"Deregulation would lead to an expansion in choice without loss of quality".
SHAHRAN SUNNY AUDIT - M207715 CM275 RADIO PRODUCTION
“Deregulation would lead to an expansion in choice without loss of quality”.
To discuss this question I will first introduce the definition of regulation and the methods that are used to govern media industries around the globe. This will enable me to understand what regulation is and will prepare me to concentrate on deregulation. To begin with deregulation I will look at the American Media and the effects of the Telecommunication Bill 1996, which helped to introduce deregulation into the American Radio industry. From this I will be able to show the effects of deregulation and I can compare it with the recent Communication Bill being introduced in the UK by the end of 2003. With my findings and discussion I will be able to conclude whether or not deregulation would lead to diversity, without loss of quality.
In the British media industry various media text consists of guidelines, which by legislation or by code of practise, ensures that it is socially responsible towards the audiences it is targeted. An early example of this can be seen when the British Broadcast Corporation (BBC) was set up in 1927 under a royal charter with John Reith as Director-General. Reith used the charter to prevent the government from having any direct involvement with the running of the BBC. Reith also declared that the BBC should provide to its audience;
“…entertainment, education and information.”
It wasn’t just the content of the text that was being regulated. The technical aspects were also followed by guidelines to ensure that the public would receive clear signals onto their transistors. For example the Radio Authority, under the Wireless Telegraphy Acts 1949, 1967 and 1998 states that a radio in the UK must;
- Use only a certain frequency
- Use only a certain power and certain level of emission
- Not cause undue interference
- Use within a certain geographical area
- Use apparatus which meets specified requirements &
- Have access for inspection by Agency staff and close down in the event of interference being caused.
So with regulation the media industry tries to ensure that radio content and the way is broadcasted is done by a standard level of quality. In all there are three different methods to regulate the editorial content of radio industry around the world. This is largely due to the kind relationship the media industry share with the politics and policy makers of the country it is broadcasted in. These are known as the following: Free Market, State Control and Social Responsible.
The free market model means minimum intervention from governments, and other forms of hierarchical power. An example of this is can be seen in the country, USA. Because of its political policy of free speech, as governed by the constitution, not much regulation is done on the kind of media output broadcasted on radio. Furthermore the Telecommunications Act of 1996 deregulated all radio rules. This meant no restriction on cross media ownership of the media.
State control model can be defined as full intervention from governments, bodies, or a person in hierarchical power. It is very much opposite to the free market model. An example of this is seen in country of Italy. Its Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi owns and controls the largest newspapers and broadcasters. Other examples are seen in far eastern countries like China and North Korea whose government controls what is published or broadcasted on media texts.
Social responsible model has some intervention from either government or regulatory bodies to ensure a level of decency is governed in media texts. For example the British broadcast regulator “The Radio Authority” ensures that no use of strong languages is heard before the 9:00pm watershed. It is decided upon the basis for the greater good of society.
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Also regulated is the ownership of the media. An example of this can be seen in the Broadcasting Act 1996. One of its legislation in cross media ownership was that a media organisation could purchase a 20% share control in T.V provided they did not exceed a share interest of 20% in another medium.
Overall there are three known kinds of ownership regulation models used in the media industries. These are known as the Manipulative, Hegemonic and Pluralistic models (Trowler 1996: 63 – 82).
The manipulative model suggests that those who own and control media organisations also manipulate their media output. They do this in order to become more powerful and richer. The hegemonic model suggests that media organisations follow one view of the world subscribed by societies privileged classes that presents to a media output a dominant set of ideas. The pluralistic model suggests that the market force is lead by the audience and their set of ideas. This leads to a large number of media outlets adopting catering for its many audiences.
As established the editorially, technical and ownership aspect of media output has had a history of being regulated in various different ways. However the term deregulation has been recently introduced in the media industry, particularly in countries like the USA and UK. Deregulation has been defined as:
“The dissolution of rules and regulations.” Price (1998:334).
The first example of deregulation in the UK can be seen in the legislation of the Broadcast Act 1990. During the white paper stage in 1988 the Conservative government highlighted three key issues in broadcasting:
“Choice, Competition and Quality.”
The government felt that if competition among broadcasters increased then listeners and viewers would have more choice. This meant that only successful stations outputting high quality programmes would attract high ratings to survive and bring in the required advertising revenue.
But did this method of deregulation helped to create an expansion of choice without loss of quality? If we look at the Telecommunication Bill 1996, which helped to deregulate the radio industries in the USA, we can see the effects of deregulation. Before the bill was passed a media company could not own more then 40 radio stations in the USA. However after the 1996 bill the media conglomerate Clear Channel now owns over 1,250 radio stations. That is almost a third of all American radio stations owned by one conglomerate.
