The media play a central role in Britain’s daily life, informing and
educating, questioning and challenging – and of course – entertaining.
In recent years the availability of more radio frequencies, together
with satellite, cable and microwave transmissions, has already made a
greater number of local, national and international services possible.
The transition from analogue to digital transmission technology is now
expanding this capacity enormously. The Internet is providing,
increasingly, an additional medium for information, entertainment and
Television and Radio
Broadcasting in Britain has traditionally been based on the principle
that it is a public service accountable to people. While retaining the
essential public service element, it now also embraces the principles of
competition and choice:
the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation), which broadcasts television
and radio programmes;
the ITC (Independent Television Commission), which licenses and
regulates commercial television services, including cable and satellite
the Radio Authority, which licenses and regulates commercial radio
services, including cable and satellite.
The three bodies work to broad requirements and objectives defined and
endorsed by Parliament, but are otherwise independent in their daily
conduct of business.
Television viewing is by far Britain’s most popular leisure pastime:
over 97 per cent of households have at least one TV set. British
television productions are sold world – wide.
The BBC provides two complementary national terrestrial television
networks: BBC 1 and BBC 2, which transmit 24 hours a day. It also
provides a range of digital channels, including BBC News 24 and BBC
Choice. BBC Network Radio serves an audience of 29 each week,
transmitting 24 hours a day on its five national networks. BBC has 39
local radio stations serving England and the Channel Islands, and
regional and community radio services in Scotland, Wales and Northern
Ireland. BBC World Service broadcasts by radio in English and 42 other
languages world – wide. It has a global weekly audience of at least 140
million listeners. BBC Worldwide Television is responsible for the BBC’s
commercial television activity. It is one of Europe’s largest exporters
of television programmes. It also runs an advertiser – funded, 24 – hour
international news and information channel; and an entertainment and
drama channel broadcast to subscribers in continental Europe and Africa.
The BBC’s domestic services are financed predominantly from the sale of
annual television licences; there are no paid advertisements. BBC World
Service radio is funded by a government grant, while BBC Worldwide
Television is self – financing.
The ITC licenses and regulates three commercial television
services – Channel 3 and Channel 4 (in Wales the corresponding service
is S4C), which complement each other, and Channel 5 – all financed by
advertising and sponsorship. Channel 3 programmes are supplied by 15
regionally based licensees and an additional licensee providing a
national breakfast – time service. Licences for Channel 3 and 5 are
awarded for a ten – year period by competitive tender to the highest
bidder who has passed a quality threshold.
Independent radio programme companies operate under licence to
the Radio Authority and are financed mainly by advertising revenue.
There are three independent national services: Classic FM, broadcasting
mainly classical music; Virgin 1215, playing broad – based rock music;
and Talk Radio UK, speech – based service. About 200 independent local
radio services are also in operation. Stations supply local news and
information, sport, music and other entertainment, education and
Teletext, Cable and Satellite Services
The BBC and independent television both operate a Teletext
service, under which information is displayed as “pages” of text and
graphics on receivers equipped with the necessary decoders.
Cable services are delivered through underground cables and
are paid for subscription. Cable franchises have been granted covering
areas comprising 83 per cent of all homes and nearly all urban areas in
Britain. In mid – 1999 there were about 12.1 million homes able to
receive such services, and 3 million subscribing homes. Digital
technology is being introduced which will support up to 500 television
channels. Cable also has the capacity for computer – based interactive
services, such as home shopping and email.
Many British – based satellite television channels have been
set up to supply programmes to cable operators and viewers with
satellite dishes. Some offer general entertainment, while others
concentrate on specific areas of interest, such as sport, music,
children’s programmes and feature films. The largest satellite
programmer is BSkyB (British Sky Broadcasting) which, with around 7
million subscribers, dominates paid – for television in Britain. It
launched its digital satellite service in 1998, carrying more than 140
Satellite television and cable services are funded mainly by
National newspapers have an average total circulation of over 13 million
on weekdays and about 14 million on Sundays, although the total
readership is considerably greater. There are 10 national morning daily
papers and 10 national Sundays – five “qualities”, two “mid – market”
and three “populars”. There are about 1,350 regional and local
newspapers, and over 7,000 periodical publications.
There is no state control or censorship of the newspaper and periodical
press, which caters for a range of political views, interests and level
of education. Where they express pronounced views and show obvious
political leanings in their editorial comments, these may derive from
proprietorial and other non – party influences.
A non – statutory Press Complaints Commission deals with complaints by
members of the public about the content and conduct of newspapers and
magazines, and advises editors and journalists. In 1995, the Government
rejected proposals for statutory regulation of the press and for
legislation to give protection to privacy. Instead, it endorsed self –
regulation under the Commission and recommended tougher measures to make
self – regulation more effective.
Working practices throughout the newspaper industry have become more
efficient with the widespread used of advanced computer – based
technology. Publishers have been able to reduce production costs by
using computer systems for editing and production processes.