This BBC (British Broadcasting Company) Essay example is published for educational and informational purposes only. If you need a custom essay or research paper on this topic, please use our writing services. EssayEmpire.com offers reliable custom essay writing services that can help you to receive high grades and impress your professors with the quality of each essay or research paper you hand in.
The BBC began life as the British Broadcasting Company in 1922. It was formed by the six largest companies manufacturing radios in the United Kingdom, but in 1926, it became the British Broadcasting Corporation, signifying its status as a state-owned public service broadcaster. Its first television (TV) broadcast took place in 1936, to a small audience, mainly in the London area, but this was suspended during World War II.
In the 1950s, TV grew rapidly, and the BBC had a state-sanctioned monopoly of both TV and radio broadcasting in the United Kingdom. The services were funded by a license fee, which today costs about £130 annually and is payable by any household owning a TV set. Failure to pay the license fee is a criminal offense, and there are a number of people in British prisons who have acquired a criminal record by failing to pay their license fee. The U.K. parliament is considering making this a matter of civil as opposed to criminal law.
The public corporation is a business model devised in the United Kingdom, which, before the privatizations initiated by the Margaret Thatcher governments of the 1980s and 1990s, had nationalized several strategic industries, including electricity generation, railways, telecommunications, steel production, and coal mining. A public corporation is responsible to a government minister for long-term funding and strategic direction, but its day-to-day management is in the hands of a director general and an executive board. The founding director general of the BBC was a Scotsman, John Reith (later, Lord Reith), whose “Reithian” principles still pervade the organization as an ideal. Reith decreed that the purpose of the BBC was threefold: (1) information, (2) education, and (3) entertainment; the first of these has always been severely stress tested during times of crisis, such as the General Strike of 1926, World War II, and, more recently, the war in Iraq started by Tony Blair and George W. Bush. To a greater or lesser extent, the BBC has withstood pressure from politicians to become an arm of U.K. political propaganda. In peacetime politics, the BBC has always been committed to impartiality and balance.
The BBC’s World Service (on radio) is widely regarded as a prime example of what political scientists call “soft power.” Listeners around the world value its news bulletins for their honesty, accuracy, and ethical journalism. In recognition of this, the World Service has traditionally been financed out of general taxation by the U.K. Foreign Office. However, the source of funding has recently been switched to the license fee.
For the first three decades of its life, the BBC enjoyed a monopoly on radio and TV services in the United Kingdom. Visitors to the country have always been struck by the variety and quality of its programming and have often remarked on how refreshing it is to, say, watch an hour’s TV that is not punctuated by any commercial breaks or to find news, plays, documentaries, comedy programs, and other speech-based programs on radio, which in their home country is given over to pop music and trivial banter. In terms of music, the BBC caters to a range of genres, from heavy rock through pop and light music to full-blown classical.
During the 1950s, pressure to put an end to the TV monopoly became overwhelming, and the British government brought in a large amount of the much-needed revenue in 1955 by selling regional franchises to companies, enabling them to become commercial TV stations. Meanwhile, the only commercial radio was broadcast to the U.K. mainland from companies based on the continent of Europe, such as Radio Luxembourg, and also from offshore “pirate” stations. One such station was Radio Caroline, which operated from a ship just outside the territorial waters but close enough to broadcast to listeners in London. A network of local and national commercial TV stations was allowed by law for the first time in 1973. With the coming of satellite broadcasting in the 1990s, the market became more open to different types of broadcasters, and U.K. consumers now have access to hundreds of TV and radio stations. Ironically, many of them specialize in broadcasting recycled content originally made for the BBC but now edited to contain suitable commercial breaks.
While the BBC enjoys considerable public support in the United Kingdom, it is the last great state corporation not to have been privatized, and there is some pressure to find a new funding formula as an alternative to the license fee. Possibilities that have been suggested are to run some of its “minority” programming by a subscription service and to allow advertising on those stations whose programs are similar to those available on commercial TV. Given that the license fee is not cheap and that there is some resentment against the idea of paying a legally enforced fee, the survival of the BBC model is quite remarkable, especially when considering the added complication of programs being available on the Internet, where the policing of a license fee for TV viewers is not feasible.
The range of the BBC’s activities is remarkable and would appear staggering to audiences in countries where public service broadcasting is regarded as a minority pursuit or a charitable activity. Each year, the corporation presents a full report and financial statement to Parliament, and the 2013 report indicates that the total budget is more than £3.5 billion. This currently finances nine TV channels; more than 20 radio stations, including regional and local services; and a presence on the World Wide Web.
The corporation does have a reputation for bureaucracy, which has arguably only become worse as the organization reacts to political attacks on its independence and accusations of mismanagement and bias through setting up complex compliance procedures. Until recently, the director general of the BBC earned approximately three times the salary of the prime minister of the United Kingdom, and major “talent,” such as individual talk-show presenters, had contracts paying them sums in the region of £2 million per year. The corporation’s argument was that it had to pay commercial rates in order to compete with the private sector for the best people; critics argued that by its very nature, public service broadcasting should not enter into this kind of commercial culture and mind-set about pay rates. In recent years, the BBC has had to react to a political and economic environment dominated by policies of austerity, and since the license fee is widely regarded as a form of taxation, all costs, including pay, have been somewhat scaled down, but certainly not sufficiently to satisfy all critics.
The average British citizen is proud of institutions such as the National Health Service and the BBC, and in this age of privatization, these are arguably the two remaining institutions that define British concepts of public service. Indeed, to many, they define “Britishness” itself. Where else in the world would one find a media organization covering the Glastonbury rock festival, major sporting events such as the soccer World Cup, and classical concerts, some of which are performed by full symphony orchestras financed by the media organization itself? For that organization to also have a worldwide news network that is almost universally regarded as a watchword for truth, impartiality, and resistance to political pressure is undeniably unique.
The fact that its comedy, drama, and factual programs are a major invisible export for the U.K. economy speaks for itself in an increasingly globalized environment. Despite its many controversies and its propensity for intermittent internal crises, the BBC in some shape or form is no more likely to disappear in the foreseeable future than, say, the United Nations organization or any one of the three branches of the U.S. government.
The BBC will become more commercial in many ways: For example, in the Internet age, it has to solve the problem of what economists call the “free riders” who access its output without any sort of contribution at all. The BBC has met such challenges before; for example, in recent decades, anyone in the United Kingdom who can prove that she or he only listens to the radio and does not use TV equipment has not had to pay the license fee. There is still a reduced license fee for anyone who only has a monochrome TV set and does not watch programs in color.
Such challenges are more difficult to tackle when consumption is worldwide and online, but “difficult” does not signify “impossible” for an institution that began with analog technology and crystal radio sets in the 1920s and has lasted nearly 100 years to take a leading place in the world of satellite, cable, Internet, and digital technology.
- BBC Trust. “Annual Report.” www.bbc.co.uk/annualreport (Accessed October 2014).
- Hendy, Public Service Broadcasting. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.