Masaryk University Faculty of Arts Department of English and American Studies



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This means that by adopting new strategy and increasing the percentage of more serious and information programmes, ITV began to stress similarities between itself and the BBC rather than differences, as it did during the 1950s.

The introduction of the second channel was a vital landmark for the development of the BBC. It could be assumed that it helped the BBC to continue to provide for mass audience by offering a wider variety of material. On the other hand, it possibly meant the definitive end of one of Reithian policies, according to which the best way to cater for people is through one single channel. This opinion was presented in the previous chapter, which in the given context examined the impact of the introduction of Light and Third radio programme on the proportion and content of the overall input, and proved that the role of radio within the wider range of services provided by the BBC was weakening. Crisell expresses similar concern. He holds the view that with the introduction of ITV and the consequent extension of choice, the application of Reith’s policy on current broadcasting was no longer possible:

The consequence was that from about the time of Pilkington the rationale of public service was moving from a Reithian to a post-Reithian phase: universal provision - ´something for everyone´ - remained the avowed aim, but universal provision on a single channel or network - ´everything for someone´ - was less and less proclaimed as its necessary accompaniment. (109)

The BBC declared that introduction of the second channel “has meant more opportunities for extending the uses of television and for experimentation, and more provision for minority interests at favourable viewing times. (Hand Book 1965 37) David Attenborough, the BBC Director of Programmes in the 1960s and 1970s, specified the two purposes of BBC2 in the Hand Book from 1972:

First, it aims to tackle those kinds of programmes which for one reason or another are not scheduled on either BBC -1 or ITV. By concentrating upon them, it has proved that some, such as Rugby League tournaments, serialisations of classic novels, or international golf matches, can be very much to the taste of millions. Other kinds, dealing with economic affairs, European politics or contemporary arts will stubbornly remain the interest of a relatively small number of people. By continuing to schedule these, BBC-2 deliberately denies itself a share of the audience commensurate with BBC -1 or ITV. Its second ambition reinforces this effect. The network is committed to place its programmes so that they provide a balanced alternative to the programme being shown on BBC-1. (14)

Attenborough further stated that by following this policy, the BBC 2 had gained a very high proportion of its viewers for BBC 1. This meant that both channels were complementary to each other, together offering one integrated service with a very wide selection of programmes. From this point of view, the Reithian policy of unity was more or less preserved. The unity of the two services was also confirmed by the data further presented in the 1972 Hand Book. These showed that BBC 2 took over a part of the BBC’s audience but did not change the balance between the BBC and ITV in terms of the number of viewers:

In 1966, six million people had sets capable of receiving BBC -2. At that time, an audience of 700,000 was regarded as good for a BBC -2 programme. In that year, the overall national split between ITV and BBC was approximately 50:50.Today 32 million people have BBC -2 sets and individual programmes on that network are regularly watched by over five million people. Yet the overall split between ITV and the combined BBC -1 -BBC -2 service remains 50:50. (14-15)

BBC radio broadcasting in the 1960s also expanded. The Light Programme became Radio 2, Third Programme Radio 3, the oldest channel Home Service was reborn as Radio Four and the new music network was called Radio 1. However, while the radio stressed tradition and continuity and clearly wanted to inherit listeners of the Home Service, the public, on the other hand, wanted novelty and progress. In Hendy’s words, the Home Service was in its last days described by The Spectator as “an arthritic old groaner,” which was definitely not the kind of Reithian legacy the Corporation wished for. (15) R.J.E. Silvey, Head of Audience Research, reported in the review of 1964 that the use of radio broadcasting in the daytime had increased, however listening in evenings had a downward tendency. The obvious reason for this, Silvey further commented, was a result of the growth of television: “From the earliest days of television it has been clear that people who have a choice between viewing television and listening to the radio tend to exercise it differently in the evening and in the daytime. (Year Book 1965 28) In conclusion, radio’s evening audience was smaller than before the war but still it was not a meaningless number, since as the Year Book states, nearly half of the people who could have watched the TV, which made approximately one and a half million, chose to listen to the radio instead. (28) This is, considering the fact that the research shows that in 1964 some 90 per cent of people had access to a television receiver, quite a success. (29)
4.2. The 1970s

