How relevant is Reith's idea of public service broadcasting in relation to contemporary television?

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How relevant is Reith’s idea of public service broadcasting in relation to contemporary television?

        The beginning of the 20th century saw the dawn of a new form of power. A means to communicate with thousands, and eventually millions of people simultaneously, to convey your ideas across a whole nation in a matter of seconds. This power was broadcasting.

Broadcasting at the time was seen as a public utility, and as the wave spectrum was limited, the government got involved in its distribution. It decided the best way to fund broadcasting was a license fee. A British Broadcasting Company (which in 1927 would become the British Broadcasting Corporation) was formed, and on November 14th 1922, after over a million ten-shilling licenses were sold, it started transmissions.

The first managing director of this company was John Reith, a Scotsman with a background in engineering. When he signed up for the job he did not even know what broadcasting meant, and yet he would very soon shape the future of broadcasting in Britain for the next 80 years. In 1925, for the Crawford report, Reith was asked for his opinion on broadcasting. He came up with several ideas about it, ideas that are still in use to this very day. He also came up with this phrase: Public Service Broadcasting.

        Reith believed that broadcasting should be a public service. It was overseen by the government, controlled by the General Post Office, and paid for by the people who used it. As a public service, public service broadcasting (PSB) should have an ethos, and Reith put forth some ideas that would stay in the PSB charter (and in the BBC’s mission statement) for years to come.

One of the utmost concerns of Reith was that PSB had to educate as well as inform. Not only did the BBC have to relate events as they happened but also to educate the masses with science, nature or history programming. We must not forget that in the 1920’s most of the BBC’s listeners would not have had any real education past the age of 14.

Another of Reith’s priorities was that all that possessed a wireless anywhere in Great Britain, be it in the center of London or the far end of the Hebrides, could access the BBC’s services. This universality of access would ensure that wherever you lived, you would have the same opportunities to be informed and educated by the BBC, thus putting the whole population on equal terms.

Important to Reith as well was the public sector status that the BBC should have. That way it was not run for some anonymous shareholders who would only be interested in higher dividends, but in fact financed by the people who actually listened to it and later watched it. This would ensure that the quality of the programs was rewarded, rather than fulfilling the agenda of a handful of bankers.

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The BBC also had to lead popular taste rather than follow it. As Richard Hooper, chair of the radio authority said, the BBC had to offer “the Reithian ‘what audiences need’ not just ‘what audiences want’“. The corporation’s task was to innovate and give the public new areas of thought to explore. However in doing so, the BBC had to remain popular, as it was still the people paying for the programmes productions.

The BBC also had to promote social and national unity, making programmes that catered for minority groups, and as the same time, sending out an image of ...

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