Media exam tomorrow. It’s time I wrote up some notes on broadcasting acts. This is a revision exercise for me, and may also prove helpful to readers who are answering the broadcasting question and want to jog their memories. Apologies for the lengthier first section; I have better notes on that one than the others. However, it is probably the most significant of the three anyway.
The Broadcasting Act (1990)
In order to understand this Broadcasting Act, a little background knowledge may be necessary. It was an indirect result of the Government being unhappy with the BBC. Its non-commercial nature, particularly its reliance on the licence fee and its lack of advertisements and product placement, went against the political principles of the time, prompting Margaret Thatcher to term television “the last bastion of restrictive practices”. Furthermore, the BBC had been portraying the Northern Ireland conflict in a way that the Government was not satisfied with. It was decided that something had to be done.
In response, the Government commissioned a report from one Professor Sir Alan Peacock in 1986. It was speculated that this report would recommend the abolition of the licence fee. However, the report turned out to have a much wider focus, recommending changes to broadcasting as a whole, and did not recommend that the licence fee be abolished. Its recommendations were influential on the Broadcasting Act that followed.
The point of the Broadcasting Act of 1990 was to deregulate British broadcasting and commercialise television. Whether or not it actually achieved this aim – and whether this was actually a good aim in the first place – has been a matter of considerable debate.
The Act ruled that:
- The Independent Broadcasting Authority would be replaced by the Radio Authority and the Independent Television Commission. The RA would regulate radio stations, while the ITC would regulate television channels, terrestrial or otherwise.
- The ITC and RA could only act against a programme that had already been broadcast.
- Commercial broadcasters would be held responsible for their own broadcast output.
- The newly-formed Broadcasting Standards Council should investigate viewer complaints against broadcast material.
- Commercial radio stations would not have to meet public service requirements.
- The ITV regional licences and breakfast time licences should be auctioned off to the highest bidder. Under exceptional circumstances, they could be sold to a lower bidder if that bidder was deemed to be of a higher quality.
- The ITC should be allowed to auction for a fifth channel.
- The RA would create three more national commercial radio licences and multiple local radio stations.
- The BBC and ITV would have to obtain at least 25% of their programmes from independent producers.
- Channel 4 would have to run commercials.
- Independent Television News would have to become a commercial business.
- Programmes could be sponsored.
Some people have questioned whether these rules were really deregulation, with many considering them to be merely reregulation. After all, neither the BBC nor Channel 4 was privatised, and the highest bidder for Channel 5 was rejected on grounds of quality.
Broadcasting Act (1996)
This Broadcasting Act was concerned with some of the new issues that had arisen with the advent of digital television. It passed various laws regarding licencing and media ownership. Most notably, however, it merged the Broadcasting Standards Council and Broadcasting Complaints Commission into the Broadcasting Standards Commission.
Communications Act (2003)
As the name suggests, this one did not focus solely on broadcasting. It had to deal with new media as well (e.g. the Internet). This is the act which empowered Ofcom, the UK’s current regulatory body for communications industries, to be responsible for pretty much everything the RA, BSC, etc. had been responsible for. This act also relaxed the laws on cross-media ownership.
Current listening: Roger Waters, “Marie Antoinette – The Last Night on Earth”