The United Kingdom
The United Kingdom
|Official Country Name:||United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland|
|Region (Map name):||Europe|
|Language(s):||English, Welsh (about 26% of the population of Wales), Scottish|
|Area:||244,820 sq km|
|GDP:||1,414,557 (US$ millions)|
|Number of Daily Newspapers:||104|
|Circulation per 1,000:||409|
|Number of Nondaily Newspapers:||467|
|Circulation per 1,000:||134|
|Total Newspaper Ad Receipts:||4,246 (Pounds millions)|
|As % of All Ad Expenditures:||40.60|
|Number of Television Stations:||228|
|Number of Television Sets:||30,500,000|
|Television Sets per 1,000:||511.3|
|Number of Cable Subscribers:||3,396,930|
|Cable Subscribers per 1,000:||56.9|
|Number of Satellite Subscribers:||5,200,000|
|Satellite Subscribers per 1,000:||87.2|
|Number of Radio Stations:||653|
|Number of Radio Receivers:||84,500,000|
|Radio Receivers per 1,000:||1,416.6|
|Number of Individuals with Computers:||20,190,000|
|Computers per 1,000:||338.5|
|Number of Individuals with Internet Access:||18,000,000|
|Internet Access per 1,000:||301.8|
Background & General Characteristics
The United Kingdom possesses one of the most universally respected and widely read national presses. According to Brian McNair (1999), 80 percent of adults regularly read at least one national daily newspaper (not necessarily every day), and 75 percent read a Sunday edition. In addition, despite growing fears among many journalists and academics about the consequences increased concentration of ownership and the growing ability of governments to "spin" the media, the British press remains one of the freest and most diverse in the world.
Compared to the United States, where papers based in a few large cities exert the most influence, in Britain the local and regional press takes a clear backseat to the London-based national press. The leading papers' access to a national market makes them among the best-selling newspapers in the world. The main titles in the national daily press appear in the mornings; many local dailies appear in the evening.
England's first news periodicals, called corantos, circulated in the 1620s. During the next few decades, English notions of the liberty of the press began to develop, and with them visions of the press as the bulwark of freedom against would-be tyrants. This vision helped to inspire more than a century of reform movements that resulted in the gradual elimination of state repression of the press. The most important of these developments include the 1694 act removing pre-publication censorship; Fox's Libel Act in 1792, which placed the verdict in libel trials squarely in juries' hands; and the repeal of paper, advertising, and newspaper stamp taxes, the so-called "Taxes on Knowledge," between 1853 and 1861. This long series of reforms, which came only after numerous popular campaigns, including a "war of the unstamped" (and hence illegal) press in the 1830s, reflected and reinforced a growing tradition of formal newspaper independence from the state that continues to influence journalists at the beginning of the twenty-first century.
Daily newspapers in the nineteenth century typically consisted of four to eight pages of closely typed columns of often-verbatim reports of parliamentary debates or speeches by prominent statesmen. The most influential paper in the mid-century was the London Times. Following the repeal of the "Taxes on Knowledge," a provincial press flourished, as new titles joined such older papers as the Manchester Guardian and Yorkshire Post. Combined with London papers, such as the Morning Post and the new Daily Telegraph, a sober and editorially diverse press existed that some observers have pointed to as a "golden age" for the British press. These titles coexisted with more popular (and initially less respectable) Sunday papers such as Reynolds News and Lloyd's Weekly News. During most of the nineteenth century, newspapers wore their partisanship like a badge of honor; this feature was as typical of The Times in the 1850s as it was of the Northern Star, the newspaper of the radical working-class Chartist movement in the 1840s.
In the later decades of the century, in an effort to expand circulations and stimulated by changing ownership patterns and growing literacy rates, newspaper editors increasingly incorporated reader-friendly changes such as headlines, illustrations, interviews, and what would now be called human interest stories. "Views" gave way to news. Stories became shorter; columns gave way to paragraphs. These developments had precedents in American journalism. Defenders of these changes argued that they merely recognized the importance of the world beyond parliament; by aiming to satisfy readers' preferences, they were democratizing the press. Critics bemoaned the demise of the press's educational role and feared for the social consequences of the "New Journalism."
Alongside newspapers, throughout the nineteenth century, a thriving (and growing) body of periodicals existed, ranging from august titles such as the Edinburgh Review and Fortnightly Review, which spoke to the "questions of the day" to professional journals such as the Lancet (a medical journal) or the English Historical Review ; to recreational titles such as the Sporting Magazine ; to "penny dreadfuls" whose supposedly harmful effects on working-class readers preoccupied many moralists.
As the nineteenth century progressed, it became clear that, under the right circumstances, the press could be very profitable. Particularly with the growth of consumerism in the second half of the nineteenth century, advertising became an important source of revenue for newspapers. This development helped to increase the importance of high circulations.
Alfred Harmsworth is often credited with creating the modern popular press, particularly with the creation of the Daily Mail in 1896. Selling for a halfpenny when other papers cost a penny, this paper became, during the Boer War (1899-1902), the first to attain a daily circulation of one million. Harmsworth founded other papers, including the Daily Mirror in 1903. Originally pitched at female readers, it was reinvented in 1904 as a mass-market news pictorial and reached a circulation of 1.2 million by the outbreak of World War I in 1914. Ennobled as Lord Northcliffe in 1905, Harmsworth steadily built his newspaper empire, climaxing in 1908 with his acquisition of The Times. He became the archetypal "press baron," using his papers to attain influence over the government. For example, he has been widely credited with bringing down the Asquith government in 1916. In addition to his political interests, however, he was the consummate businessman, employing stunts to spike sales.
The first three decades of the twentieth century saw the continuing concentration of the press into fewer hands. Following Lord Northcliffe's death in 1922, the British press was dominated by four men: Lord Beaver-brook, Lord Rothermere (Northcliffe's brother), William Berry (later Lord Camrose), and Gomer Berry (later Lord Kemsley). The popular press seemed increasingly commercialized, culminating in the "circulation war" of the early 1930s. The Daily Mail and Daily Express had offered insurance to subscribers throughout the 1920s, spending a million pounds per year by 1928. By the early 1930s, even the relatively sober Daily Herald had entered the fray. The three papers employed door-to-door canvassers to entice subscribers with gifts; these canvassers accounted for 40 percent of all press employees by 1934. Gifts included flannel trousers, cameras, kettles, handbags, and tea sets. This method of gaining circulation by bribery reflected the ever-growing importance of advertising as a revenue source; newspapers sought to attract circulation any way they could, in order to impress advertisers.
Markets and Readers
The twentieth century witnessed the ongoing conflict between lingering nineteenth-century ideals and the press's increasingly commercial environment. Over the course of the century, the press solidified into three distinct markets in the daily and Sunday national press: quality, middle market, and mass market. The quality press, including The Times, the Guardian (descendant of the Manchester Guardian ), the Daily Telegraph, the Independent, and the Financial Times, is published in a broadsheet format, while the middle market (including the Daily Mail and Daily Express ) and mass market (including the Daily Mirror and the Sun ) are published in tabloid format. A similar distinction exists on Sundays, with qualities (Independent on Sunday, Observer Sunday Times, and Sunday Telegraph ), middle market (Sunday Express and Mail on Sunday ), and mass market (News of the World, People Mirror ).
These markets split across class lines and produced papers with distinctive qualities. Nearly 90 percent of the upmarket dailies' readers are considered middle class, compared to only about 30 percent of the downmarket dailies' readers. In 1995 daily newspaper sales were approximately 20 percent upmarket, 27 percent midmarket, and 53 percent mass market. Corresponding Sunday sales were approximately 17 percent upmarket, 22 percent midmarket, and 61 percent mass market. This distribution represents a dramatic shift during the second half of the twentieth century. In 1937, the daily breakdown was 8 percent upmarket, 72 percent midmarket, and 20 percent mass market; the Sunday breakdown had been 3 percent, 36 percent, and 61 percent (Tunstall). The increase in share for the quality press, at the expense of the middle market, reflects increased educational levels in Britain combined with television's greater challenge to the middle market.
The markets are distinguished not only by reader-ship, but also by price, size, and contents. As of May 2002, the following prices were in effect:
- Financial Times : 1 pound
- The Guardian : 50 pence
- The Independent : 50 pence
- The Daily Telegraph : 50 pence
- The Times : 40 pence
- The Daily Mail : 40 pence
- Daily Express : 35 pence
- Daily Mirror : 32 pence
- Daily Star : 30 pence
- The Sun : 20 pence
The mass market and broadsheet papers contain approximately the same number of pages, with the middle market papers containing slightly more. According to Seymour-Ure, in 1992 the average number of pages in selected daily papers was as follows:
- The Guardian : 44
- The Independent : 37
- The Daily Telegraph : 41
- The Times : 47
- The Daily Mail : 55
- Daily Express : 52
- Daily Mirror : 39
- Daily Star : 37
- The Sun : 44
According to Tunstall, however, the broadsheet contains approximately three times as many words as the tabloid, and its stories are longer.
More than size, editorial content distinguishes the markets. A larger number of broadsheets' stories focus more directly on politics than is the case with tabloids, and many stories in the broadsheets contain more than 800 words. Tunstall provides a vivid description of the downmarket tabloids:
[They] focus on light news, the entertaining touch, and human interest; this in practice means focusing on crime, sex, sport, television, showbusiness, and sensational human interest stories. There is an overwhelming emphasis on personalities; such 'serious' news as is covered is often presented via one personality attacking another personality. Much material in these papers is 'look-at' material—there are many pictures, big headlines, and the advertising also is mainly display, which again involves pictures and big headlines. The remainder of the tabloid is 'quick read' material with most stories running to less than 400 words.