Clear Channel provides a valid example of one of the trends that have begun with deregulation. This trend is known as horizontal integration. This allows for conglomerates to either merge or take over other media companies in the same medium. Many have followed suit around the world, including the UK where conglomerates like News International and Persons Group have used horizontal integration to expand providing more choice and diversity in their programming. This is the pluralistic argument that allows audiences to select their own bias in the media.
Another argument to support this form of deregulation trend is that it allows advertisers a guarantee sell with one media conglomerate, reaching out to the variety of audiences listening to the radio stations owned by Clear Channel. Clear Channel has also diversified into the advertising market, particularly within the UK. By using their contacts in this field they can establish clients to market their products on Clear Channel’s own radio stations. This in return guarantees revenue for their stations.
Plus if conglomerates have much control of many mediums across the world then it can help to create what Marshall McLuhan called “The Global Village” (Marris and Thornham 1999:98). This would mean faster and easy access to media products and services without regards to where it is based on the globe.
Critics might express concern about the expansion of media conglomerates and their power and influence of ideas over governments and the public. Before the telecommunications bill the American radio was differentiation, which meant many media companies existed providing many views, ideas and points of view. Also the information level was free flowing and wasn’t gatekept as a choice could be made by the audience. Skegg and Mandy (1992) stated:
“The media is one of the main sites for the productions and circulation of ideas”
With more media companies, were more diversity, choice, ideas and biases for audiences to choose from. However the telecommunications bill resulted in the American radio industry to become more concentrated. This concentration has lead to media conglomerates buying up small companies and thus restricting points of view to the sole view of the media barons.
This example on the media industry trend from differentiation to concentration can also be seen in the recent introduction of the Broadcasting Act 1990 & 1996 in the UK. The 1990 act attempted to open up radio by introducing three new independent nationwide radio stations and encourage the expansion of a new tier of community radio. Radio Licenses for Nationwide broadcast eventually went to Classic FM, Virgin 1215 and Talk Radio. However concentration of radio is also very evident. An example can be seen in Classic FM, who is owned by GWR group. The GWR also owns over 30 local radio licenses in major cities over the UK.
From a Marxist perspective concentration of the media can be very dangerous. There have been many examples when media barons have influenced governments with their media companies. An example is seen when Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating welcomed News International Media baron Rupert Murdoch into making sure his newspapers would give his political party a good image. Murdoch’s popular newspapers gave the pervious political party a bad image, which lead to their demise and loss of the elections. Lord Beaverbrook who owned the popular British newspapers Daily Mail, Daily Express, Sunday Express and Evening Standard stated the following:
“I run the paper purely for the purpose of propaganda, and with no other motive.”
It has also been reported that with deregulation less advertising space has been created due to the vast number of channels presented on both Satellite and Radio. With much more channels it is harder to collect revenue from advertisement and therefore expenditure on programme making has dramatically been cut down. If expenditure is cut down then this could result in a loss of quality in programmes. To compensate for this Radio Stations like those owned by Clear Channel produces cheap and popular speech based talk shows. Also popular, particularly on television, is imported or syndicated programming.
According to The Guardian’s media reporter Matt Wells, the levels of US imported and syndicated programming is set to increase on television and radio in the UK with the new Communications Act 2003. This is due to the act further deregulating the media industry in the UK to allow for more trends of cross media ownership and integration. Under this act the new regulator of television and radio, Office of Communication (Ofcom), is an amalgamation of five existing regulators - Independent Television Commission, Broadcasting Standards Commission, Radio Authority, Radio Communications Agency and Telephony Regulator Oftel. Ofcom has also been given powers under the Communication Act 2003 to make the final decisions on media mergers and will be partly regulating the BBC, overseeing Channel 4 and keeping commercial media companies in check.
The Ofcom website states its main objectives and mission statement’s as the following;
- Ensuring the optimal use of the electro-magnetic spectrum
- Ensuring that a wide range of electronic communications services - including high speed data services - is available throughout the UK
- Ensuring a wide range of TV and radio services of high quality and wide appeal
- Maintaining plurality in the provision of broadcasting
- Applying adequate protection for audiences against offensive or harmful material
- Applying adequate protection for audiences against unfairness or the infringement of privacy
Its task is to regulate technical, editorial, and ownership of media industries, similar to the Broadcast Act of 1990/1996. It interestingly points out that it wants to ensure a wide range of TV and radio services. An example of how they want to ensure this is by looking at the recent ownership of the radio station Capital FM, who under the new Communications Act was able to buy the complete shares to Choice FM. Capital FM initially only owned 19% of Choice FM since 2001. But the new laws have allowed Capital FM to buy the rest of the 81% of shares and thus can have a final say on what is outputted to its audience. With this deal the pop genre broadcaster Capital FM now has a wider access to audiences who listen to Choice FM, which broadcast soul, hip-hop and R'n'B music genre.