The second part if this chapter shortly presents valuable information and details about the BBC in the 1970s included in the BBC materials. Firstly, the handbook for 1972 marked the 50th anniversary of the Corporation. On that occasion, Lord Hill, the then Chairman of the BBC, wrote an article on the importance of an independence of the BBC. His words in a sense foreshadowed the worsening relationship with the government that escalated in the 1980s. Hill’s statement considering the status of the BBC was surprisingly daring and even hostile towards the attempts of the government to exercise bigger control over the management and output of broadcasting:

The BBC is proud of its right, within proper limits of responsibility, to broadcast what it likes and to choose its time for doing so. True, although no Government has yet done so, the Government of the day can instruct us to broadcast its announcements, though we, in turn, have the right to keep faith with the public by naming the source of such announcements. For the rest, although we welcome criticism and listen to advice, our programme decisions are our own. Anyone who attempts to influence them improperly, whether in or out of Government, will be told to mind his own business. And that applies to our broadcasts to the rest of the world, as well as to our broadcasts in television and radio to audiences at home. (10)

As Chignell writes, the article “must be seen in the context of the controversy over a programme broadcast a year earlier, Yesterday's Men, which had offended senior Labour politicians and led to wide ranging attacks on the Corporation and a limited apology.” 20(4)

The handbook from the following year, 1973, also contained an interesting article, this time from Greene’s successor as Director General, Charles Curran. Curran’s thoughts on the purpose of the BBC presented a final departure from Reithian strict policy by refusing to forcefully shape public tastes. Curran acknowledged that society had changed and the BBC had changed with it in some ways, and denied that the BBC would like to play a manipulative role of the judge of public tastes, as it did in its beginnings:

To present broadcasting as a means to raise public taste is to adopt a somewhat paternalistic attitude which may seem out of tune with our times. The BBC does not exist to shape society to some pre- determined pattern. Supplying that society with an accurate and comprehensive service of impartial broadcast journalism is not shaping it to a pattern. Setting out to 'raise taste' could be. (9)

On the other hand, Curran emphasised that the structure of the BBC had remained the same, which he proved by stating that he had been able to “reproduce a 25- year –old statement of the constitutional position without changing a comma.” (10) Moreover, the basic ideological principle established by Reith was still valid in terms of “What it [the BBC] has tried to offer is the best that has been though and known.” (10) This means that the BBC still based its policy on the three categories of the purpose of broadcasting:

We have a continuing duty to educate as well as to inform and entertain. So the BBC provides an educational service and includes in its schedules many serious general programmes which are educative without being formally educational. It is providing a service; it is not setting itself up as an arbiter of taste or a manipulator of society. (11)

Finally, the handbook for 1976 was a particularly informative guide to the BBC output and state of the organization. It included detailed programme review section for radio, television, regional output and the World Service. It also tackled the financial crisis of the early and mid-1970s that brought along “limited reductions in the level of services.” (9) The BBC confessed that the crisis represented a reversal for the BBC after years of expansion. “At the turn of the year, the BBC had already initiated a number of measures of retrenchment, whose effect was quickly felt by the radio and television audiences. Hours of broadcasting were cut, programmes withdrawn and choices curtailed.” On 1 April 1975 the Home Secretary increased the license fee, which made it possible to leave the general shape of the BBC's services unchanged, but “in order to have any hope of meeting the policy requirements indicated by the Home Secretary the BBC had to embark upon a reduction in total expenditure of about 6 per cent [...] .” The reduction included employment of staff and artists as well as “delays in important capital projects, already affected by restrictions on capital expenditure in the public sector.” (9) One of the negative consequences of financial difficulties on the quality of content was an increased repetition of older programmes in television, which in practice meant that “in 1974 -75 some series had to be repeated too soon, causing them to miss the larger audience they deserved and attracting some criticism from press and public alike.” (11)

