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1. National Daily and Sunday Papers
2. Local and Regional Papers
3. The Weekly and Periodical Press
4. Radio and Television
1. National Daily and Sunday Papers
The British buy more newspapers than any other people except Swedes and
the Japanese. The daily press differs in two obvious ways from that of
any similar western European country. First, all over Britain most
people read “national” papers, based in London, which altogether sell
more copies than all eighty-odd provincial papers combined. Second,
there is a striking difference between the five “quality” papers’ and
the six mass-circulation popular “tabloids”.
These characteristics are still more salient with the Sunday press.
Almost no papers at all are published in Britain on Sundays except
“national” ones: six “popular”’ and five “quality” based in London.
Three appear on Sundays only; the others are associated with dailies
which have the same names but different editors, journalists and
layouts. The “quality” Sunday papers devote large sections to literature
and the arts. They have colour supplements and are in many ways more
like magazines than newspapers. They supply quite different worlds of
taste and interest from the “popular” papers.
Scotland has two important “quality” papers, “The Scotsman” in Edinburgh
and the “Glasgow Herald”.
The dominance of the national press reflects the weakness of regional
identity among the English. The gap in quality is not so much between
Labour and Conservative, as between levels of ability to read and
appreciate serious news presented seriously. Of the five quality morning
papers only “The Daily Telegraph” is solidly Conservative; nearly all
its readers are Conservatives. “The Times” and “Financial Times” have a
big minority of non-Conservative readers. Of the popular papers only the
“Daily Mirror” regularly supports Labour. Plenty of Labour voters read
popular papers with Conservative inclinations, but do not change their
publican opinion because of what they have read. Some of them are
interested only in the human interest stories and in sport, and may well
hardly notice the reporting of political and economic affairs.
Except in central London there are very few newspaper kiosks in town
streets. This may be because most pavements are too narrow to have room
for them. In towns the local evening papers are sold by elderly men and
women who stand for many hours, stamping their feet to keep warm.
Otherwise, newspapers can be bought in shops or delivered to homes by
boys and girls who want to earn money by doing “paper-rounds”.
Most of the newspapers are owned by big companies, some of which have
vast interests in other things, ranging from travel agencies to Canadian
forests. Some have been dominated by strong individuals. The greatest of
the press “barons” have not been British in origin, but have come to
Britain from Canada, Australia or Czechoslovakia. The most influential
innovator of modern times is partly Indian, and spent his early years in
India. He pioneered the introduction of new technology in printing.
Among the “quality” papers the strongly Conservative “Daily Telegraph”
sells more than twice as many copies as any of the others. It costs less
to buy and its reporting of events is very thorough. The “Financial
Times” has a narrower appeal, but is not narrowly restricted to business
news. “The Guardian” has an old liberal tradition, and is in general a
paper of the Left.
The most famous of all British newspapers is “The Times”. It is not now,
and has never been, an organ of the government, and has no link with any
party. In 1981 it and “The Sunday Times”’ were taken over by the
international press company of the Australian Rupert Murdoch, which also
owns two of the most “popular” of the national papers. Its editorial
independence is protected by a supervisory body, but in the 1980s it has
on the whole been sympathetic to the Conservative government. The
published letters to the editor have often been influential, and some
lead to, prolonged discussion in further letters. Under the Murdoch
regime it has continued a movement away from its old austerity.
The popular newspapers are now commonly called “tabloids”, a word first
used for pharmaceutical substances compressed into pills. The tabloid
newspapers compress the news, and are printed on small sheets of paper.
They use enormous headlines for the leading items of each day, which are
one day political, one day to do with crime, one day sport, one day some
odd happening. They have their pages of political report and comment,
short, often over-simplified but vigorously written and (nowadays)
generally responsible. They thrive on sensational stories and
The two archetypal popular papers, the “Daily Mail”’ and “Daily Express”
were both built up by individual tycoons in the early 20th century. Both
had a feeling for the taste of a newly-literate public: if a man bites a
dog, that’s news. The “Daily Express” was built up by a man born in
Canada. He became a great man in the land, a close friend and associate
of Winston Churchill, and a powerful minister in his War Cabinet. The
circulation of the “Daily Express” at one time exceeded four million
copies a day. Now the first Lord Beaverbrook is dead, and the daily
sales are not much more than half of their highest figure. The history
of the “Daily Mail”, with its more conventional conservatism, is not
In popular journalism the “Daily Mirror” became a serious rival of the
“Express” and “Mail” in the 1940s. It was always tabloid, and always
devoted more space to picture than to text. It was also a pioneer with
strip cartoons. After the Second World War it regularly supported the
Labour Party. It soon outdid the “Daily Express” in size of headlines,
short sentences and exploration of excitement. It also became the
biggest-selling daily newspaper. For many years its sales were about
four million; sometimes well above.
