In the early years of the BBC, it was greatly admired for its broadcast of national and international news, as well as entertainment; the British connection to a world beyond the bounds and limits of the nation’s everyday lives. However, this output was not always enjoyed and the corporation has spent its lifetime facing accusation and criticism from outside parties. This, one can say, has not only given the corporation strength, but has also allowed for adjustments to be made to enhance its output, its material, and its impartiality.
Andrew Crisell (1997) notes that the BBC faced criticism for being undemocratic and elitist; despite the fact that it set out to serve the public through mixed and varied programming. He argues that this is due to the “shifting and paradoxical notions of ‘democratic'” (Crisell: 1997) Either the BBC set out to give the people what they wanted, and due to limited resources and individual tastes, this didn’t reach everyone. Or, following the idea that democracy meant giving the majority what they wanted, the minority missed out altogether.
The establishment of public service broadcasting coincided with the vote finally being conceded to all adults. This meant society became a mass democracy, and a nation state, a collection of individuals patriotic to their country and home. Evidently the BBC adhered to the embodiment of a nation state, a sense of national pride – through reporting on the war, the royal family, and national news stories. The reporting of the Second World War (1939-1945) served more than one purpose; it fostered this idea of nation state, it bought us into one compassionate, suffering entity.
Also, it gave us a sense of what it means to be British, this ‘patriotism’. Moreover, it drew attention to the fact that the BBC was a monopolistic entity, and this led to ongoing questions as to its political stance and government persuasions with regards to what was told, and what was held back. Nevertheless, “The BBC emerged from the war with immense prestige and popularity. For the next 10 years it basked in it’s monopoly” (Seymour-Ure: 1991) In spite of this, it is argued by Chapman (2009)”The fact that the BBC was forced under it’s license conditions to avoid controversial programming also led to a narrow form of reporting”.
The language used in the early news broadcasts could be classed as banal. In fact, the whole broadcast was then; black and white, no news reader for fear of a shift away from objectivity through an unexpected facial expression. During the years that followed the war BBC recognised a need to connect with the public whilst they communicated to them; to transform the mass audience into people with individual ideas, beliefs, tastes and aspirations. In 1954 Richard Baker was the first news reader since the introduction of television news in 1936. The ongoing aim of public service broadcasting was, and still remains, to inform.
The key here is that news information does not properly inform unless it is accurate. “Principal, as well as expediency, therefore ensured that public service broadcasting was to be impartial” (Seymour-Ure: 1991) Initially the BBC gained its status as a national broadcaster because it was the only broadcaster between the years of 1927 – 1955; no one had anything to compare it to. Then, the path that lay ahead was unknown; no one knew what to expect and to use the words of Lord John Reith, it was a “voyage in unchartered seas”. It’s visions and missions as a public service were not comparable to any other entity.
That was until commercial Television came into play through the Television act shortly after the introduction of ‘televised and reporter read news’ in 1954. This gave the go ahead for commercial TV. The BBC was no longer the only broadcaster after this, though they remained the only public service; all this meant was an extra demand on gaining viewers. However, based on the fact that they were an established household name, were advertising free, therefore remained impartial to outside commercial and governmental pressures this wasn’t a major concern.
According to the 2000/2001 annual review, BBC services in 2001 reached 94% of the population in the UKi??. Despite growing competition, even today, the BBC is deep rooted in our media habits; 88. 4% of all UK households watch BBC Television every weeki??. To continue this discussion, the BBC aimed to not only transmit information, initially through the wireless, then onto Television, but also to entertain and to provide an education to the masses.
Though a monopoly, independent of both state and market, in the Beveridge report of 1949, under article 27 it stated “Any government Department can require the corporation to broadcast any announcement or other matter desired by it”. A contradiction in terms of the idea of state independence as supported through the notion of Public Service Broadcasting. As members of the public, we are entitled to access to the public sphere; its “open in principal to all citizens” (Habermas: 1989).