Substantial political coverage disappeared from the popular press during the second half of the twentieth century. Many critics argue that the resulting depoliticized popular press promotes escapist attitudes that ultimately reinforce the political status quo.
Although sensationalism in the press is not a new phenomenon, many critics have claimed that the tabloids of the 1970s and 1980s, particularly Murdoch's Sun and News of the World, introduced a qualitatively lower brand. In an effort to increase circulation, the tabloids introduced "checkbook" journalism, i.e., the purchasing of exclusive stories from disturbing sources. For example, the wife of the notorious serial killer, the "Yorkshire Ripper," was reportedly paid more for her story than the victims' families received in damages. In addition, shortly after Murdoch purchased the Sun in 1969, it began to use sex to increase circulation, most notably by presenting semi-nude women on page three; other tabloids followed suit. Other recent tabloid characteristics that have attracted criticism include fabrication and intensely invasive reporting (including rooting through celebrities' and politicians' garbage cans for evidence of sexual deviance, taking clandestine photographs on private property, and even "entrapment," for example, with prostitutes).
Initially brisk sales encouraged these trends. By the early 1990s, however, many readers were increasingly disturbed by these excesses, a sentiment that was reinforced by the role of paparazzi in Princess Diana's fatal automobile accident. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, tabloid investigations of celebrities' private lives seem to have become marginally less aggressive. In addition, the tabloid market has been declining, resulting in cutthroat price wars, with several tabloids selling temporarily for 10p per issue. In 2002, the Mirror appeared to be attempting to reposition itself in the middle market; its coverage of politics, for example, had become more substantial and serious.
Despite the professionalization of journalism from the late nineteenth century and increased reliance on news agencies for copy, British newspapers deliberately retain traditions of overt partisanship that would be considered unacceptable in the United States. For much of the period since World War II, most national papers, representing the vast preponderance of circulation, supported the Conservative Party. This ownership was not seen as reflecting readers' preferences, as the Labour Party won at least 45 percent of the vote throughout the period. After the mid-1990s, most papers (including Murdoch's) shifted their support to Tony Blair's Labor Party, though this support seemed conditional. Despite high levels of partisanship, the national press remained editorially independent of the parties, rather than constituting party organs.
Britain's broadsheet papers enjoy worldwide respect, particularly The Times. At the same time, however, critics worry about recent evidence of their "tabloidization," specifically the disappearance of the parliamentary report and the turn toward more features-oriented stories. Barnett and Gaber cite a study by journalist David McKie, showing that in four broadsheet papers, The Times, the Daily Telegraph, the Guardian, and the Financial Times, the amount of parliamentary reporting dropped by over 70 percent between 1946 and 1996, from a weekly average of 11,443 column inches to 3,222 column inches. The focus of political reporting shifted to sketchwriting, emphasizing personalities as well as the "machinery of government," especially when "government incompetence, corruption and plain misguided policies" could be exposed (Barnett and Gaber). Defenders of these changes point out that in the early 2000s parliamentary proceedings were televised and that Hansard's record of the proceedings was available on the Internet, thus obviating the need for newspapers to fill this role. More to the point, it was widely perceived that parliamentary reporting did not aid in the pursuit of circulation.
In addition to tabloidization, some critics believe that the British press does not attain as high a standard of accuracy as its U.S. counterparts. George Kennedy wrote in the Columbia Journalism Review that the British press was prone to "spectacular gaffes," a result of an emphasis on speed and exclusivity. Kennedy pointed out that the U.S. wire service, the Associated Press, is "particularly hesitant to pick up material from the national newspapers unless it can be independently confirmed." The editor of the British-based digest Web site, Need to Know, stated the case even more strongly. Because of British journalism's weaker emphasis on professionalism, "if all the facts are right in a British newspaper article, it's either because we're scared of a libel case, or it's a fluke" (Lasica). This reputation for occasional lapses of accuracy may help to account for the finding in the European Commission's April 2002 Eurobarometer that whereas British trust in television was among the highest in the EU at 71 percent who "tend to trust the television," trust in the press was the lowest in the EU at only 20 percent. Britain's low trust in the press compared poorly to an EU average of over 40 percent, but it was more than 5 percentage points higher than Britain's score of a year before.
Three Most Influential Newspapers
The Times has, since the early nineteenth century, been the most prestigious British newspaper. During the nineteenth century, and above all during the Crimean War (1854-56), it developed a reputation for independence, truthfulness, and forcefulness that earned it the moniker "The Thunderer." More than any other paper, it can be considered a national institution, and is for many the "paper of record." For this reason, its 1981 takeover by Murdoch's multinational conglomerate (like its 1908 takeover by Northcliffe) alarmed many in Britain. Nonetheless, it retained its high reputation in most quarters, even as it adopted a somewhat lighter tone. Its politics shifted to the right during the 1980s, though in the mid-1990s it became increasingly critical of the Major government. It supported Labour's Tony Blair in the 1997 election in a move widely believed to be commercially inspired.
Founded in 1855 after the repeal of the stamp tax, the Daily Telegraph quickly became Britain's best-selling paper, with its mix of sport and politics and its peerless news service. Following a decline in the early twentieth century, it emerged in the 1930s as the upmarket leader, a position it retained in the early 2000s. Many believe its heyday was in the 1960s, when its news reporting was unparalleled. Owned by Conrad Black, the paper had broadly conservative politics and it is often called the Torygraph. It was the only British upmarket daily to have attained a circulation above one million, though its read-ership was aging.
The Guardian began as a provincial paper, the Manchester Guardian. During the nineteenth century and particularly under the editorship of C. P. Scott, it became associated with the left wing of the Liberal Party. Its willingness to take unpopular stands, sometimes at great financial cost, earned it many admirers. In particular, opposition to the Boer War and the Suez War cost both sales and advertising in the short-term. Its ownership by a trust, committing it to radical politics, provided it a measure of protection from market forces. Among the national broadsheets, it alone consistently supported the Labour Party during the period of Conservative dominance before the 1990s.
The Provincial Press
The provincial press (regional and local) contains mainly local news. Seymore-Ure pointed out that the number of provincial morning papers fell between 1945 and 1995 from 29 to 18, with most closures happening in the 1960s. The number of provincial evening papers, by contrast, remained stable, with 76 titles in 1945 and 72 in 1994. (This apparent stability, however, masks the fact that there were 23 new launches during that period offset by 27 closures.)
Although the London-based national press is dominant, Tunstall showed that in the early 2000s Scotland was the main exception to this trend. The Daily Record, which he calls "half Scottish Daily Mirror, half a genuinely separate Glasgow paper," is the circulation leader. Owned by the Mirror Group, it emerged victorious in a 1970s circulation war with Beaverbrook's Scottish Daily Express, and afterwards was read each day by half of the adults in Scotland. In addition, Scotland has a well-respected daily broadsheet, the Scotsman, which sells more than 100,000 daily copies. To be sure, the Scottish press is not merely regional but Scottish national and reflects Scotland's separate politics and culture.
In the six-month period through April 2002, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, the 10 largest-circulation national daily morning newspapers were:
- The Sun 3,388,703
- The Daily Mail 2,425,906
- Daily Mirror 2,116,710
- The Daily Telegraph 1,006,561
- Daily Express 927,785
- The Times 711,628
- Daily Star 628,823
- Daily Record 577,321
- Financial Times 491,580
- The Guardian 403,009
The leading Sunday circulations were:
- News of the World 3,951,686
- The Mail on Sunday 2,358,819
- Sunday Mirror 1,776,965
- Sunday Times 1,403,201
- Sunday People 1,343,274
- Sunday Express 842,033
- The Sunday Telegraph 788,453
- Sunday Mail 680,832
- The Observer 455,410
- Independent on Sunday 231,557
In addition, a London evening, the Evening Standard, had a circulation of 418,052.
The top-selling paid local papers (July-December 2001) were:
- Sunday Post 596,160
- Sunday Independent 311,260
- Sunday World —All Editions Group 305,019
- Sunday World —Republic of Ireland Edition 234,271
- Express and Star (West Midlands) (M-F) 172,476
- Express and Star (West Midlands) (S) 172,069
- Dublin—Irish Independent —Morning 170,075
- Manchester Evening News (M-F) 164,237
- Liverpool Echo (M-F) 146,656
- Kent Messenger Weekly Newspaper Group 145,972
Total newspaper sales slumped between 1950 and 2000, a trend that was especially marked on Sundays. The 1951 average daily sales were 16.62 million copies for the national morning press, 30.59 million for the national Sunday press, 2.94 million for the provincial morning, and 6.84 million for the provincial evening. The corresponding figures for 1994 were 13.58 million, 15.84 million, 1.88 million, and 4.50 million (Seymore-Ure).
Britain also contains a lively periodical press. In the early 2000s, the New Statesman on the left and the Spectator on the right were both quite influential within Britain. The Economist enjoyed a global journalistic reputation. The Times Literary Supplement and the London Review of Books were both influential reviews. In addition, British academic journals in many fields had worldwide reputations for excellence. In total, there were over 3000 periodicals in Britain.
The top-selling magazines (July-December 2001) were:
- What's On TV 1,652,138
- Radio Times 1,158,138
- Take a Break 1,135,905
- BBC Pre-School Magazines 1,022,537
- TV Choice 783,240
- Reader's Digest 973,383
- T.V. Times 605,289
- That's Life 578,431
- Saga Magazine 572,229
- Woman 551,994
The economic framework of the British press changed dramatically between 1980 and 2000. As in many other developed nations, in Britain the most salient qualities of the press's economic framework are concentrated, international, and cross-media ownership patterns and the increased intensity of economic competition that these factors entail. In addition, newspaper finances are organized on what Independent editor Simon Kelner calls an "uneconomic" basis, largely because of circulation wars. Finally, all newspapers, but particularly the broadsheets, heavily depend on advertising revenues.
