Deregulation when applying this term to the media, means setting a statute or law that the British broadcasting industry has to abide by. The Philosophy of the Public service Broadcasting industry according to Reith was to ‘educate, inform and entertain’. The 1990s broadcasting act, the white paper that was published by the conservative government in 1990 changed this. This white paper outlined three main conservative concepts for Broadcasting: ‘competition, choice and quality’.
The Broadcasting bill was produced in Dec 1989 and the broadcasting act 1990 received Royal Assent in Nov 1990. The main changes effected by the act, which repealed the broadcasting legislation of 1981 and 1984 in relation to UK commercial television were as follows: Regulatory bodies, two new regulatory bodies, the Independent Television Commission (ITC) and the radio authority, replaced the IBA and the cable authority. The ITC was made responsible for licensing and regulating (but not broadcasting) all commercial television services (including terrestrial, satellite and cable) except for S4C in Wales.
Licensing system, the previous contract based regulatory system was replaced by a licensing system, with each license subject to certain conditions with penalties for non-compliance. Licenses for certain services were to be awarded by competitive tender to the highest bidder after a ‘quality threshold’ and sustainability test had been passed, except in exceptional circumstances. Cable and satellite programme licenses were to be issued virtually on demand for services complying with the consumer protection requirements in ITC codes. Transmission, the part of the IBA was formerly responsible for the transmission of commercial broadcasting services was transferred to a separate company, National Trans-communications Ltd (NTL), prior to being privatised.
The Broadcasting Act of the 1990s was the first step towards deregulation in British broadcasting. It reversed previous restrictions on ownership on ITV franchises whereby one company could only hold one franchise and overseas ownership was forbidden. A brief overview of developments on TV up to 1995 follows. Powerful new groupings were created by take-overs e.g. meridian/Anglia, Carlton/Central, Granada/LWT. The biggest development was Michael Greens Carlton Communication in terms of audience and advertising revenue. It also owned a significant share of ITN and ILR services. Granada and Carlton were in breech of the act which limited ownership to 20% of the share that the ITV company could hold in ITN, they bold held 36% each.
ITN’s advertising break bought in 90 million pounds per year, but ITV companies still tried to bring it forward to 6:30 p.m. so that they could broadcast prime time movies without interruption. They were forced by public and political protest to retreat, but it is to be expected that they will try again. There are often complaints in the quality press that the process of deregulation has damaged ITV.
News at ten is said to be becoming increasingly tabloid in its selection and ordering of news items as in its presentation; children programmes show an increasing number of cartoons, rather then informative programmes; informational programmes are said to have moved increasingly towards ‘infotainment’. Those who have this view also fear that the developments they see in ITV programming may well set the trend for the BBC.Under the new licenses ITV is mandated to be a popular channel that gets an audience, earns revenue and sustains business.
In mid 1997 the development of digital TV quickened markedly. Writing in the Observer John Tusa, formerly managing director of the BBC World Service, made it clear that he saw digital tv as one more nail in the coffin of public service broadcasting. He suggests that more can indeed mean less, since in his view the proliferation of channels, many of which will be single interest channels, will lead to the decline of a sense of shared experience and shared community which is provided by the limited number of network channels. In addition, there will be little chance for TV to surprise viewers. Tusa thought that network TV emphasised what viewers had in common, whereas single issue channels would emphasise what separates them, acting as a further ‘atomiser of social interchange’. (Golding, 1995)
When a new political framework was finally established different media organisations were finally able to put their company’s programmes on air. The style of broadcasting was changing. The conservatives who had outlined the British broadcasting act of the 1990s thought firstly, if competition was increased, choice would be increased. Secondly competition would attract very high ratings therefore making money for broadcasters who would in turn be able to survive on this income. Thirdly, in pursuit of higher ratings broadcasters would be forced to produce higher quality of programmes. These arguments were incorporated into the 1990 Broadcasting act.
After ITV was sold off to different franchises, both BBC channels were told they had to commission 25% of their programming to independent producers. The BBC’s obligation to produce was limited thus making output differ greatly than before as independent producers could show their work on the BBC. These changes led to IBA being spilt into two; the ITC and the radio authority were instructed to ‘regulate with a lighter touch’. This again reinterpreted what public service broadcasting meant.
Cross media ownership was a problem, which could at least be addressed when the parent company had a specific national identity. But the second consequence of corporate expansion was that the companies perforce raised money and supplied markets on an international scale and were to a large extent outside individual state control. Satellite broadcaster’s technology made individual state control extremely difficult. In the early 1990s the British government had difficulty preventing the reception in this country of a pornographic satellite channel broadcasting legally from the northern European mainland, where the obscenity laws are less restrictive.
As more channels were allowed on air, cable TV had the chance to produce and air programmes. It is therefore an early instance of that phenomenon of media convergence which many analysts believe will characterise the future, when a single item of equipment may combine the functions of computer, radio, TV, telephone etc. (Crisell, A 1997:219)