Until the 1960s the old “Daily Herald” was an important daily paper
reflecting the views of the trade unions and the Labour Party. Then it
went through several changes, until in the 1970s its successor, “The
Sun”, was taken over by Mr Murdoch’s company. In its new tabloid form it
became a right-wing rival to the “Daily Mirror”, with huge headlines and
some nudity. In the 1980s its sales reached four million and exceeded
the “Daily Mirror”. Mr Murdoch’s News International already owned “The
News of the World”’, a Sunday paper which has continued to give special
emphasis to scandals. But by 1990 its sales were only two-thirds of
their former highest figure of eight million.
For a very long time the press has been free from any governmental
interference. There has been no censorship, no subsidy. But for several
decades it has seemed that some newspapers have abused their freedom. In
competing with one another to get stories to satisfy a public taste for
scandal, reporters and photographers have been tempted to harass
individuals who have for one reason or another been involved, directly
or indirectly, in events which could excite public curiosity. Prominent
people of all kinds, as well as obscure people who come into the news as
victims of crimes or accidents, have been pursued into their homes for
photographs and interviews.
2. Local and Regional Papers
Local morning papers have suffered from the universal penetration of the
London-based national press. Less than 20 survive in the whole England,
and their combined circulation is much less than that of “The Sun”
alone. Among local daily papers those published in the evenings are much
more important. Each of about 70 towns has one, selling only within a
radius of 50 to 100 kilometres. The two London evening papers, the
“News” and “Standard”, together sold two million copies in 1980, but
they could not survive, and merged into one, now called “The London
Most local daily papers belong to one or other of the big press empires,
which leave their local editors to decide editorial policy. Mostly they
try to avoid any appearance of regular partisanship, giving equal weight
to each major political party. They give heavy weight to local news and
defend local interests and local industries.
The total circulation of all provincial daily newspapers, morning and
evening together, is around eight million: about half as great as that
of the national papers. In spite of this, some provincial papers are
quite prosperous. They do not need their own foreign correspondents;
they receive massive local advertising, particularly about things for
The truly local papers are weekly. They are not taken very seriously,
being mostly bought for the useful information contained in their
advertisements. But for a foreign visitor wishing to learn something of
the flavour of a local community, the weekly local paper can be useful.
Some of these papers are now given away, not sold out but supported by
3. The Weekly and Periodical Press
Good English writing is often to be found in the weekly political and
literary journals, all based in London, all with nationwide circulations
in the tens of thousands. “The Economist”, founded in 1841, probably has
no equal everywhere. It has a coloured cover and a few photographs
inside, so that it looks like “Time”’, “Newsweek” or “Der Spiegel”, but
its reports have more depth and breadth than any these. It covers world
affairs, and even its American section is more informative about America
than its American equivalents. Although by no means “popular”, it is
vigorous in its comments, and deserves the respect in which it is
generally held. “Spectator” is a weekly journal of opinion. It regularly
contains well-written articles, often politically slanted. It devotes
nearly half its space to literature and the arts.
“The Times” has three weekly supplements, all appeared and sold
separately. The “Literary Supplement” is devoted almost entirely to book
reviews, and covers all kinds of new literature. It makes good use of
academic contributors, and has at last, unlike “The Economist”,
abandoned its old tradition of anonymous reviews. “New Scientist”4,
published by the company which owns the “Daily Mirror”, has good and
serious articles about scientific research, often written by academics
yet useful for the general reader.
One old British institution, the satirical weekly “Punch”’, survives,
more abrasive than in an earlier generation yet finding it hard to keep
the place it once had in a more secure social system. Its attraction,
particularly for one intellectual youth, has been surpassed by a new
rival, “Private Eye”, founded in 1962 by people who, not long before,
had run a pupils’ magazine in Shrewsbury School. Its scandalous material
is admirably written on atrocious paper and its circulation rivals that
of “The Economist”.
Glossy weekly or monthly illustrated magazines cater either for women or
for any of a thousand special interests. Almost all are based in London,
with national circulations, and the women’s magazines sell millions of
copies. These, along with commercial television, are the great educators
of demand for the new and better goods offered by the modern consumer
society. In any big newsagent’s shop the long rows of brightly covered
magazines seem to go on for ever; beyond the large variety of appeals to
women and teenage girls come those concerned with yachting, tennis,
model railways, gardening and cars. For every activity there is a
magazine, supported mainly by its advertisers, and from time to time the
police bring a pile of pornographic magazines to local magistrates, who
have the difficult task of deciding whether they are sufficiently
offensive to be banned.