The Communication Act 2003 suggests that one media conglomerate can run various kinds of media output and text to cater for different audience needs. But the Act doesn’t guarantee that Choice FM can remain a radio station to cater for soul, hip-hop and R'n'B music genre music. Legally Capital FM can choose to shut down the station or change it to cater for a wider genre of pop music with the occasional hip-hop and soul track, thus ensuring its playlists and revenue from advertisers from its other radio stations. Since the Act has come into legislation other potential ownership and integration deals has been mentioned. The Guardian reported examples of a possible scenario of further concentration of radio ownership in the UK.
- Wireless Group stalked by News International.
- Emap stalked by AOL Time Warner, Capital.
- Capital Radio stalked by Clear Channel, Disney, Viacom, AOL Time Warner, Granada.
It seems that concentration of the British Radio media will follow a same pattern of ownership trend to the USA. Its interesting to point out that the CEO of Clear Channel, the media conglomerates of Radio Broadcast in the USA, was also the person advising the British Government when the Communication Bill was being drafted. But what of choice and quality, will this be affected with further deregulation of the British Radio Industry? The advent of the Broadcasting Act has lead to the expansion and availability of several of radio stations catering to different audiences needs and taste. Examples are Sunrise Radio aimed at the Asian Community, TalkSport aimed at those interested in sport and debates, London Greek radio aimed at the Greek community, Permier Radio aimed at Christian followers etc…
With the introduction of digital radio (DAB) there are to be a further expansion of radio stations catering to more types of music and radio genre, and to cater to a specific kind of audience. In early 2002 the BBC launched 6 new digital radio stations each with a specific audience reach. This expansion of choice has also been happening on the Internet. With a reach across the globe it isn’t hard for audiences to find a particular kind of radio station. Technological advances and changes to legislation have allowed the audiences this opportunity of choice, but does this ensure quality?
In a liberal model competition is considered to be a necessary condition for media diversity and consumer choice, while further inspiring innovation, creation, originality. These key terms define what makes a quality media text (Barret, Newbold, and Van-Den-Bulck 2002:197). If more quality programmes are shown then more audiences will watch it. This is one of the reasons to attract more advertising revenue to the TV or Radio channel. So a free market model that deregulation can create could suggest that diversity means more quality programming.
However these assumptions can be considered false, as the argument against this is that since deregulation has occurred much concentration of the media has lead to a battleground of trying to woo over advertisers to purchase spots on their channels. Commercial radio companies do this so they can have expenditure for making programmes. Inorder to gain advertiser’s Radio channels produce text, which attract audiences that advertisers want to reach. Broadbent (1979:149) sums it as:
“The spot therefore is the packaging, the product inside the package is an audience…it is wasteful and often futile to aim advertising at everybody.”
This could pressure radio channels, under deregulation, to produce more stable, reliable and predictable audience reach to ensure that advertisers would purchase the spots for their marketing campaign. To produce such audiences the text would have a more dominate ingredient of becoming more entertainment based. An example of this can be seen in the recent flux of reality TV shows or the high levels of phone-ins shows on commercial radio. These are produced cheaply and attract audiences, which in turn attract advertisers. Curren (1996:140) concludes this debate with the following:
“The mass media are rather like the political parties in that they tend to gravitate towards the centre in response to competitive pressures.”
As suggest by many of the debates made in this essay deregulation has lead to an expansion in choice. This has already been shown as an example with the introduction of the Broadcasting Act of 1990 and 1996 in the UK. As a result of deregulation much more choice and diversity of channels and media texts has been made available to the audience with the help of technological advances and legislation. However despite choice and diversity, the question on the quality of media programmes has casts some doubts over deregulation and its aim to provide quality text. As a result of further deregulation in the Communication Act 2003 concentration of the media industry has begun to take an effect, largely due to horizontal integration. This has lead to only a handful of media baron’s over the world that could have the influence and power of the media to broadcast their ideology. It has also lead to the increase of competition amongst channels for advertisers. This has meant a compromise of programme schedules to create popular entertainment shows over the Reith’s statement of “Information, Education and Entertainment”. With more popular shows lie more audiences and the ability to attract more advertisers. It seems that quantity has become a realisation then quality.
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Barret B., Newbold C., and Van-Den-Bulck H. (2002) The Media Book London: Arnold
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OFCOM (2003) Foundation and Framework [Internet] London, OFCOM. Available from: http://www.ofcom.org.uk/about_ofcom/foundation_framework/index.htm [Accessed 28 November, 2003]
Tryhorn C. (2003) Radio's Runners and Riders [Internet] London, The Guardian. Available from: http://media.guardian.co.uk/whitepaper/story/0,7521,1000676,00.html [Accessed 28 November, 2003]
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