So, what can we define as ‘quality’ perhaps, and is there a difference between commercial and non-commercial broadcasters through programming content? Quality can be stereotypically defined in terms of television broadcasting content as ‘something that emits high standard programming, which can be culturally, educationally or informative in its nature. ‘ Commercial television this way has been attacked and criticised, and to a certain extent, the BBC has as well (having to adapt the contents of its programming in response to commercial television).
Ian Connell who wrote an article titled ‘Tales and the tellyland: the popular press and television in the UK, in a book by Peter Dahlgren and Colin Sparks called ‘Communication and Citizenship,’ said ‘Briefly stated, the concern is that in a variety of ways informative, in-depth and investigative journalism is being marginalized not just in tabloid press, but also in the broadsheets, as well as in television. In its place, there is an increasing volume of material on aspects of out lives that are thought of as largely unessential.
‘ By allowing the proliferation of channels, and the wider access advertisers gained over air time on television, the more programming quality is ‘dumbed down,’ according to the mess society approach. BBC radio also experienced similar problems, when radio Luxembourg, a pirate radio who according to A Crisell ‘was again eating into the BBC’s audience. ‘ Play popular music off the shores of the UK, meant that they were out of UK jurisdiction law, therefore able to transmit popular tastes and popular music over the airwaves very easily.
So again, Reith would have pointed by not allowing ‘the brute force of the monopoly,’ that commercial broadcasting would lead to mass cheap entertainment, with poor quality programming being shown. But, there are doubts to this concern that is held over commercial broadcasting as ‘dumbing down’ content. The pluralist argument, critiques the mass society and traditional view of commercial broadcasting, say primarily that the public has to make its own choice. Reith was seen as very paternalistic in his nature. He dictated content, never allowing the public to view ‘what they want.
‘ The Pluralist argument then would seem to suggest that people do have the option of watching most, if not all types of programmes they want to watch, as choice is now available to them. The monopoly status of the BBC was may have been culturally sound, but to some extent was suffocating and restrictive over its content. Sky television and the cable networks have provided much more choice then would have previously been imagined. And with the launch of the new digital service in, more then 200 channels are now available to those that subscribe the Australian owned company.
We are beginning therefore to see a digi-see culture. Although channels on sky television are primarily populist, it also caters for minorities as well as certain interests. Zee tv, caters for the UK’s Asian population, and channels like the discovery channel, history channel e. t. c. all have educational value. Also, the broadcasting act of 1990, changed ITV dramatically. When the ITC took over from the IBA and cable authority as the new regulatory body, and according to K Williams ‘The bidders had to satisfy the ITC that their programme proposals passed a ‘quality threshold’ and their business projections made sense.
‘ So this further dispelled the idea that commercial television was dumb down programme content in Britain. ITV in particular is heavily regulated, so this meant that this meant that could only show a limited amount of populist programming. So, to reiterate the question ‘Has the presence of commercially driven broadcasting in Britain necessarily led to a ‘dumbing down’ of programming content,’ it would seem plausible to think that it doesn’t.
Although there is more popular entertainment on television these days, the proliferation of channels has resulted in the growth of and representation of minority groups. Many channels that sky broadcast have educational value, e. g. the discovery channel for example. And who’s to say that programmes cannot be educational and entertaining at the same time. Programmes such as ‘Who wants to be a millionaire? ‘ or ‘Fifteen to one’ all provide us with general knowledge and at the same time keep us entertained.
Perhaps competition in broadcasting has meant that broadcasters now supply programmes for everyone. When the BBC acted as a monopoly, it was to restrictive over its content. Domination of programmes of a certain nature, would not be able to diversify and appeal to the mass crowds. Multiculturalism would not have been promoted through TV, if the BBC, had remained a monopoly. Also, it has transcended national boundaries, making programming more international, and the concept of the ‘global village’ becoming more of reality as we move into this new era of globalisation.
Programming content is now much more diverse then it has ever been catering to many people needs and wants. The audience is more active then passive as one may have been. So, to sum up then, commercially driven broadcasting has not necessarily led to a dumbing down of programming content, rather diversified it appealing to more minorities and groups of people, specifying and segregating the audience, as to cater for all needs that public wants fulfilling.
Bibliography: Cardiff D, Scannell P (1987) ‘Broadcasting and national unity’-in; Curran J et al, Impacts and Influences, Essays on media power in the twentieth century, ch7, pg157-159 Williams, K (1998) ‘Get me a murder a day: A history of mass communication in Britain,’ ch9, pg 182, ch11 pg 248 Connell, I (1997) ‘Tales of tellland: the popular press and television in the UK’-in; Dahlgren P, Sparks, C, ‘Communication and Citizenship’ pg236 Crisell, A (1997) ‘An introductory history of British broadcasting’ ch3, ch7 pg138, ch10 and 11.