Eventually, expansion in radio was also negatively influenced by the cuts in output:

Radios 1 and 2 lost more than 45 hours a week of air -time and the trend of recent years towards a total separation of the two networks was reversed. Radios 3 and 4 also suffered, being amalgamated on Saturday afternoons and Tuesday evenings for a total of six hours a week. (1976 13)

5. The BBC and the Digital Age

The last chapter of the thesis is concerned with the development of British Broadcasting Corporation from the 1980s until the resignation of General Director Greg Dyke in 2004. During the early 1980s and 1990s the BBC was under pressure for two reasons, political and technological. The first part of the chapter examines the tense situation between the Corporation and government during the 1980s in terms of Thatcher’s radical influence on the structure of the British broadcasting and media in general. It is demonstrated that her government constantly supported Rupert Murdoch and eventually helped him to dominate newspaper and commercial television in Britain.

The second part of the chapter examines the BBC at the beginning of the 21st century. The first part shortly analyses the Hutton Inquiry and the consequences of the Report on the BBC broadcasting policy and the public perception of its trustworthiness. The second part focuses on the final comparison of the original Reithian purposes and values of the Corporation with its ‘updated’ definition from 2004. The main source for this part is Martin Le Jeune’s paper from 2009. To Inform, Educate and Entertain? British Broadcasting in the Twenty-first Century examines the UK broadcasting policy and the expansion of the BBC over the last twenty years. More importantly, June provides several suggestions on how to improve the quality of BBC programming.


5.1. Thatcher, Murdoch and British Broadcasting

So far, the thesis has demonstrated that the relationship between the BBC and government had been since its beginnings quite stable. Even though the government occasionally attempted to control the activities of the Corporation, the BBC refused any major interventions, and both sides have been almost always able to balance their interests. This situation changed after 1979 when Thatcher served her first term as Prime Minister. Thatcher soon became well known for her negative attitude towards the Corporation and the political pressure and attempt of the government to control the Corporation was enormous. Seaton describes this by saying that while the BBC always have been worried about how to deal with politicians, “recently, handling politicians has become more important than making programmes, thinking of new programmes, relating creatively to audiences, or expressing what is going on within the nation.” (205)

The first reason for Thatcher’s dislike of the BBC for sure stemmed from her famous philosophy based on lessening both governmental and economic interference. Therefore, as a public service, the BBC basically stood for all the things Thatcher disagreed with, for example the funding based on license fee. The second reason was that in the 1980s Britain was involved in several armed conflicts and Thatcher severely criticized the BBC for its coverage. During the conflict there was a great deal of pressure on the media to help boost public morale and the Prime Minister herself joined the critics. The BBC describes the disapproval of the BBC’s news coverage as follows:

Initially the problem was over the tone of the BBC's reporting of the combat, and particularly its presentation of information issued by the military. Peter Snow, on Newsnight, began one sentence: "If we believe the British...". Casting such doubt on official sources enraged the Thatcher Government, and John Page MP described Snow's remarks as "almost treasonable. [....] A week later the BBC broadcast an edition of Panorama under the title Can We Avoid War?. It was, said one former Cabinet minister, "one of the most despicable programmes it has ever been my misfortune to witness", and another described it as an "odious, subversive travesty". (bbc.co.uk/The Falklands Conflict 1982)

The BBC’s reporting of Northern Ireland had a similar effect. While the BBC wanted to cover both parts of the conflict, the government claimed the political right to exclude any interviews with the members of Sinn Fein and IRA from broadcasting. In his article examining the tense relationship between Thatcher and the BBC,21 Edward Malnick quotes an excerpt from a record of a meeting between Mrs Thatcher and Leon Brittan, then the home secretary, that took place in January 1985. Brittan said: “The Prime Minister reiterated her concern about the BBC’s journalistic standards. News and current affairs coverage was too often biased and irresponsible; and some programmes on both radio and television were distasteful to the point of offending against public decency.”

