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 communication.
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 services.
. 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 consumer advice.
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.