The Changing Economic Environment
In 1980, the industry appeared to be in terminal crisis, and many newspapers appeared unlikely to yield profits in the near future. As of the early 2000s, this was no longer true because newspaper economics were transformed during the 1980s. While critics argued that unfriendly labor practices and the greater reliance on "newszak" were too great a price to pay, others maintained that the economic situation of the early 1980s was not sustainable.
The most controversial transformation was also the most symbolic. In January 1986, Rupert Murdoch suddenly moved production of his newspapers to Wapping, away from the storied Fleet Street home of most national papers. At the same time, he switched distribution from rail to trucks, taking advantage of the latter's weaker unionization. The new plant contained modernized equipment, including computer equipment that newspaper unions (mainly the National Graphical Association) had blocked for two decades. The new plant was no secret; however, before the move, union leadership did not realize that the plant was "already fully equipped and ready to operate without any of the existing printing work-force" (Tunstall). In a Thatcherite political atmosphere favorable to management, the subsequent strike was broken, and a power shift away from the unions quickly followed. In the next several months, and continuing into the twenty-first century, newspapers enacted numerous cost-cutting measures to enhance profitability. Murdoch's move did not occur in isolation. Eddie Shah had already broken union power in his Warrington-based regional freesheet empire, and other newspapers had plans underway before 1986 to take similar modernizing actions.
Cost-cutting measures included greater reliance on freelance journalists and short-term contracts. According to Franklin, whereas in 1969 one in 10 journalists free-lanced, by 1994 between one-fourth and one-third did so—and not generally by choice. Critics pointed out that this transformation compromised quality. Freelance journalists, paid only when they delivered copy, were rarely inclined to pursue slowly-developing investigative stories, and their reduced job security led to greater complaisance with management.
Post-Wapping newspapers also relied more heavily on news agency reports and ready-made copy (such as syndicated crossword puzzles and television listings) and took advantage of multi-skilling and "direct inputting." In contrast with the well-delineated division of labor of earlier generations-journalists, sub-editors, photographers, typesetters, printers-journalists were increasingly expected to take on many of these tasks themselves. New technology allowed journalist to enter copy directly into the computer, obviating the need for typesetters.
For most of its history, British journalism remained a profession with low wages and insecure working conditions. The success of the National Union of Journalists after World War II helped to produce relatively high salaries for journalists (and four-day workweeks for many) by the 1960s, while the National Graphical Association helped make British printers among the highest-paid in the world. In the aftermath of the Wapping move, salaries languished and working conditions deteriorated. Franklin reported in 1997 a median salary of 32,500 pounds for men and 22,500 pounds for women. These figures masked a great disparity between freelance and full-time journalists, as well as between those working on the national press and those on the regional or local press. Outside London, salaries of under 15,000 pounds were common, even for editors. In 1994, freelance journalists, paid piecerate for copy, could earn as little as 4 for a news story in a provincial paper and would earn no more than 10 for even a lead story. That was if they were lucky; newspapers allegedly rewrote freelance contributions on occasion, thereby denying the contributor payment.
At the upper end, the "star" journalists that Tunstall called the new journalistic elite could earn very high salaries. Julie Burchill reportedly earned 120,000 pounds for a weekly Mail on Sunday column in the early 1990s, before switching to the Sunday Times. William Rees-Mogg simultaneously earned 60,000 pounds for one weekly column in the Independent and 120,000 pounds for two columns per week in The Times. Tunstall estimated that in the early 1990s the average fee was about 1000 pounds per column, leading to annual salaries typically between 25,000 pounds and 75,000 pounds for weekly columnists. Star interviewers or "Agony Aunts" could earn similar figures. Such high salaries at the upper end were more than offset by the savings in "newsgathering" costs represented by staffing cuts.
Influence of Special-Interest Lobbies on Editorial Policy
Staffing cuts coincided with the rise of Britain's public relations industry. This development enhanced the influence of special-interest lobbies on the content of newspapers (as well as other media). It was not that special-interest groups controlled the media but that many of them learned how to manage the news. By taking advantage of the constraints on journalism—especially the time constraints and the fact that journalists need copy— lobbies (as well as corporations and government spokes-people) were able to exert a great deal of influence over how news was presented. As Barnett and Gaber argued, "journalism which is deprived of investment inevitably becomes journalism which is more reliant on the never-ending stream of press releases from PR departments." Indeed, a large percentage of journalistic stories consisted of rewritten press releases.
Neither concentration of ownership nor international ownership is a new development. According to James Curran (1997), the three Harmsworth brothers, Lords Northcliffe and Rothermere and Sir Lester Harms-worth, in 1921 owned among them newspapers attaining more than 6 million in aggregate circulation, including The Times, the Daily Mail, and the Mirror. Another press baron of that era, the Canadian Lord Beaverbrook, exemplified the press's occasional foreign ownership.
The situation in the early 2000s differed from the earlier one in that, increasingly, newspapers were part of a broader business empire that included other media and non-media interests. The archetypal media mogul was Rupert Murdoch, whose News Corporation controlled the prestigious Times and the mass circulation Sun and News of the World. In addition to this impressive concentrated ownership of the British press, News Corporation owned, as of January 2002, the American television networks Fox and Fox News Channel; the National Geographic Channel and TV Guide Channel; the satellite television system BskyB; American publishers HarperCollins and Zondervan (the latter the largest commercial Bible imprint); the film studio Twentieth Century Fox; the American magazines TV Guide and the Weekly Standard ; and sports teams the New York Knicks and New York Rangers (as well as the famed Madison Square Garden). (This list is sharply abbreviated). In contrast to earlier press barons such as Lord Northcliffe, Murdoch did not actually "own" this media empire; his family controlled (as of January 2002) 30 percent of News Corporation, with AT & T owning an additional 8 percent ("The Big Ten").
Aside from the potentially great power this cross-ownership gave News Corporation in "setting agendas" in the British (and American and Australian) media, critics pointed out at least two additional potentially deleterious effects of this ownership pattern. First, it raised the possibility that a Murdoch newspaper, such as The Times, might be operated not so much in the paper's own interests as in the interests of the wider corporation. This might entail advertorial "puffing" or suppression of unfavorable stories about the corporation. Second, because of its diversified holdings, News International (the British subsidiary of News Corporation) was able in the 1990s to sell The Times uneconomically, well below cost, including a special Monday price of 10 pence. In doing so, The Times sustained huge losses in the short term, in order to squeeze rivals in a circulation war.
The remainder of the British press was similarly concentrated. The Mirror Group controlled the Daily Mirror, the Sunday Mirror, and the Sunday People, (and controlled the Independent and Independent on Sunday from 1994 to 1998), as well as interests in Scottish television. Conrad Black, whose Telegraph papers dominated the broadsheet market, also controlled the Jerusalem Post and several Australian newspapers. The Pearson Group controlled the Financial Times, the Economist, several regional and overseas papers, satellite television interests, and publishers including Addison Wesley and Penguin.
According to Colin Seymour-Ure, in 1994 the four largest press ownership groups controlled 86 percent of the national daily circulation (38 percent News International, 20 percent Mirror Group, 15 percent United, 13 percent Associated Newspapers). The four largest Sunday ownership groups controlled 91 percent of circulation (38 percent News International, 31 percent Mirror Group, 12 percent Associated Newspapers, 10 percent United). Similar levels of concentration existed in the regional press and periodicals markets. Observers expected that, in the likely absence of increased regulation, such near-monopolistic conditions were likely to prevail into the near future.
Enormous acquisition or start-up costs reinforced these high levels of concentration. For this reason, there were few successful launches in the second half of the twentieth century. Many observers believed that in the post-Wapping environment, with lower labor costs and greater use of advanced technology, new launches would be more feasible. This hope did not materialize. Eddie Shah's Today, for example, began in 1986 with 18 million in capital and annual running costs of 40 million. Shah found it impossible to break even, and within four months had sold 35 percent of his interest to Lonrho, which at the time owned the Observer, the Glasgow Herald and Evening Times as well. Losses continued, and a year later Today passed to News International, which closed it in 1995 because of its unprofitability.
The Independent proved more successful, depending on how one defines success. It was launched in 1987 by former Daily Telegraph City Editor Andreas Whittam Smith, as a quality broadsheet with a mission (stated in its title) of remaining independent of the various media conglomerates. Initially profitable, by 1994 declining circulations (thought by some to be a consequence of the circulation war declared by The Times ) forced its sale first to the Mirror Group and then to Irish entrepreneur Tony O'Reilly. McNair (1999) noted that "regardless of how one explains the failure of the Independent to remain independent … the most notable triumphs of the Wapping revolution turned out to be temporary."
The only successful tabloid begun in the aftermath of Murdoch's Wapping move was the Sunday Sport, launched in 1986 by pornographer David Sullivan. Although some have disputed whether it could truly be called a newspaper, given that many of its stories are fictional and its content "largely soft-core pornographic," McNair (1999) argued that its difference from the other tabloids was one of degree only. It was followed by the Sport, which by the early 1990s had become a six-day newspaper, attaining a circulation of about 350,000, a figure that (given relatively low production costs) yielded profits.
Other launches proved unsuccessful, including a left-wing tabloid (without nude women), the News on Sunday, and Robert Maxwell's attempt in 1987 to break into the London evening market with the London Daily News. These failures reinforced the high concentration of press ownership in contemporary Britain.
