Nonfiction 13

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By Tim Madge

This serious research examines the present nation of broadcasting in Britain and makes an attempt to explain the temper of broadcasters within the Nineteen Eighties and the temper of the audiences they serve. A comparability is made among the operation of the UK's oldest and most up-to-date public tv broadcasting systems.

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There we find a continuous struggle between broadcasters and politicians. There is an important difference between the two parts of the British broadcasting 'system'. The BBC is governed by Royal Charter guaranteeing its rights and specifying its duties. Over time these duties have multiplied - the requirement to provide increasing numbers of advisory bodies, for example. Nevertheless the BBC has a permissive existence. The commercial sector is controlled by an Act of Parliament. Acts are restrictive on the whole, telling people what they may not do.

Reith believed that radio could cater for minorities and that these, already to be numbered in tens if not hundreds of thousands, could be built upon. Broadcasting, in short, could draw people out and into fields and interests they might, left alone, have never discovered. Today this all looks dreadfully paternalistic, but it fitted - just and increasingly awkwardly - with the tone of the age. The BBC was founded over that short period when ideas about a national culture based on a particular - and to us perhaps very narrow - consensus were pertinent (Middlemas, 1979; Scannel and Cardiff, 1977).

What they do is to nudge the audience towards listening to and watching programmes in which their prejudices are challenged. There is no doubt that there is pressure through playrights and drama producers to push to the limits, on more than odd occasions, what audiences will find tolerable. There is no easy answer here. British broadcasting reflects British culture. The 1960s saw massive fractures in the fabric of what had become an over-stuffy society still obsessed with past glories, wrapped in the fabric of social class.

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