The principles of public service broadcasting underpinning the BBC.

Outline and evaluate the principles of public service broadcasting underpinning the BBC. Focus on one or more historical examples relevant to journalism, consider to what extent these values have been realized in the face of national crisis and/or commercial pressures.

In the present-day society, the power of media has became more and more strong. At any various backgrounds, public service broadcasting is a voice that launching information and news to all over the world. This essay will mainly attempt to evaluate the principles of public service broadcasting underpinning the BBC, focus on some historical examples mostly happened within the past 20 years relevant to journalism, consider to what extent these values have been realized in the face of national crisis and/or commercial pressures.

The BBC was established in 1922, which stand for “British Broadcasting Corporation”, is a public broadcasting company funded by government but operating independently. After 92 years, nowadays it has became one of the biggest and reliable media organization in world. BBC has 8 television channels, 10 radio channels, and uses 43 different languages for the worldwide broadcasting.

Telling the truth is always the purpose for journalism instead of creating propaganda, BBC has done it all the time. At the beginning of the BBC’s establishment, it was on time for the Second World War. In the book An Introductory History of British Broadcasting, BBC is shown as a successful example for the British broadcasting, especially in the wartime. “Perhaps the BBC’s greatest wartime success was to honor its original wise decision to tell the truth as far as it could, rather than create propaganda.” (p. 60, 1997) “The war years are of significance to our history partly because they were the occasion of particular achievements by the BBC and partly because they demonstrated the nature and capabilities of broadcasting in general.”

The book Media and Society in the Twentieth Century refers to the function of media and mass communication for propaganda. “The development of media of mass communication from the end of the nineteenth century provided new and vastly expanded channels for propagandists. World War I showed how modern media could be used on a large scale for propagandist purposes. Governments in the belligerent countries used the media to bolster patriotic and nationalist sentiment, to sustain morale at home, and to wage psychological warfare against the enemy.”(P.77, 2003) However, “…it was perhaps more important that the BBC could be believed at home, because by telling the truth it matched the nation’s concept of itself as fighting a just war, waging a moral crusade against evil and tyranny.”(p.61. 1997)

As time goes by,one of the principles of BBC is using valid languages when doing reports in modern time. People will never forget 7th July 2005 – the London bombings, which is often referred to as 7/7. This paragraph will discuss the incident in a journalism way. BBC reported “Four suicide bombers struck in central London on Thursday 7 July, killing 52 people and injuring more than 770” as the headline. BBC told their staff to be careful in using word “terrorists” when reporting those people. Not using the word”terrorists” is not showing our fear and weakness to the terrorism because there is no doubt that people will condemn them, but as a news organization, when talk about the people involved, news should be reported as neutral as possible. So firstly we should describe the accident accurately – those suicide bombers ignited the bombs, that is the truth. People will get more information from this description. But if news describe them as “terrorists”, they have already out of the truth and state the truth in a prejudiced way. “We should leave the judgment to public people, instead of helping them to judge it.” Mark Thompson, the former director-general of the BBC said in an interview.

However, Some media express emotionally because then attracts more people, they want through this kind of emotional news type to get attention. But Mark Thompson thinks the biggest value of BBC is “provide light instead of heat”. He said, “we tried our best to tell public what exactly happened, but we don’t implant the emotion in the audience.”

“We would rather be right than first.” In 2000 United State President Campaign, George W. Bush versus Albert Gore, Jr. Many of media organizations include CNN, in order to attract people or release information in the first time, they speculated the final result, but the consequence was that they kept changing their news for three times within six hours, reprinted papers and kept correcting the reports. BBC waited until the last minute when the result officially released.

Another story, happened in 1988, an airplane exploded on the ground in Scotland, in a small town called Lockerbie, 270 people were killed. The incident was known as Lockerbie bombings. After the airline is crashed, everyone thought that was a vital news, many journalists pressed it in a hurry, but BBC decided to wait for 30 more minutes when they got the news. Mark said: “I thought it was wrong to go on air and saying an airline is crashed without saying which airline, because the panic you caused people, means if you got a family member on any airline, anywhere, you might be afraid they were in this tragedy. So that’s the example, is accepted that we will going to break the news a few minutes after our rivals, but we will do it be absolutely certain what happened, which airline was involved.” So those two historical examples show one of the vital principles: “We would rather be right than first.”–“Speed is very important, but we should put speed second to be right.” Said by Mark.

Everyone makes mistakes including BBC. In 2008, there was an very serious called Sachagate. It was a prank telephone calls row followed a series of voice messages left by comedian Russell Brand and TV presenter Jonathan Ross on the answering machine of actor Andrew Sachs on BBC Radio 2–The Russell Brand Show. On the episode, Brand and Ross called Sachs as a guest to interview on-air; when Sachs failed to answer the telephone, they are heard leaving a series of lewd messages on his answering machine, including comments about Brand’s relationship with Sachs’s granddaughter. After that the BBC was complain by over 18,000 people and even the general-director came out and apologized. The two presenters including BBC were criticised by a number of members of Parliament, including the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown. The BBC was fined £150,000 by Ofcom(Office of Communications).

When Mark Thompson talked about this event, he mentioned “There are lines which you should not cross.” When people watching a TV program, even a quite strong joke might be acceptable, but there is a line which the public will expect this organization not to go beyond. To some extent, that line is a matter of judgement, no one can defined the line absolutely. The distinguish between strong, edge, satire or humor, may offense some people but still acceptable, but a line beyond which is something BBC or all the media organizations should not broadcast–There are certain things around intrusion, infringe privacy and also a matter of taste beyond which shouldn’t go.

BBC was born with monopoly, the only monopoly company–because of this BBC had 100% audience; but nowadays public people has extensive choices. Take a example of television, people has hundreds of different choices, if you don’t try to win your audience, then you will be a irrelevant organization and finally you will be out and disappear. So update facilities, think, find new ways, then the relationship between audience and media will stay the same. Keep changing and cater to new media, that is what BBC doing now.

In conclusion, some people may think BBC can not do every principle, I understand this for everyone makes mistakes, that is why people need to examine ourselves constantly. New media cannot change the basic principles of journalism, telling the truth instead of creating propaganda, using valid languages, providing light instead of heat, putting speed second to be right… As the pioneer of public broadcasting system, BBC significantly affects the whole media and mass communication field.

・Andrew Crisell (1997) An Introductory History of British Broadcasting. Great Britain: Routledge

・Lyn Gorman & David McLean (2003) Media and Society in the Twentieth Century. UK: Blackwell

・Jin Chai (2012) The Contemplation of UK. (Video:


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