Grierson (1983) argued that cinema provided a tool for changing opinions and fictional film was an informational and educational tool. Aitken said ‘Grierson also argued the effective, socially purposive cinema must provide models for social action’.(1990, p.98). Stephen Tallents, a civil servant that was appointed in 1928 to run the Empire Marketing Board shared Griersons views that film should be used to educate and should be aimed at a broad range of public.
On Griersons return from the United States he had him appointed as head of Empire Marketing Board Film Unit in 1928 with the brief to ‘bring the Empire alive’. In doing this, Hood (1983) says that Tallents and Grierson found problems in that the cost of film making where too high. He says that this is where documentary started to go wrong as film makers were turning to other companies for financial help. For example a film produced by the British Documentary group, Basil Wrights Song of Ceylon won top awards at Brussels International Film Festival of 1935. But Hood argues that the film avoids the whole pint of a documentary film. It avoids colonial labour and economic exploitation of colonies.
The film was produced by the GPO Film Unit in conjunction with the Ceylon Tea Propaganda Board who funded it so it was not suprising that the film was bias. According to Higson (1986) Grierson argues that the commercial schemes drive towards profit, maximised the creation of superficial films. Hood says Griersons main gift was dealing with such organisations who funded the films. He made only one film, the Drifters, which shared the work of fishermen as they followed Herring Shoals. Hood says that Grierson dominated the whole documentary movement. He stood between filmmakers and their patrons and protected the documentary group from excessive interference.
According to Aitken (1990) it was during the war that Grierson was able to establish the documentary movement securely within the state department. In late 1939 the Ministry of Information allowed this, although they made it clear to the filmmakers that their position was only temporary and that the Film Unit would be abolished after the war ended. Aitken (1990) says the documentary movement did expand in the late nineteen-thirties but that Grierson felt that the State-funded documentary movement had failed. The movement continued through funding from corporate sponsorship and Grierson left for Canada to establish a State-funded documentary movement there.
Caughie (1986) remarks on the similarities seen in Reith and Grierson. They are both Scottish, Grierson being the son of a head master and Reith was the son of the manse. Their upbringing placed them both in institutions, the church and the school. Higson (1986) feels this may have contributed to their feelings for education. To add to their similarities, Reith left the BBC in 1938 and Grierson left the GPO Film Unit in 1937.
Leaving behind their influences of ‘independence’ and ‘public service’ in both the institutions. Habermas (1989) said we must keep striving for a democratic public sphere, and they have both sought to do this. In conclusion, today television provides a wide range of material; it still provides entertainment, information and education. Michael Grade, Chief Executive of Channel 4 Television says of today’s reality:
A division is clearly growing between channels whose primary purpose is public service, and those which are obviously businesses seeking to maximise profits. For the former the ambition is to succeed in innovation, in refreshing the pool of home grown programmes, in accurately reflecting and stimulating the public mood and taste…Perhaps the best medicine is to make sure that the public service broadcasters, those who put the public service first, those who are committed to sustaining a creative, non-derivative production base, are properly supported, properly sustained and properly funded.
We are heading towards an exciting and uncertain future… In the end, the public interest will remain very much the same as it is now: a right to free and fair communication, to choice, to unbiased news and to enjoy the highest standard of output – in all genres – that our narrative talent can produce. Today we live in democracy, we can view what we like on television and there is a broad range of subjects to view. Although the world is changing and this will effect Britains public sphere we still have a right to free and fair communication. This is partly due to the changes that broadcasting and documentary have made to Britains public sphere.