Most (though not all) media scholars saw danger in this level of ownership concentration, both because it reinforces a difficult commercial environment in which, in the interests of attaining circulation, journalism yields to "Newszak," or "news converts into entertainment" (Franklin) and because it undermines editorial diversity. Exactly how much an influence contemporary proprietors have over editorial policy is a subject of debate. Newspaper sales often included provisions for editorial independence, but there were prominent examples of proprietors firing editors over policy. Jeremy Tunstall argued that whereas the Press Barons saw their newspapers as vehicles for political influence, media moguls in the early 2000s had a keener interest in their commercial value; it would follow that so long as they attained the desired circulation, the contemporary proprietor would take little interest in the editorial line. Other scholars disagreed. Barnett and Gaber, for example, argued that:
It is inconceivable that any newspaper owner would put their complete editorial control in the hands of someone whose view of the world was completely at odds with their own. It is one thing to prioritize business performance and renounce any interest in editorial content; it would be quite another for a proprietor to read every day in their own mass-circulation newspaper opinions or news stories contrary to their own view of the world.
Role of advertising
Another important aspect of the economic framework is the role of advertising revenues. These revenues became a central part of newspaper finance in the second half of the nineteenth century, and they retained that position at the beginning of the twenty-first century. By paying a large share of any newspaper's revenues, advertisements allow newspapers to be sold significantly below cost. This arrangement simultaneously (and paradoxically) offers newspapers a buffer between their direct exposure to the consumer market while it also places a premium on high circulations. In effect, newspaper companies offer two distinct products for sale: the individual copy to readers and circulations to advertisers.
Advertisers do not regard all customers equally; they consider "quality" as well as quantity. This distinction gives advertising revenues a different role in broadsheet newspapers' finance than in the tabloids. Because the "quality press" has a more affluent readership, it is able to charge higher rates per thousand readers. These rates allow broadsheets to rely primarily on advertising revenues. By contrast, the tabloids, despite their higher circulations, charge much lower advertising fees per thousand readers; tabloids remain, for this reason, primarily dependent on sales or circulation revenue. Tunstall contrasted the quality and mass-market leaders, the Daily Telegraph and the Sun respectively. In 1993, the , selling at 25 pence, earned a net advertising income of only 2-3 pence per copy. The Daily Telegraph, by contrast, selling at 48 pence, earned a net advertising income of about 40 pence per copy. Such contrasts allowed the quality press to earn profits with much lower circulations than the tabloids. The importance of advertising revenues to the tabloids should not be understated, of course; in 1993, the Sun drew 30 percent of its revenues from this source.
The important financial role of advertisers has attracted criticism. For example, press diversity can be restricted by reliance on advertisements. Taking a broad historical view, James Curran credited the prominence of advertising revenues with undermining the once-flourishing radical press. A newspaper can be forced out of business despite large circulations if the readers are the "wrong kind" of readers or if the content of the newspaper is too inimical to advertisers' business interests. Lack of advertising revenue doomed, for example, the News Chronicle and Daily Herald in the 1960s, despite robust circulations. At the same time, critics argued that the reliance on advertisers unduly influences editorial policy, effectively leading to censorship or self-censorship. It was widely believed that investigative reports that might embarrass an important advertiser would very rarely see their way into print. In addition, advertisers' perception that "happy" news was more conducive to sales than "negativism" challenged the longstanding journalistic value of uncovering disturbing facts that "someone, somewhere does not want uncovered." Other observers countered, however, that the large number of advertisers prevents any one advertiser from exerting a very great control over a newspaper. Moreover, in the long run, companies must advertise in the media that attract the readers (or viewers or listeners). Finally, the broadsheets' reliance on advertising offers a measure of protection for their news values, for broadsheets cannot pursue increased circulation at the cost of alienating upscale readers.
The Local Press
The local press exemplifies some of the critics' worst fears, in terms of both concentration of ownership and reliance on advertising. According to Tunstall, the "British local press in recent decades has grown ever more local; it has also increasingly become a vehicle whose prime purpose is to deliver classified and retail advertising. The free local weekly has been the prime cause of both these trends." The local paid press is effectively squeezed between the national press and the free local press. In order to attract advertising, the local press has in the late 1990s increasingly dropped all but local news. For the little national or international news that remained, these papers relied on news agency reports.
Freesheets, which emerged in the 1970s, contained very little editorial matter; they primarily consisted of advertisements, and much of their "editorial" matter consisted of puffs for the products advertised. Both the paid and free local press were owned by large chains, including Northcliffe Newspapers, United Provincial Newspapers, Westminster Press (Pearson), and Thomson Regional Newspapers. Few cities had competing local paid papers; for those few that did, the "rivals" typically were owned by the same chain. Northcliffe Newspapers, for example, owned two Plymouth papers. In addition, larger companies such as the Northcliffe group had increasingly purchased "adjacent" local newspapers that could be produced with the same equipment.
Newspapers in the Mass Media Milieu
Newspapers have an ambivalent relationship with other mass media. Newspapers' position within multi-media empires means access to greater resources. At the same time, however, other media are clearly their rivals. Newspaper owners recognized this early and in the 1920s and 1930s used their political clout to prevent the BBC (radio) from broadcasting the news before 7 p.m. (which would have undermined newspapers' ability to print scoops) and to prevent the BBC from maintaining its own news service. In the post-war period, television took away advertising revenues (Franklin). Moreover, television was blamed by many for declining newspaper circulations after the 1960s.
On the other hand, newspapers enjoy a symbiotic relationship with television; television constitutes a large part of newspapers' subject matter, particularly for tabloids. In addition, many purchasers of newspapers indicate that their primary attraction is the television listings. Tunstall argued that the middle market press suffered most from television's competition. The broadsheets offer a level of detail and analysis that television news does not match, and the tabloids have been able to position themselves "below" television as a source of gossip and as "the inside story" behind television shows. In addition, evening television news has provided more competition to the evening press (generally local or regional) than it has the morning press.
Laws regulating the press are relatively limited, largely because of the traditional hostility of journalists to state interference and the popular belief that any state intervention can lead inevitably to censorship. Because of increasing unhappiness with the tabloids, however, and because of low levels of public trust for journalists, there was a push for regulation at the beginning of the 1990s, particularly in the form of privacy laws. The press escaped state regulation at the time by setting up the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), an agency of press self-regulation.
Self-Regulation: The Press Complaints Commission
The Press Complaints Commission, created in 1991, took the place of the Press Council, a self-regulating mechanism that had emerged from the 1947 Royal Commission on the Press. The Press Council had been created in response to a prevailing belief in declining standards and monopolistic tendencies in the press. By the late 1980s, it was widely believed that the Press Council was ineffective. Its members, in many cases, had no professional connection to the press, and it had no independent source of funding; editors thus did not take it seriously. With public opinion increasingly upset with press content and intrusive reporting methods, the Conservative Government threatened the press with regulation if it did not exercise greater restraint in its content. The Calcutt Committee was created; its report in June 1990 recognized public concerns, particularly regarding invasion of privacy, but supported "one final chance" at strengthening self-regulation. In this context the Press Complaints Commission was created.
The Press Complaints Commission, taking effect in 1991, was patterned after the Broadcasting Complaints Commission. It contained sixteen members, including members from the tabloids. Tabloid editors were involved in creating the Code of Practice that would guide self-regulation. As of June 2002, the Code of Practice listed 16 points, including accuracy, opportunity to reply, respect for privacy, restraint from harassing sources, refusal of clandestine listening devices, and refusal to pay witnesses or potential witnesses in criminal proceedings. According to McNair (1999), the response to this self-regulatory body was mixed:
Championed by its advocates as the "last chance saloon" for the British tabloids, others regarded the Calcutt Committee and the subsequent establishment of the PCC as a cosmetic exercise by the Conservative Government, intended to head off public concern while not antagonising newspapers which were key political allies. Critics pointed out that the PCC was an unelected body, appointed in secret, operating to a Code of Practice drawn up by the very newspapers which it was intended to restrain.
Nonetheless, McNair presented evidence suggesting that it worked reasonably well. At the end of an eighteen-month period of probation, the PCC had received 2,069 complaints. Nearly a quarter of these were resolved between the complainant and the offending editor; others were determined not to have violated the code or were withdrawn by the complainant. Only about 5 percent, or 107 complaints, were finally heard by the PCC; 51 of these were upheld, and 56 were rejected. The PCC's Web site underscored the organization's mission of avoiding legislative regulation:
The success of the PCC continues to underline the strength of effective and independent self regulation over any form of legal or statutory control. Legal controls would be useless to those members of the public who could not afford legal action—and would mean protracted delays before complainants received redress. In our system of self regulation, effective redress is free and quick.
Prospects for Statutory Regulation
Despite continued resistance by journalists to statutory regulation, there remained a strong measure of public and parliamentary support for such legislation, particularly a privacy law. In 2001 and 2002, a few high-profile court cases brought this issue before the public. The Sunday People published nude pictures of Radio 1 disc jockey Sara Cox on her honeymoon. Cox first complained to the PCC then filed a privacy lawsuit against the paper. According to the Guardian, Sunday People editor Neil Wallis claimed that the photographer misled him and that "he believed that the island where Cox was holidaying in the Seychelles to be public, although it later emerged it was only open to private paying guests." The PCC code turned on this latter distinction.