Seaton concludes that “Impartiality—even over as intractable and complex an issue as Northern Ireland—was seen as a mischievous disguise for disloyalty. Time and again, broadcasters offended her [Thatcher] over their handling of the issue: indeed, they were bound to.” (208)

Moreover, Thatcher was not the only threat to the independence and the broadcasting status of the BBC. The previous chapter demonstrated that the British press was after the Pilkington report critical of the BBC. During the 1980s, the newspaper once again joined battle against the BBC.22 The intensified hostility of the press was caused by the arrival of Rupert Murdoch as a press owner in 1969. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation was owner of The Times, The Sun, The Sunday Times, News of the World and Today, as well as several magazines. Murdock’s newspapers were also particularly active in promoting for radical commercial changes in the British broadcasting policy, and they also propagated the virtues of Sky Channel and criticized the BBC, ITV and the whole television company BSB23:

His model was popular since the mid 1980s, whereas the public service associated with the BBC has been losing its prestige. It could be said that Murdoch tried to marginalise, if not destroy, public service broadcasting as an enemy to his plans. In 1989, Murdoch proclaimed on the MacTaggart lecture that public service broadcasting was anti-democratic institution of the elite. (Seaton 182)

To summarize the given information, Murdoch promoted the idea that commercial market is the best way to satisfy people’s needs and Thatcher argued that increasing competition would lead to an improvement of broadcasting and would raise the standards of programme. It comes as no surprise that Murdoch had become Thatcher’s main ally in attacking the BBC. John Jewell perfectly described their mutual relationship in his article from 2013, aptly called Murdoch and Thatcher – a convenient alliance against the BBC. It reads as follows: “Every opportunity to criticise the BBC was seized upon – with Murdoch using his substantial media concerns in this country to support the Prime Minister, while his companies received direct benefits as a consequence of policy decisions taken by her government.” Similarly addresses this issue Seaton who ironically comments that “Indeed, the Premiere showed a touching faith in Murdoch’s capacity to raise standards—his previous contribution to halting moral decline having been the relaunch of the Sun.” (206)

Given Thatcher’s high demands on the overall quality of media, it is indeed difficult to understand that while the BBC and its broadcasting was in Thatcher’s view low, immoral and distasteful, tabloids, such as the above mentioned Sun or Daily Mail, apparently offered more sophisticated content.24

The cooperation of Thatcher and Murdoch influenced the BBC in two ways. Firstly, the appointments to the Board of Governors, the organ that basically runs the BBC, became politicized. Seaton summarizes this tendency as follows: “Qualified but unsympathetic candidates were not appointed, while ill qualified ones were - a process of committee management which indeed applied to many other public bodies as well.” (210) The first Chairman appointed in this fashion was Marmaduke Hussey. “One of his qualifications may have been that he had worked for Murdoch and, in a sense, was unlikely therefore to cause Murdoch problems,” comments Seaton. (211) Hussey himself admitted in the Hand Book from 1990 that the internal structure of the BBC had altered significantly since 1986. “The entire management has changed, with the sole exception of our able Managing Director of the World Service, John Tusa. With this exception, most of the top jobs are now held by different people, including an influx, significant but in my view still too small, of people from outside the organisation.” (4)

The second consequence of Murdoch’s cooperation with Thatcher was that the BSB merged in 1990 with Sky Channel and formed British Sky Broadcasting (BSkyB). Smith remarks that “the merger was in all but name a takeover of BSB by Sky,” which he supports by the fact that “the newly formed company, British Sky Broadcasting (BSkyB), was 50 per cent owned by News Corporation (later reduced to 40 per cent), controlled by Sky’s management team and continued to use the non-domestic Astra satellite.” (5-6) In 1990 Hand Book Hussey commented on the changing status of the BBC by saying that “a one -time monopoly, then part duopoly, the BBC is now a player, albeit the biggest and most influential, in a highly competitive and increasingly crowded industry.” (5)


