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History of Mass Media Essay

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The history of the broadcasting media in the UK has not even reached a century, although it is already full of collisions and contradictions. British broadcasting started as a competition to the press, which had much more solid positions back in 1920s. Since 1922, when the BBC was found, such terms as ‘mass communication’ and ‘mass culture’ have been introduced and marked the influence of media on the people (Briggs 1961: 5) automatically turning them into consumers.

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BBC was the first and remained the main of all British broadcasters. Even when the second broadcasting channel, the commercial one, had an opening in September 1955, “less than half of those who could ever receive the broadcast watched it” (Elen 2003). Expanding the topic, Murdoch (2009) suggests that exactly the development of the commercial television has effect on the prosperity of the whole industry. Private channels appear to be more creative and innovative, besides they offer a wider variety of entertainment and information, which is not possible in terms of monopoly in UK media. Primarily, the BBC was also created with the idea to correspond to the tastes and interests of the general public, but its management insisted on providing audience with “what they needed, not necessarily what they wanted” (Doctor 2001: 360). That was the first step in achieving regulatory control over media, and especially television. Still this is the problem that the UK faces today: the population is limited in choice of the information, channels are put into strict frames, and the content is subjected to inspection and monitoring. So that the problem is superficially clear, we may not turn to the facts and occasions that have caused such situation in the British media market.

After the radio and television have appeared, the regulations were introduced. The regulatory body then was the General Post Office (Elen 2003, Briggs 1961: 3) and the Independent Television Authority (ITA) which later became ITV. These authoritative bodies were responsible for registering and legal launching of new broadcasting channels. Certain rules already entered into force in the middle of the twentieth century. As one may see, the rules were written and adopted only with the appearance of new media, their development and diversification. Namely, the regulations followed the product, not vice versa.

By the beginning of the 21st century, the total amount of five regulatory bodies was represented in the UK. Then the Communications Act 2003 proceeded, and “an independent organization which regulates the UK’s broadcasting, telecommunications and wireless communications sectors” (Ofcom 2008) emerged. According to Murdoch (2009), the new organization called the Office of Communications, also known as Ofcom, defines the freedom of speech for the UK media channels. All freedoms and restrictions are found in a regularly updated brochure consisting of more than one hundred pages. Ofcom’s original mission is making sure that the British population is not affected by any prejudiced, harmful or violent influence from the television and radio channels. Besides, it ensures the absence of the monopoly in the market, the diversity of programmes, and the efficient functioning of the transmission channels (Ofcom 2008).

Even with the existence of Ofcom, the current situation with the British media is contradictory. Ofcom oppresses the intentions of the commercial and independent channels in the UK, reports Murdoch (2009). He says that the limits in the freedom of speech and advertising are too high but the choice among the information sources is too narrow. Once, the regulatory bodies intended to nationalize broadcasting in order to keep the tight control over all media. If this occured, rather the people’s freedom of choice would be violated.

Let’s take Al-Jazeera as an example. The commercial channel owns the biggest share among the Arab population in the UK – 93% by the beginning of the 21st century (Miladi 2006). Surveys shows that the Arab community in Britain trusts Al-Jazeera more than the BBC. They say the reason is in the objectivity of the news, which both companies deliver. Once again, the BBC appears to be obtrusive to the consumers, which makes the company a powerful tool for massive manipulations within the population of the country. “Yet today the threat to independent news provision is serious and imminent”, adds Murdoch (2009). So can one say that Ofcom pursues the interests of the BBC as the main player in the British market?

“Yet we have a system in which state-sponsored media – the BBC in particular – grow ever more dominant” (Murdoch 2009). In the age of technological changes, keeping one company as a dominator in the industry decelerates the development of the whole industry. It is one of the main concerns of James Murdoch who calls for a “radical reorientation of the regulatory approach”. The author of this speech mentions three reasons why the British broadcasting should change to face “the digital present”. The three dimensions – the processes of development, the boundaries between media markets, and the boundaries between the adjacent industries themselves – are constantly widening and expanding. However, Thompson (2006), Director general of the BBC, expected “digital terrestrial television (DTT) to overtake satellite to become the UK’s most popular digital television platform” still in 2006. In these words, Thompson also emphasized on that the BBC model incorporates the concept of public value. What is reported by him has an obvious contradiction to Murdoch’s words. Let’s look more precisely.

According to Murdoch (2009), the regulations in broadcasting are too detailed and striking. Usually they affect the investment climate in the whole industry, which makes commercial radio and television suffer. “Everywhere television proves to be a less reliable defender of freedoms than was the old-fashioned press” (Fraser 2004: 57). The problems of the press are not so obvious because there is the demand that creates profits for the independent publishers. The free press is considered to be the precondition of the democratic society, which the United Kingdom is. In broadcasting, the rules are the obstacles for profit generation – channels are tightly controlled in the content of programmes they deliver to the consumers and even in the advertising and sponsorship on the channels. Murdoch (2009) says that the reason for Google to spend the largest sums on advertising exactly in the UK is because of the prejudiced policy concerning private television.

Creativity concern is of an outstanding importance in Murdoch’s speech. There is no improvement in the creationism approach for the broadcasting companies, that’s why investing in innovations and artistic performance is useless (Murdoch 2009). MacDonald (2004: 46) has an opposite position emphasizing on the necessary control of creativity by the corresponding legal bodies. He implies the same ideas about the artistic approach but finds it to be the subject for regulations: “Order and control are required to direct creativity to useful ends and to make use of creativity in innovative product and process” (MacDonald 2004: 45). Finally, two oppositions are formed, and one may see that moving from broadband to digital television is not the actual concern of the industry. By innovations and development, they mean the possibilities for the media channels to emerge, expand, and enhance. According to MacDonald (2004: 46), there may be not a single broadcasting company that will not fall under a certain type of control. Anyway, it is explained with the idea that controlling bodies check quality, and quality cannot be reached without creativity.

The position of James Murdoch is clear. He observes the market in the same way his opponents do but he is eager to fight for the freedom of speech and freedom of choice. The BBC leaves no chance to smaller broadcasting companies, which means that the company dominates the market. Being sponsored by the government, the policy of the BBC finds its reflection in the regulations established by the Ofcom. Ofcom itself is an independent structure operating in the form of panels and committee, although funded by the British government as well (Ofcom 2008). Being financially dependent on the governmental aid, both the BBC and the Office of Communications are subjected to the implementation of any regulations the UK Parliament finds appropriate. Other commercial channels cannot compete with the BBC in audience, size or amounts of investments, that’s why the BBC offerings to the British consumers are almost exclusive. The BBC defines the market trends and still provides the people with the content that the regulatory bodies feel suitable for the audience. If no significant innovation occurs in the industry, that’s mostly because the BBC is slow to implement it.

Let us finalize Murdoch’s arguments. In the last years, the industry seems to become more integrated so the term “all-media marketplace” used by Murdoch (2009) fits well. He does not believe that people have a possibility to make a choice between the products they consume. His approach is allowing the consumers obtain all the options that are available in the broadcasting network. Then the market demand may specify the needs and the preferences of these people. “Trust people,” says James Murdoch. This approach accounts for independency of both producers and consumers. Journalists feel free to offer more information, entertainment, and other content to the population, while the people evaluate them more objectively. No concealment or reticence as well as no manipulation of human masses occur.

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