In March 2002, supermodel Naomi Campbell won a privacy court case against the Mirror, which published pictures of her leaving a drugs counseling session. This ruling surprised many legal and press observers, who fear, according to Lisa O'Carroll, that "it could establish a privacy law by stealth and restrict freedom of expression." Privacy law specialist Sarah Thomas wrote, however, that Campbell won solely on grounds of breach of confidence because of the publication of specific details of her drug treatment. The judge indeed reaffirmed the Mirror 's right to publish the fact that Campbell was a drug addict. Campbell had "consistently denied in the press that she had a drugs problem and, as a high profile role model for young woman [sic], this misrepresentation could and should be exposed." Thomas concluded, therefore, that the verdict in Campbell's favor did not herald a new privacy law. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the state of privacy law remained in flux and its future subject to speculation. As of 2002, however, there was no direct privacy legislation and breach of privacy was regulated by the Press Complaints Commission.
Laws Affecting the Press
As Colin Seymore-Ure pointed out, although the press is, for the most part, not directly regulated in Britain, it is subject to a wide "range of legislation that could effect media contents." Industrial laws affect newspaper production. Libel laws, morality laws, and secrecy laws all could be used against media content. Seymore-Ure argued that in the past 50 years "uncertainty" had characterized the application of such laws, often making editors and journalists very nervous about possible consequences.
The Obscene Publications Act dates to 1857; its introducer, Lord Campbell, stated that the act was "intended to apply exclusively to works written for the single purpose of corrupting the morals of youth, and of a nature calculated to shock the common feelings of decency in any well-regulated mind." This Act obviously affects the Internet, videos, and novels more than journalism per se. The most famous twentieth-century prosecution was against Penguin Books for publishing D. H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover. Defended by several members of the clergy, Penguin was acquitted by a jury. The most recent novel banned under the Act was David Britton's 1990 novel, Lord Horror ; the decision was, however, overturned by the Court of Appeal in 1992.
The Blasphemy Act is rarely enforced in Britain. A Christian activist, Mary Whitehouse, used it in 1977 to prosecute the magazine Gay News. The editor had published an erotic poem describing a Roman centurion's response to the crucifixion of Jesus. The editor was fined 500 pounds and the paper 1,000 pounds. In early 2002, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens threatened to charge television presenter Joan Bakewell with blasphemous libel for reciting part of this poem during a BBC2 documentary entitled Taboo. In addition, the Broadcasting Standards Commission entertained complaints about this documentary, but in late May 2002, rejected them.
The libel laws are more restrictive for the press than corresponding laws in the United States, often resulting in large payments to plaintiffs. Yet there is some measure of defense for the accused newspaper; for example, truth is a defense against libel, and no one who has consented to publication in advance can be libeled. Still, the unpredictability that comes from jury trials can give an editor pause. In addition, large settlements in the 1980s had the effect of encouraging papers to settle out of court. Unlike in the United States, a plaintiff in a libel case does not need to prove malice. The result, according to George Monbiot, was that the "rich and powerful must, by law, be handled with the utmost circumspection." Geoffrey Bindman pointed out that the expense of libel cases encourages the strong "to lie with impunity" while deterring the weak, "(including much of the small-circulation press) from telling the public what it deserves to know."
In 2000, the European Union's Human Rights Convention came into effect; Article 10 protects freedom of expression as a fundamental right, although permitting laws restricting this freedom when this is "necessary in a democratic society" in order to protect the rights and freedoms of others. In the early 2000s, it was not clear yet how this Article would affect British libel law, but it might help protect newspapers from frivolous libel actions.
The Official Secrets Act, created in 1911 and reformed in 1989, can potentially be used by the government to hide embarrassing facts by intimidating journalists or editors into silence. The 1989 Act offered a measure of protection from this abuse, however. It narrowed the range of offenses and put more of the burden on the prosecution to prove that the breaches had caused harm.
Britain's culture of secrecy continued to attract much criticism in the 1990s, and in late 2000, a Freedom of Information Act was passed. This Act, which was to be fully implemented by the end of 2005, placed a burden on various state agencies to make their records available to the public, except under certain defined circumstances, including national security. According to the Lord Chancellor's Department, this Act would "enable a fundamental shift towards greater transparency in public administration."
In addition, there were monopoly and cross-ownership laws. The Monopolies and Mergers Act of 1965 established that proposed purchases of one press group by another should be referred to the Monopolies Commission, if the group would have a post-merger daily circulation of above 500,000. If the newspaper to be acquired was not deemed "economic as a going concern," then the merger could be approved without reference to the Monopolies Commission.
Cross-ownership laws, reinforced in the 1996 Broadcasting Act, prohibit media groups controlling over 20 percent of daily newspaper circulation from expanding into terrestrial television. These laws do not restrict ownership of satellite television that is based outside Britain but marketed to British viewers (such as Murdoch's Sky TV).
With an unwritten constitution, Britain lacks a foundational protection such as the United States's First Amendment to ensure freedom of the press. As mentioned above, however, the British tradition of the liberty of the press runs deep; journalists guard this tradition jealously, and they generally enjoy public support on this matter.
As a matter of daily practice, therefore, the British press is among the freest in the world. It is widely accepted, however, that in circumstances of national emergency, such as during World War I and II, the national interest (including national security) justifies censorship. During World War II, for example, the communist papers, The Daily Worker and the Week, were closed down by ministerial decree for fear that they would damage public morale. These acts of censorship were relatively uncontroversial. Some subsequent acts provoked more criticism, such as restrictions on reporting information during the Falklands War in 1982 and the ban, between 1988 and 1994, on the broadcasting of statements by Sinn Fein representatives.
As in other democracies, less formal means exist for governments to secure favorable treatment in the media, as is discussed in the next section. In addition, several critics argued that fear of prosecution under libel laws, obscenity laws, or even blasphemy laws may induce self-censorship, which George Mondiot called the "best authoritarian tradition." Yet it is a mark of Britain's relatively secure liberal traditions that overt censorship in peacetime is rare.
Film content is regulated by borough and county councils that, according to the Guardian, "almost always follow the classifications given to films by the British Board of Film Classification." On rare occasions, a local council deviates from the BBFC's recommendation; for example, in 1996, Westminster Council refused a license to David Cronenberg's film Crash, which showed elsewhere in Britain. The BBFC was an autonomous, self-regulatory body, established in 1912, and funded by film distributors. The BBFC judged films according to flexible criteria that took into account government attitudes and public opinion and classifies films according to audience age classifications. BBFC refusal to classify a film would be likely to result in that film's banning, though, as indicated above, the final decision rested with local councils. In practice, few films were refused classification, though this threat may encourage self-censorship.
The age classifications included U for universal, PG for parental guidance, 12, 15, 18, and 18-restricted (or R18). According to the BBFC's Web site, the "'R18' category is a special and legally restricted classification primarily for explicit videos of consenting sex between adults." Such videos might not be supplied by mail order and might be purchased only in specially licensed sex shops; as of 2002 there were about 90 such shops in the United Kingdom. The BBFC Web site listed certain categories of violent, "criminal" or "dehumanizing" sex films that could not receive even an R18 classification, including films that depict incest or pedophilia, beastiality, or clearly non-consensual sexual activity.
The press is formally independent of the state. Various politicians and scholars, mostly from a leftist perspective, have called for government subsidies to the press, in order to ensure diversity. Throughout the twentieth century, however, these proposals were never politically feasible. State subsidies existed in the early nineteenth century, before the repressive taxes were lifted; they remained, for many in the early 2000s, associated with an era of censorship.
Although censorship is rare and overt press regulation is limited, relations between the state and press are both symbiotic and adversarial. The longstanding journalistic ideal of the press as a "watchdog" protecting the public from official corruption or abuse of power requires investigative reporting of matters that various governments might prefer remain uncovered. The ideal of providing information to facilitate democracy meant that the broadsheets traditionally provided substantial reports of parliamentary debates. At the same time, newspapers' access to large audiences and the widespread belief in their influence over readers' attitudes (and potentially their vote) led politicians to court the press. Indeed, politicians' desire to secure favorable press coverage accounts for their creating Press Barons in the early twentieth century. In the mass media environment of the early 2000s, of course, politicians courted broadcasters as well.
Relations between state and press changed significantly between 1980 and 2000. Despite a greater degree of partisanship than U.S. newspapers, twentieth-century British papers remained largely independent of political parties, so that even a friendly paper was, from a politician's perspective, unreliable. In the 1980s and 1990s, politicians became increasingly sophisticated in their ability to "manage" the news. In their book, Westminster Tales: The Twenty-First Century Crisis in Political Journalism , Barnett and Gaber argued that in the latter decades of the twentieth century "presentation" became the "central philosophy not just of the practice of politics, but of its content as well." In other words, politicians recognized that in the media environment of the early 2000s, perception had become reality and political success thus depended on managing perception. Barnett and Gaber described various practices employed by party leaders in an effort to control media coverage. Political press officers, popularly called "spin doctors," work to control the news agenda. For example, during the 1990s, parties asserted greater control over which party members could be interviewed, ensuring that those members thought to be "on message" would be interviewed instead of mavericks. Parties issued press releases, which, in the context of journalistic staffing cuts, often became copy. Moreover, press officers try to respond quickly to damaging news, in order to keep unfavorable stories from gaining momentum.
In addition to such "above the line" methods, Barnett and Gaber described "below the line" approaches. For example, press officers studiously chose the timing of their press releases, in order to achieve the ideal impact, depending on whether the news was thought to be favorable or unfavorable. One former Whitehall Head of Information "explained that when a major 'royal' story broke, the prime minister's press secretary would immediately phone all government press offices suggesting that now was a good time to put out any awkward announcements they had been storing up, safe in the knowledge that the media's attention would be distracted by the latest chapter in the ongoing saga of the Windsors." In addition, press officers would intimidate or exclude reporters who refused to comply, denying them the interviews upon which their careers depended. All of these activities (and others) were aimed at ensuring that media coverage was favorable.
