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 televi-sion (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 existingcompanies 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 music.