programming. ‘Consumer sovereignty’ as John Fiske put it, is very much prevalent in todays viewing. Culturally valued programming is still maintained through the BBC (although it has evolved to a more entertainment based scheduling of programming), and channel 4 is very rich in cultural terms. We have to remember that the audience is no longer passive, as it once may have been.

It is very much active, and we are control of what we watch. Television is also being replaced with other forms of media, such as the Internet. Licenses fee’s remain a governing aspect of what ‘public service broadcasting’ used to contain, but in contemporary context, we can see it as being consumer lead and advertising driven, form of media. Since the Days of Reith, much has changed, and the meaning of what it is to a be a ‘public broadcasting service’ is adapting and varying all the time, to suit the needs, wants and desires of the public as a whole.

Bibliography: Curran, J (1997) ‘Broadcasting and the theory of public service’ in Curran, J and Seaton, J Power without Responsibility: The Press and Broadcasting In Britain London: Routledge Williams, K (1998) ‘Public service broadcasting’ pg 96 in Get me a murder a Day: a history of mass communication in Britain London: Arnold Crisell, A (1997) An Introductory History Of British Broadcasting London: Routledge, ch 6 Negrine, R (1994) Politics and the Mass Media in Britain second edition, London: Routledge ch 2.

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