Sir John Reith was the first Director General of the BBC, and he had particularly strong views on broadcasting as

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Sir John Reith was the first Director General of the BBC, and he had particularly strong views on broadcasting as having a cultural and moral responsibility as a means of educating and informing the masses. He once famously stated -

'It is occasionally indicated to us that we are apparently setting out to give the public what we think they need- and not what they want - but few know what they want and very few what they need. In any case it is better to overestimate the mentality of the public than to underestimate it. He who prides himself on giving what he thinks the public wants is often creating a fictitious demand for lower standards which he himself will then satisfy' (1924)

This statement is one which has caused much controversy throughout the years that Reith headed the BBC, and this essay will attempt to discuss the BBC as an institution, the reasons that the BBC felt they had a cultural responsibility to society, the arguments in favour of the Reithian views and those in opposition, and the role in this of media policy.

The BBC was formed in 1922 and was known then as the British Broadcasting Company. It began as a radio broadcaster with a commercial mission, and the manager at this time was John Reith, an engineer. In 1927, the company became the British Broadcasting Corporation, and Reith was knighted in the same year. Nine years later, in 1936, the BBC began its television service. According to Gorman and McLean, '(the BBC's) approach to television was heavily influenced by John Reith's definition of broadcasting as a public service - by the idea that broadcasting has a cultural and educative role and is not merely a means of entertainment' (2003).

The idea of the BBC as a public service meant that the provision should be public goods rather than a private commodity (Curran, 2000). The funding of the service was based upon the license fee and their agreement with parliament, and this was decided when it was felt that advertising could limit the number of programmes they would be able to broadcast. They maintained the view that 'our responsibility is to carry into the greatest possible number of homes, everything that is best in every department of human knowledge, endeavour, or achievement' (cited in Smith, 1998).

That the BBC kept a firm degree of independence from the government was always at the forefront of Reith's aims, and the fact that it also gained a reputation for its impartiality meant that it came to be, and to some extent, still is a respected institution throughout the world. Nowadays, the BBC still pride themselves on being 'free of commercial interests and political bias' (2002).
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During his reign on the BBC throne, Reith came under much criticism on his views of overestimating the mentality of the public, and providing a service that contained the matters that he thought should be most important to society. He was often accused of being elitist in his approach to programming policy. Many of the working class began to feel alienated by the programming choices of the BBC, and felt that by Reith basing his programming choices on his own tastes, he was only attracting those on a higher social scale who had a deeper interest in things ...

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