Most of these practices characterized the opposition party as well as the party in office. The government enjoys advantages over the opposition, however. Not only does the government have control over state information agencies, but it also makes the decisions about when industrial or secrecy legislation will be enforced. In addition, the government is able to raise the threat of increased regulation, as when Prime Minister Blair in 1999 invoked the possibility of privacy legislation.
In addition to such "sticks," governments also possess "carrots." For example, various governments have opted not to enforce the Monopolies and Mergers Act, apparently in order to reward or attempt to entice a proprietor's support. In one instance, Wilson's Labor government in 1969 and 1970 allowed Murdoch to acquire the Sun and Reed to acquire the International Publishing Corporation (IPC), which included the Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror, and the People. All of these newspapers supported Labour at least in the short-term. Similarly, Thatcher did not refer Murdoch's purchase of The Times to the Monopolies Commission; in the words of Tunstall, she "accepted his transparent fiction that both The Times and Sunday Times were loss-making newspapers in danger of dying."
The influence works both ways. A rich academic literature assesses the extent to which the mass media influence audience beliefs and behavior. Many scholars dismissed the once fashionable idea of clueless masses helpless before the onslaught of the mass media. In Britain, as in other post-industrial democracies, scholars attributed "agenda setting" functions to the press and other media: the media delineated the narrow range of debate and helped to determine which issues will be the subject of politics. Other scholars emphasized the mass media's ability to shape one's thinking about topics about which one is ignorant. Regardless of how these issues are resolved, Brian McNair made the point, in his book, The Sociology of Journalism, that:
to the extent that we believe journalism to be important it is important and does have effects on individual and organisational perspectives of the world. The assumption that journalism has effects produces real, empirically observable effects on the communicative behaviour of individuals and organisations.
That is, whether or not journalism changes the beliefs of its audience, politicians' belief (or fear) that it might helps to account for some of their actions.
Many critics thus credited (or blamed) the press for swinging the 1992 election to an incumbent Major government whose popularity had been plummeting, and many attributed Blair's triumph in 1997 to the transfer of most papers' allegiances to Labour. On election day in 1992, the Sun front page famously depicted Labour candidate Neil Kinnock's head in a lightbulb, with the headline in all capitals, "IF KINNOCK WINS TODAY WILL THE LAST PERSON TO LEAVE BRITAIN PLEASE TURN OUT THE LIGHTS." This headline was the climax following a steady campaign of ridicule and attacks on the Labour candidate. In 1997, although the turn of most papers to the Labour Party may have helped to seal Blair's victory, perhaps the greater indicator of the press's influence is that Blair's embrace of big business may have been largely aimed at improving Labour's coverage in a mostly conservative press. In addition, however, many believed that the press's constant emphasis on the "sleaze" factor in Major's cabinet, spearheaded by the Guardian, helped to undermine public confidence in the Conservative government.
Attitude toward Foreign Media
Foreign media, especially U.S. and European, are widely available in Britain, and the country is open to foreign correspondents with little restriction. Reader's Digest is among the best-selling magazines in Britain, and foreign newspapers are easy to find. Particularly in London and other major cities, foreign-language films, books, and newspapers are readily available. In certain media, particularly film, the British audience (like many others around the world) is surrendering to U.S. products: Robert McChesney wrote that U.S. films account for 95 percent of Britain's box office receipts.
In both the press and broadcasting, no foreign outlets threaten the predominance of British products, although U.S. television shows are popular. BBC World News is widely preferred to CNN, and all of the best-selling papers are British (as opposed to, say, the USA Today or LeMonde, both of which are easily available). It has already been shown, however, that much of the British press belongs to multinational corporations, with the Australian Rupert Murdoch and the Canadian Conrad Black controlling large press empires. No laws, then, prevent the foreign (or international) ownership of the press. However, non-European companies are limited to owning no more than 20 percent of Channel 5 or an ITV company.
Even though Britain's national papers take pride in maintaining their own staffs of correspondents, cutbacks have led all of the newspapers to rely more heavily on news agencies for copy, particularly for international news. Unlike U.S. newspapers, moreover, British newspapers often do not attribute agency material.
Reuters, the world's first news agency, founded in 1851, sold foreign news to various British papers and thus enabled them not to maintain their own costly foreign correspondents. Though Reuters was initiated as a commercial venture, Donald Read argued that it quickly developed into "the news agency of the British Empire." Members of its senior staff "began to regard themselves as on a level with senior home and colonial civil servants, doing essential work in support of the British cause worldwide." By the late nineteenth century, Reuters's resulting expansion made it increasingly unprofitable, and Reuters entered a period in which its collection of news for the press "was sometimes openly undertaken at a loss." For much of the twentieth century, Reuters thus depended on subsidies from the newspapers. Only in the 1970s did Reuters escape its dependence on newspaper subsidies, and then only by finding revenue-producing ventures outside of media services. Read thus pointed out that media services as of 2002 produced only 5 percent of the total Reuters revenue. Most of Reuters's income derived from financial services, mainly the supply of financial information.
In a lecture at Cardiff University in 2000, Mark Wood, the director of Reuters Internet services, stated that Reuters produced about 10,000 news stories per day, in twenty-two languages. Reuters also had become the global leading news supplier for the Internet, providing news to 900 Web sites, including Yahoo. Among Reuters's major competitors, Wood did not list any British company. In financial news, the main competitors were Bloomberg and Dow-Jones. In general world news, the Associated Press and French service Agence France-Presse were the main competitors. This list underscores that the news agency field is fully international. In addition, though not actually a news agency, the BBC World Service, subsidized by the Foreign Office, often functions as a de facto news agency.
In contrast to the press, broadcasting was regulated from the start. When the British Broadcasting Company was founded as a broadcasting monopoly in 1922, during the infancy of radio and before television, its justification was the scarcity of radio frequencies and the need to protect public service ideals. Accordingly, the BBC was established with secure funding by license fees. The government would appoint the seven governors, set the license fee, and retain general oversight. On more specific matters, the corporation was to remain independent from state control. In the technological environment of the early 2000s, scarcity was no longer an issue, but public service ideals continued to justify state regulation.
The BBC's first director, John Reith, set the tone that would characterize the BBC's programming for more than a generation, defining the corporation's mission as "to inform, educate, and entertain." Accordingly, he emphasized culturally elevating programming over programming that was truly popular (though the latter was never completely lacking). Above all, Reith's public service mission led him to emphasize universal access and mixed programming. Each network would offer a variety of programs every day, including classical music, sport, news, drama, religion, and other genres. Initially, no program (other than news bulletins) became attached to a specific time slot, which would have allowed listeners to listen selectively to programming. According to Andrew Crisell, the "high-minded intention was continually to renew the listener's alertness to the medium, not only to make her listen instead of merely hear but to 'surprise' her into an interest in a subject she had previously not known about or disliked, and at all times to give her 'something a little better than she thought she wanted'."
The BBC's Royal Charter enjoined political impartiality. The corporation's relatively even-handed reporting during the general strike of 1926 helped it to build a reputation for authoritative news; this reputation was enhanced during World War II.
British television, which haltingly began before the war and resumed in 1946, initially fit into the BBC system. Initially, radio remained the senior partner, with television gradually gaining in importance. In 1955, the Churchill government introduced a second television network, to be run on commercial lines. The Independent Television (ITV) would be financed through advertisement rather than by license fee, but it, too, was required by Parliament to "inform, educate, and entertain," maintaining impartiality and high quality. In order to maintain high journalistic standards, the various stations comprising the ITV network pooled their resources to create the Independent Television News (ITN) as a rival newsgathering organization. Thus began what would be characterized as a "comfortable duopoly." The ITV and BBC would compete for viewers only; they would not compete for funding, as the BBC's license fees remained intact. This revenue source would never again be uncontested; the BBC would henceforth face pressure to attract viewers, in order to justify the license fees.
Radio remained a monopoly until the mid-1960s, when the pirate Radio Caroline emerged, illegally broadcasting popular music from the North Sea. At this point, as Seymour-Ure pointed out, the BBC "reorganized its channels, took the pirate disk jockeys on board the new Radio 1 and entered the 1970s with little of the direct Reith influence remaining." Radio's fortunes were revived in the 1970s with the development of the transistor, which facilitated Walkmans and car radios.
Local radio began in the 1960s, with a BBC monopoly. In the early 1970s, the separate radio license fees were discontinued, so that BBC radio and television were funded from the same income source. In 1972, the Heath government released several BBC medium frequencies, which were then given to commercial stations. Then, in a general atmosphere of deregulation policies across many industries, the 1990 Broadcasting Act made licenses easier to obtain and reduced previous restrictions on content and advertising. By 1995, there were five BBC stations, three national and five regional commercial stations, with local stations; in total there were more than 160 commercial stations and 38 BBC stations.
Broadcasting Since the 1980s: Regulation
The commercial and regulatory environment was in great flux between 1985 and 2000. By the mid-1980s, there were four television networks: BBC1 and BBC2, ITV, and Channel 4 (also an ITV channel), with plans for a Channel 5. In 1985, Thatcher's government launched an inquiry into the future of public broadcasting. According to Brian Mc-Nair (1999), the resulting Peacock Committee, which reported in July 1986, began from the assumption that the "comfortable duopoly" had:
been outpaced by the coming of cable, satellite, video cassette recorders, "piggyback" services such as teletext, and other developments on the technological horizon, such as multi-point distribution services, high definition TV, and new ways of collecting viewer subscriptions. The grounds on which the public service duopoly had been established and maintained were no longer valid, and it was time for a restructuring of the system.