5.2. The BBC in the New Century

One of the most unfortunate events in the history of the BBC was the death of Dr Kelly in 2003.25 The Government asked Lord Hutton to investigate circumstances surrounding his death, and the final report issued in January 2004 was critical of Government as well as of the BBC’s management. Hutton stated that "the Governors should have recognised more fully than they did that their duty to protect the independence of the BBC was not incompatible with giving proper consideration to whether there was validity in the Government's complaints." The consequences for the BBC were far-reaching and resulted not only in the departure of both the Chairman Davies and the Director General Dykes, but also in the public doubts about the professionalism of the BBC, since Lord Hutton’s report marked the editorial system of the BBC as well as BBC management as defective. Governor commented that although the BBC was an advocate of accuracy and impartiality, “The reporting here was neither sufficiently accurate nor sufficiently impartial since the Government was not asked to respond before broadcast.” (Annual Report 2004 5)

Michal Grada, Chairman of the BBC, commented on the impact of the Hutton Inquiry as follows:

The Hutton Inquiry made people reflect on the enduring value of a strong and independent BBC to Britain. When the BBC lost both its Chairman and Director-General in the space of 24 hours it did feel like a watershed. At that moment it is not surprising that some people began to contemplate the prospect of Britain without the BBC. And the truth is that the BBC is not inevitable. It exists because it earns its place in the affections of our audiences by enriching lives through information, education and entertainment. (2)

Moreover, the 2004 Annual Report stated that even though the proportion of the public who in 2003 believed that the BBC was trustworthy rose from 59% to 72%, “18% of the general public said that their perception of the BBC had worsened as a result of the Hutton Inquiry, and among opinion formers, including MPs, this figure was 38%.” (20)

The Annual report from 2003/2004 also explained that the overall purpose of the BBC was “to enrich people’s lives with programmes and services that inform, entertain and educate,” which is basically the same definition as in the Handbook from 1928. However, the Corporation was at the same time “concerned about a decline in perceptions of the quality of BBC output over recent years, with people marginally less inclined to agree with the statement that “the BBC maintains high standards of quality” and that it “sets the standard for programme making in the UK.” (13) The Report had not yet been able to provide answers as to what caused the dissatisfaction of the public with the quality of broadcasting, and the following part of the thesis attempts to do so.

There are two characteristics of the modern broadcasting in the digital age. The first of the most important changes in the broadcasting at the beginning of the 21st century was that the means of delivery of new services started to be as important as the content itself. The main reason for this transformation was that by 2002 nearly 40 per cent of British homes had access to cable or satellite television. (Seaton 229) In relation to this, the second characteristic connected to the new technical possibilities was the destruction of yet another purpose of public service broadcasting. The original Reithian policy of the BBC from the 1920s was based on the concept that all listeners and viewers had the same rights and all had access to the same programmes. After the introduction of the satellite and cable television in the 1990s this was no longer true:

Increasingly policy is based on one right only: the ‘right’ to pay for extra services. Thus Conservative policy makers, while also emphasizing the importance of cable communication, have been prepared to reduce the access to information and services of most citizens in the belief that development could most efficiently be led by those who can pay for it. (Seaton 196)

Even though the BBC did not function like that, as its multi-channel broadcasting grew in early 2000s, certain kinds of programmes were moved to specialized channels. This is true especially for the BBC radio. Apart from the original post-war arrangement of BBC Radio 4 (former Home Service), 2 (Light Programme) and 3 (Third Programme), in 2003 there were at least nine more stations. There was a long string of tradition connected to Radio Four, as a predecessor of the Home Service and even of the pre-war National and Regional Programmes. As Hendy argues in his book Life on Air : A History of Radio Four, it belongs “to the rootstock of British broadcasting.” (2) In a sense, it can be said that Radio Four was the last truly Reithian programme in terms of its cultural mission. None of the above mentioned programmes, as Hendy acknowledges, was designed to “provide only those worthy programmes which other media have generally found unprofitable.” He further claims that Radio Four had been for Reith’s heirs the main service, not too daring and sometimes overcautious, but designed to provide mixed programming, “generally committed to the old BBC project of nurturing rounded citizens.” It has a special place in British broadcasting, despite never being the most popular in rating terms, but “sufficiently popular while remaining sufficiently committed to quality.” (3)

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