These specialist magazines are not cheap. They live off an infinite
variety of taste, curiosity and interest. Their production, week by week
and month by month, represents a fabulous amount of effort and of felled
trees. Television has not killed the desire to read.
4. Radio and Television
Since the 1970s 98% of British households have had television sets able
to receive four channels, two put out by the BBC, two by commercial
companies. Commercial satellite and cable TV began to grow significantly
in 1989-1990, and by 1991 the two main companies operating in Britain
had joined together as British Sky Broadcasting. By 1991 about one
household in ten had the equipment to receive this material.
Every household with TV must by law pay for a licence, which costs about
the same for a year as a popular newspaper every day.
Unlike the press, mass broadcasting has been subject to some state
control from its early days. One agreed purpose has been to ensure that
news, comment and discussion should be balanced and impartial, free of
influence by government or advertisers. From 1926 first radio, then TV
as well, were entrusted to the BBC, which still has a board of governors
appointed by the government. The BBC’s monopoly was ended in 1954, when
an independent board was appointed by the Home Secretary to give
licences to broadcast (“franchises”) to commercial TV companies financed
by advertising, and called in general independent television (ITV).
These franchises have been given only for a few years at a time, then
renewed subject to various conditions.
In 1990 Parliament passed a long and complex new Broadcasting Act which
made big changes in the arrangements for commercial TV and radio. The
old Independent Broadcasting Authority, which had given, franchises to
the existing TV and radio companies, was abolished. In its place, for TV
alone, a new Independent Television Commission was set up in 1991, with
the task of awarding future franchises, early in the 1990s, either to
the existing companies or to new rivals which were prepared to pay a
higher price. The Commission also took over responsibility for licensing
cable programme services, including those satellite TV channels which
are carried on cable networks. The new law did not change the status of
the BBC, but it did have the purpose of increasing competition, both
among broadcasters and among producers. It envisaged that a new
commercial TV channel, TVS, would start in the early 1990s.
The general nature of the four TV channels functioning in 1991, seems
likely to continue, with BBC1 and ITV producing a broadly similar
mixture of programmes in competition with each other. ITV has a complex
structure. Its main news is run by one company, Independent Television
News, its early morning TV— a.m. by another. There are about a dozen
regional companies which broadcast in their regions for most each day,
with up to ten minutes of advertisements in each hour, between
programmes or as interruptions at intervals of twenty or thirty minutes.
These regional companies produce some programmes of local interest and
some which they sell to other regions, so that for much of each day the
same material is put out all through the country. Some of BBCl’s
programmes are similarly produced by its regional stations. BBC2 and the
independent Channel 4 (which has its own company) are both used partly
for special interest programmes and for such things as complete operas.
By international standards it could reasonably be claimed that the four
regular channels together provide an above-average service, with the
balance giving something to please most tastes and preferences. Some
quiz-shows and “soap operas”’, or long-running sagas, attract large
numbers of viewers and to some extent the BBC competes for success in
this respect. But minority preferences are not overlooked. In Wales
there are Welsh-language programmes for the few who want them. There are
foreign language lessons for the general pubic, as well as the special
programmes for schools and the Open University2. BBC news has always
kept a reputation for objectivity, and the independent news service is
of similar quality.
Television is probably the most important single factor in the
continuous contest for the public’s favour between the political
parties. Parties and candidates cannot buy advertising time. At
intervals each channel provides time for each of the three main
political parties for party-political broadcasts, and during an election
campaign a great deal of time is provided for parties’ election, always
on an equal basis.
Minor parties get time, based partly on the number of their candidates.
In Wales and Scotland the nationalist parties get TV time on the same
basis as the three others. Studios and transmitters must be provided
free of charge. But often a party prefers to film a broadcast outside
the studio at its own expense, for greater impact.
BBC TV Europe broadcasts some of its own programmes by satellite, and
from 1991 BBC TV International began to sell and distribute its World
Service TV news in English and some other languages.
The BBC’s Radio 4 is the main general interest radio service, with some
items run by regional studios. Radio 3 is for minority interests,
including music, “2” for light entertainment, “1” for pop music and “5”
for sport, education and children’s programmes. There are also several
dozens local BBC radio stations, covering the whole country. The world
wide radio service has been established for long time, and is the
activity of the BBC to receive a government subsidy.
The BBC runs several dozens of local radio stations, which compete with
independent commercial rivals, financed by advertisements. All provide a
mixture of local news and comment, with some entertainment matter,
mainly pop music, in between. In the 1990s there should be one or more
new commercial radio stations broadcasting nationwide, including one
“non-pop” station, possibly for continuous broadcasts of classical
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