Given the Thatcher government's hostility to regulation and public monopolies, many observers believed the BBC's status as a public corporation to be in danger. To the chagrin of the Thatcher government, however, the Peacock Committee refrained from recommending that the BBC switch to advertising as a source of revenue. Moreover, the Peacock Committee accepted the need to safeguard the provision of news and current affairs from the pressures of the market. The Peacock Committee's recommendations were reinforced by a July 1988 House of Commons Home Affairs Committee report, which similarly defended the concept of public service broadcasting.
The threat of radical deregulation staved off for the time being, the resulting 1988 government White Paper on broadcasting restricted itself to proposing significant reform of the ITV network. Henceforth regional franchises would be awarded in a competitive bidding process. In addition to considering the amount of the bid, the overseeing body, the ITC, would judge bids qualitatively. Successful bidders would be required to maintain high quality news and current affairs programs and would have to show a prescribed amount of regional news and current affairs. These reforms were enacted in the 1990 Broadcasting Act.
Other results of that Act included a provision for due impartiality, which could be achieved by balancing a biased program with another program with an alternative bias. The ITC would judge whether due impartiality was achieved, as well as the length of the period in which an offsetting program could be shown in order to achieve due impartiality. Broadcast journalists feared the practical censorship that might result from this measure, but the ensuing ITC Programme Code, published in February 1991, was less restrictive than feared.
Although the regulations governing the BBC did not change substantially, several internal changes occurred after the appointment of John Birt as the director in March 1987. In the ensuing "Birtian revolution," first the news and current affairs departments and then television and radio were merged. The BBC's television news format changed, reducing the number of items covered in a typical news bulletin, while increasing the depth of coverage for the top stories. Cost cutting was essential in order to placate the Thatcher government, many of whose members remained hostile to the BBC. The BBC cut some 7,000 jobs between 1986 and 1990, formed partnerships with commercial organizations, and introduced the policy of "producer choice," under which, in Crisell's words, "every programme production becomes an autonomous entity bidding for funding against other productions and buying its resources according to the best deal available, whether within the BBC or from external suppliers."
The reforms enacted in the 1990 Broadcasting Act had greater consequences for Independent Television News. According to McNair (1999), the "main consequence of the Broadcasting act for ITN was greatly to increase the competitive pressures on the organisation: to transform it from the 'cost-centre' which it had been for thirty-five years into a profit-making business." ITN's status as the "nominated sole provider" of news to the Channel 3 companies would disappear after a decade (i.e., by 2001). In addition, Channel 4 became self-financing, giving it an incentive to shop for the best price for news. This increasingly competitive environment put pressure on ITN to develop itself as a brand, which it did by emphasizing its "human interest" approach to news. In addition, with more pressure to attract viewers, the timing of Channel 3's News at Ten became awkward, as it broke up the flow of prime time movies. In 1998, the ITC gave permission for Channel 3 to end its 10:00 p.m. news, shifting instead to 6:30 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. This disappearance of a prime time alternative to BBC1's Nine O'Clock News struck many critics as a departure from a key aspect of the ITV's public service mission.
The 1990 Broadcasting Act, combined with recession, led to a retrenchment in radio news. The Act itself removed public service restrictions from commercial radio that had protected radio journalism; in contrast to its provisions for television, the Act did not mandate a "quality threshold" for radio licenses. In addition, the Independent Radio News (IRN) lost its formerly protected "virtual monopoly position," as deregulation forced it to compete with other commercial suppliers of news. The 1990 Act also dropped some of the restrictions on advertising and made licenses easier to apply for, thus leading to a dramatic increase in the level of competition. Inevitably, music and non-news talk radio rapidly expanded in the 1990s. From one perspective, at least, the Act was successful: Seymore-Ure noted that in 1994, for the first time, commercial radio surpassed the BBC in audience share.
After the BBC combined its radio and television news departments, the former saw a sharp retrenchment of resources. A similar development occurred in commercial radio, as the IRN merged with the Independent Television News (ITN).
Even though the commercial atmosphere of the 1990s and the retreat from regulation threatened radio news, the BBC managed to secure continued funding for its World Service. Convinced that it represented good "cultural diplomacy," the Foreign Office continued to subsidize this service. Although its audience in Britain was small—approximately 1.5 million in 1991, according to McNair (1999), it had a worldwide audience of well over 100 million regular listeners. It enjoyed a global reputation for independence and truthfulness and was seen by listeners as truly global news, unlike the U.S. CNN, which is often seen to reflect American perceptions.
The Broadcasting Act was passed in 1996. Again, the BBC's license fee was safeguarded. According to Cri-sell, one of the aims of the 1996 Act was to "allow the emergence of British commercial broadcasters big enough to hold their own in the international media market." Companies were thus freed from the restriction of holding major shareholdings in just two ITV licenses; subsequently, they were subject to the "more flexible" limit of a 15 percent share of the total audience. In addition, restrictions on cross-media ownership were greatly reduced.
Broadcasting Since the 1980s: Changing Technology
Cable television developed slowly in Britain and never attained great popularity. In 1989, however, satellite television entered Britain in the form of Rupert Murdoch's Sky Television, which included channels for sports, movies, news, travel, and soaps. An early rival, BSB, was taken over, resulting in the creation of BSkyB. By 1996, according to Crisell, one in five households were able to receive BSkyB, either directly or via cable. Sky (as the company is still popularly called) began acquiring rights to movies and sporting events. Sporting events are particularly attractive to the satellite company, since they are previously unseen and their appeal to viewers diminishes rapidly, for obvious reasons, after the first showing. In 1996, Sky won exclusive rights to televise the Frank Bruno/ Mike Tyson boxing title match, charging its subscribers an additional 10 pounds surcharge. The 1996 Broadcasting Act prohibited any subscription company from obtaining the exclusive right to broadcast any of eight major British sporting events, yet Crisell argued that the government "may be trying to stop the unstoppable." As BSkyB obtains more and more exclusive deals on sports and movies, he argued, the "old-fashioned, terrestrial broadcasters will come to resemble its poor relations." As of 2002, the worst fears had not come to pass.
Digital television came to Britain in the late 1990s. Crisell provided a concise summary of the advantages of digital television over the analogue technology to which broadcasting was traditionally confined and which is still predominant:
Digital technology, which can be used by satellite, cable or traditional broadcasters, reduces transmissions to a stream of data expressed as a series of ones and zeroes and results in a much more efficient use of scarce spectrum space: a single frequency will be able to accommodate several channels, each offering high quality sound and vision.
Digitization allowed, then, a dramatic proliferation of television channels. Potential effects, according to Cri-sell, included increasing the global tendency of broadcasting, including programs aimed at a global audience and programs aimed at a national audience but available elsewhere. In addition, it encourages channel "surfing," so that in the future fewer viewers may watch programs in their entirety. The proliferation of channels would dilute any one broadcaster's share; among other results, this would potentially undermine the BBC's audience-based claims to public service. Crisell further noted that digitization "will probably mark the first time in broadcasting that there will be more channels available than content to fill them."
Because digitization allowed transmission via cable and telephone lines, it allowed telecommunications and Internet companies, such as AT & T and AOL, to enter the field. The need to find content encouraged carriers to seek content-producing companies. These developments thus explain News Corporation's purchase of the Twentieth Century Fox film studio, as well as the reverse process, Disney's purchase of the American television network, ABC. The merger of AOL, Time magazines, Warner studios, and Turner Broadcasting into AOL-Time Warner is another example, combining content, broadcasting, and Internet access. The abundance of U.S. examples above highlighted the United States's lead in communications technology and raised the prospect of increased preponderance of American-produced content worldwide-and particularly in an English-language market such as Britain. In addition, Crisell invoked the possibility of the BBC delivering programs via television lines or British Telegraph becoming a broadcaster.
In May 2002, about 36 percent of British homes had digital television, through satellite, cable, or terrestrial networks. The Blair government planned to convert all British television to digital by 2010; in other words, analogue television would cease to exist. As of June 2002, key obstacles remained. There were questions concerning image quality, the inability of at least half of existing aerial antennae to convert, and political difficulties associated with the unwillingness of a significant portion of the British population to convert. Of the 64 percent who did not then have digital television, 60 percent said that "nothing" would induce them to get it (Maggie Brown). In addition, the expense of converting caused significant financial difficulties for ITV, which resulted in ITV Digital losing its license to broadcast in April 2002. According to Maggie Brown, there was "no obvious successor waiting in the wings."
Current Ownership Laws
Although concentrated ownership and cross-ownership were common, laws existed to limit these tendencies. In particular, with respect to television, no single company was permitted to control more than 15 percent of the total television audience share. According to Julia Day, this law prevented the consolidation of ITV into a single company. No single company could own more than a 20 percent stake in ITN. These laws were in effect as of May 2002, but Blair's government was considering changing both of these laws, by abolishing the former ceiling and raising the latter ceiling to 40 percent. Non-European companies were allowed to own no more than 20 percent of Channel 5 or an ITV company. In addition, newspaper owners controlling 20 percent or more of the national circulation were prohibited from owning more than 20 percent of an ITV or Channel 5 license. According to Day, the Blair government was likely to remove this rule. Finally, local newspaper publishers controlling more than 20 percent of a local market was not allowed to control an ITV regional license in that same area.
As for radio, Owen Gibson wrote that as of May 2002, radio ownership laws were based on the 1990 Broadcasting Act (Gibson, "Current Ownership"). This Act used a points system to prevent any single company from owning more than 15 percent of the total number of the potential commercial radio listeners, and no company was allowed to own more than one commercial national radio license.
