A camera crew shoulder their equipment through the street

What is public service broadcasting?

Perhaps the most famous examples internationally, and certainly that which we will focus on today, is the BBC (first, the British Broadcasting Company; later, the British Broadcasting Corporation).

So let’s go to the horse’s mouth, the organisation itself, for an insight into the History of the BBC.

  • The company was originally set up in 1923 ‘by a consortium of British radio manufacturers to produce programmes that could be heard on their wireless sets’. John Reith was appointed as General Manager. The company was funded by listeners’ payment of license fees. An annual television licence fee, agreed by British Parliament, is still charged to all British households, companies, and organisations using any type of equipment to receive or record live television broadcasts and the online iPlayer catch-up service. It also generates revenue through selling programmes and services internationally.

  • ‘Reith’s passionate belief in public service broadcasting led him to propose an innovation to the running of the State. He put forward the idea of a public corporation, run at arm’s length from the government, but supervised by a board of governors. The corporation would still be run day-to-day by its managers, but instead of representing a company’s investors in the drive for profits, the governors would put the public interest first’. It was a model of nationalisation which established the BBC’s ‘traditional independence’.

  • ‘Reith did not invent the expression “entertaining, informing and educating” – that was the American broadcasting pioneer David Sarnoff in 1922 – but he made it so central to the way he ran the BBC that his name became a byword for it: Reithian. Pure entertainment was a prostitution of broadcasting’.

  • This commitment to an educational role for broadcast media explains why the BBC has produced and broadcast television programmes for children since the 1930s. The first children-specific strand on BBC television was For the Children, first broadcast for ten minutes on a Saturday morning in 1937. Today, the BBC has multiple dedicated channels for children, such as CBBC and CBeebies, offering hours of programming each day.

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This article is from the free online course:

Pictures of Youth: An Introduction to Children’s Visual Culture

University of York