A Communications Bill was submitted to Parliament in May 2002. The proposal called for strong measures of deregulation. It would establish the Office of Communications (OFCOM), a single regulating body replacing five existing ones. It would liberalize media ownership laws, for example by ending all restrictions on foreign ownership. Diversity would be protected by the mandate that at least three local commercial radio operators existed in most local communities. The Bill also proposed the introduction of more self-regulation, allowing commercial broadcasters to police themselves (similarly to the press).
In addition to opening the way for Rupert Murdoch to acquire a stake in terrestrial commercial television, John Cassy writes that U.S. firms including AOL-Time Warner, Viacom, Vivendi Universal, Disney, and Microsoft might have an interest in Carlton and Granada, Channel 5, and some radio assets. Germany's Bertelsmann and Japan's Sony might also take advantage of the new deregulation. According to Cassy, this proposal called for one of the most liberal regulatory frameworks in the world. On the other hand, despite continued challenges to the BBC's protected status, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Tessa Jowell, stated that the "prospect of the UK without the BBC funded by the license fee is anywhere between improbable to impossible because the BBC is one of the most loved and trusted UK institutions." This comment suggested that there would be no debate about the BBC's funding structure in advance of the BBC's charter renewal in 2006 (Gibson, "Yeo Criticises").
After the introduction of ITV in 1955, British broadcasting balanced commercial imperatives with public service values. Developments since the Peacock Committee reported in 1986, and especially the debates surrounding the current Bill, indicated that protecting public service values would remain a difficult task in the near future.
Electronic News Media
In September 1999, CommerceNet/ Nielsen Media Research found that of the 46 million adult residents in the United Kingdom, 12.5 million, or 27 percent of the population, had used the Internet in the past month. Less than two years later, in June 2001, a Which? Online annual survey reported that 36 percent of the British population, or 16 million people, were now using the Internet. Which? Online predicted that the numbers would continue to grow but that the rate of growth would slow down, particularly as a significant number of respondents professed to have no interest in going online. Users spent an average of five hours per week online, visiting an average of twelve Web sites. Electronic mail was one of the most popular uses, and half of Internet users had engaged in Internet shopping. Among the affluent and highly educated in Britain, the proportion was much higher than among the population at large.
The two leading Internet service providers in the UK were Freeserve and America Online, both of which used the network provided by the Dutch firm KPNQwest. As of the early 2000s, the impending bankruptcy of the latter threatened to disrupt Internet use for up to half of Britain's users.
It became fashionable at the beginning of the twenty-first century to claim that the emergence of the Internet threatened the long-term existence of the newspaper as a medium. However, although its ability to distribute news instantaneously undermines one of the newspaper's historical functions (that is, to print what is "new"), more sober observers did not expect the Internet to signal the death of the physical newspaper in the near future. The convenience of carrying a newspaper, its suitability for reading in fits and starts over a period of several days, and the limited penetration of Internet access all supported the continued existence of newspapers. In addition, for many newspaper readers, the newspaper's aesthetic and tactile appeal, even to the extent of news-print on one's fingers, support their continued existence. Finally, advertisers remained unsure of the effectiveness of Internet advertising, raising crucial questions about the financial viability of the Internet as a news provider. Most newspapers had, of course, developed online editions.
Through the last decades of the twentieth century, the Internet's role in the gathering and dissemination of news met with a great deal of speculation. It is unwise to make predictions, particularly in such a rapidly changing field as the electronic media. Nonetheless, the development of the Internet has already affected journalism. Writing in 1999 in the British Journalism Review, Peter Hill heralded the growth of the Computer-assisted Reporter (CAR). Writing political profiles that appear on BBC News Online, Hill found the Internet an invaluable resource:
No longer do I go to the cuttings library, look up directories … to get my biographical information. I can get everything I need, and more, without moving from my office seat. If I want information about an MEP [Member of European Parliament], for instance, I can look him up on his party website, the European Parliament website, the EP register, the EP list of committees, and best of all in the BBC's new on-line cuttings archive, which produces on a word-search all references to my MEP going back five years.
In addition, news posted online is freed from the news cycles of newspapers and broadcast journalism; Internet newspapers are updated constantly throughout the day. As Brian McNair put it, the "speed, interactivity and comprehensiveness of the Internet as an information source are unprecedented in the history of communication media" (1999).
Many commentators have heralded the Internet as a tool for democratizing the media, specifically by evading the monopolies of the leading conglomerates. The theory is that people who could never afford to launch a newspaper or purchase a television station can maintain their own Web site. This optimism seems misplaced. First, it ignores the question of a Web site's status. With a surfeit of information available online, many surfers turn to Web sites belonging to established news providers, such as The Times, the Guardian, Reuters, or the BBC. Second, it ignores the question of Internet access, which was unlikely in the early 2000s to become universal within the near future. Third, such optimism ignores the fact that newsgathering remains an expensive and difficult undertaking that is generally well beyond the means of an individual or small group.
Much was made, in Britain as elsewhere, of the breaking of the Bill Clinton/ Monica Lewinsky scandal by Matthew Drudge's Web site. As of 2002, however, Internet news services remained rare and marginal. None was able to compete with the broadsheet newspapers, news agencies, or the BBC, as a news provider.
J. D. Lasica of the University of Southern California Annenberg's Online Journalism Review wrote that, among British papers, the Guardian had "made the strongest mark in the online medium." Whereas The Times relied "chiefly on recycled stories from the print edition and on news agencies for breaking news," The Guardian had won an international following for "original online reports, Web specials, media coverage, multimedia Flash guides to key stories, top-rate weblog and a reasonable range of news audio, nearly unheard of on British newspaper sites." The Guardian 's online edition also remained free for surfers, whereas The Times and Financial Times had made plans to move to a subscription model for their Web sites.
Education & Training
Formal schooling for journalists was historically a contentious matter in Britain, largely because of a widespread sentiment, dating to at least the nineteenth century, that a journalist was "born, not made." Independent editor Simon Kelner, speaking at Cardiff University in 2000, told an embarrassing story about a young, Cambridge University-educated journalist in order to make the point that:
a 'news' sense cannot be learned. You can learn lots of things about journalism, but above all, you need to feel and want to be a journalist, and probably the greatest asset that a journalist can have is instinct … And I think education, instinct and training are the best combinations. But none of that works for the aspiring journalist, without the instinct for a story.
Given these sentiments, no formal educational requirements existed for entry into journalism. The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) mandated that journalists serve what amounts to an "apprenticeship" on the provincial press before going to work on the London press. Tunstall notes that this mandate imposed a certain level of uniformity on journalistic careers in the 1960s; by the 1980s, however, the NUJ was increasingly unable to enforce this career pattern. As of 2002, more journalists, particularly columnists, came straight into the national press from specialist magazines. These journalists also possessed, on the average, higher levels of formal education. New entrants were also more likely to be drawn from a middle-class background than even in the 1980s. According to Franklin, many editors seemed hostile to middle-class graduates who entered journalism, and many trainees observed that editors did not respect any form of training. On the other hand, elite journalists, including political columnists earning six-figure salaries, often possess Oxford or Cambridge degrees.
The National Council for the Training of Journalists, created jointly by the NUJ and newspaper managers in the 1960s, offers a National Certificate Examination. In the fall of 2001, some 232 trainees sat for the NCE, with 102 passing (a pass rate of 44 percent). Still, this body did not effectively control entry into the profession. The NCTJ's Web site listed several routes into journalism; option one was "direct entry." According to the NCTJ, most companies expected the direct entrant to enter a two-year training contract, during which ideally the trainee would attend a course at a college or university. Under the category of "mature entrants," the NCJT noted simply that "over the age of 30, training is a matter for arrangement by the editor." This guarded language is indicative of the NCTJ's role in recommending programs of training rather than serving as gatekeeper to the profession. NCTJ approved journalism courses exist at the community college, undergraduate, and graduate levels.
Major organizations included the National Union of Journalists and the Chartered Institute of Journalists, with the NUJ being by far the largest with 34,000 members. Other more specialized organizations included the Guild of British Newspaper Editors, the Newspaper Publishers Association, and the Newspaper Society (representing regional and local proprietors).
At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the media environment was changing rapidly, and some of the specific details of this article, inevitably, may be outdated by the time of its publication. Certain essential characteristics could, however, be discerned.
Newspaper readership had been in long-term decline over a 40-year period, but the United Kingdom remained one of the nations with the most avid newspaper readers. The London-based national press predominated. As business concerns, newspapers were locked in an increasingly and intensely competitive commercial environment, as other media competed for the newspapers' audience and advertising revenues. Ownership remained highly concentrated and had become increasingly global. In addition, cross-media ownership has become more pronounced in the past generation.
The British press is one of the most free in the world. In an increasingly competitive commercial environment, however, entailing staffing cuts and circulation wars, regulation might be necessary in order to protect high editorial standards and editorial diversity. Yet, the longstanding British association of any state intervention with censorship, combined with a general atmosphere of deregulation, makes both journalists and their proprietors unlikely to embrace regulation. Thus, the British press remains largely self-regulated. It is not clear, however, that it can avoid statutory regulation in the future, given widespread concerns about invasion of privacy.
The press survived and even thrived in competition with broadcasting. As of the early 2000s, it was under challenge from new information technologies, particularly the Internet. While some individuals warned of the impending death of print, more optimistic observers argued that newspapers' unique characteristics would ensure their survival. In particular, they mentioned portability, the possibility of reading a few items at a time for several days, and the emotional attachment of many British readers to the traditional medium.
- 1997: Princess Diana's death stimulates backlash against tabloids.
- 1998: ITV abandons primetime television news.
- 2000: Freedom of Information Act passed; full implementation is due by the end of 2005.
- 2002: ITV Digital collapses; New Communications Bill proposed.
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