Broadcasting Act 1990
The Broadcasting Act 1990 is a law of the British parliament
Parliament of the United Kingdom
The Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the supreme legislative body in the United Kingdom, British Crown dependencies and British overseas territories, located in London...

, often regarded by both its supporters and its critics as a quintessential example of Thatcherism
Thatcherism describes the conviction politics, economic and social policy, and political style of the British Conservative politician Margaret Thatcher, who was leader of her party from 1975 to 1990...

. The aim of the Act was to reform the entire structure of British
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

Broadcasting is the distribution of audio and video content to a dispersed audience via any audio visual medium. Receiving parties may include the general public or a relatively large subset of thereof...

; British television
British television
Public television broadcasting started in the United Kingdom in 1936, and now has a collection of free and subscription services over a variety of distribution media, through which there are over 480 channelsTaking the base Sky EPG TV Channels. A breakdown is impossible due to a) the number of...

, in particular, had earlier been described by Margaret Thatcher
Margaret Thatcher
Margaret Hilda Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher, was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990...

 as "the last bastion of restrictive practices". It led directly to the abolition of the Independent Broadcasting Authority
Independent Broadcasting Authority
The Independent Broadcasting Authority was the regulatory body in the United Kingdom for commercial television - and commercial/independent radio broadcasts...

 and its replacement with the Independent Television Commission
Independent Television Commission
The Independent Television Commission licensed and regulated commercial television services in the United Kingdom between 1 January 1991 and 28 December 2003....

 and Radio Authority (both themselves now replaced by Ofcom
Ofcom is the government-approved regulatory authority for the broadcasting and telecommunications industries in the United Kingdom. Ofcom was initially established by the Office of Communications Act 2002. It received its full authority from the Communications Act 2003...

), which were given the remit of regulating with a "lighter touch" and did not have such strong powers as the IBA; some referred to this as "deregulation". The ITC also began regulating non-terrestrial channels, whereas the IBA had only regulated ITV
ITV is the major commercial public service TV network in the United Kingdom. Launched in 1955 under the auspices of the Independent Television Authority to provide competition to the BBC, it is also the oldest commercial network in the UK...

, Channel 4
Channel 4
Channel 4 is a British public-service television broadcaster which began working on 2 November 1982. Although largely commercially self-funded, it is ultimately publicly owned; originally a subsidiary of the Independent Broadcasting Authority , the station is now owned and operated by the Channel...

 and the ill-fated British Satellite Broadcasting
British Satellite Broadcasting
British Satellite Broadcasting was a British television company which provided direct broadcast satellite television services to the United Kingdom...

; the ITC thus took over the responsibilities of the Cable Authority
Cable Authority
The Cable Authority was the United Kingdom statutory body established by the Cable and Broadcasting Act 1984 to regulate the newly liberalised cable television industry. It came into existence on 1 December 1984 and took on its functions with effect from 1 January 1985...

 which had regulated the early non-terrestrial channels, which were only available to a very small audience in the 1980s.

Effects of the Act

An effect of this Act was that, in the letter of the law, the television or radio companies rather than the regulator became the broadcasters, as had been the case in the early (1955-1964) era of the Independent Television Authority
Independent Television Authority
The Independent Television Authority was an agency created by the Television Act 1954 to supervise the creation of "Independent Television" , the first commercial television network in the United Kingdom...

 when it had fewer regulatory powers than it would later assume.

In television

In television, the Act allowed for the creation of a fifth analogue terrestrial television
Terrestrial television
Terrestrial television is a mode of television broadcasting which does not involve satellite transmission or cables — typically using radio waves through transmitting and receiving antennas or television antenna aerials...

 channel in the UK, which turned out to be Channel 5, and the growth of multichannel satellite television
Satellite television
Satellite television is television programming delivered by the means of communications satellite and received by an outdoor antenna, usually a parabolic mirror generally referred to as a satellite dish, and as far as household usage is concerned, a satellite receiver either in the form of an...

. It also stipulated that the BBC
The British Broadcasting Corporation is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters is at Broadcasting House in the City of Westminster, London. It is the largest broadcaster in the world, with about 23,000 staff...

, which had previously produced the vast majority of its television programming in-house, was now obliged to source at least 25% of its output from independent production companies.

The act has sometimes been described, both as praise and as criticism, as a key enabling force for Rupert Murdoch
Rupert Murdoch
Keith Rupert Murdoch, AC, KSG is an Australian-American business magnate. He is the founder and Chairman and CEO of , the world's second-largest media conglomerate....

's ambitions in Britain
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

. It reformed the system of awarding ITV franchises, which proved controversial when Thames Television
Thames Television
Thames Television was a licensee of the British ITV television network, covering London and parts of the surrounding counties on weekdays from 30 July 1968 until 31 December 1992....

 was replaced by Carlton Television
Carlton Television
Carlton Television was the ITV franchise holder for London and the surrounding counties including the cities of Solihull and Coventry of the West Midlands, south Suffolk, middle and east Hampshire, Oxfordshire, south Bedfordshire, south Northamptonshire, parts of Herefordshire & Worcestershire,...

, for what some felt were political reasons (see Death on the Rock
Death on the Rock
Death on the Rock is a British Academy Television Award-winning episode of Thames Television's current affairs series This Week, first aired by the British television network ITV on 28 April 1988. On 6 March 1988, three Irish Republican Army members, Danny McCann, Sean Savage and Mairéad Farrell,...

), and when TV-am
TV-am was a breakfast television station that broadcast to the United Kingdom from 1 February 1983 to 31 December 1992. It made history by being the first national operator of a commercial television franchise at breakfast-time , and broadcast every day of the week for most or all of the period...

, admired by Mrs Thatcher for its management's defiance of the trade union
Trade union
A trade union, trades union or labor union is an organization of workers that have banded together to achieve common goals such as better working conditions. The trade union, through its leadership, bargains with the employer on behalf of union members and negotiates labour contracts with...

s, lost its franchise to GMTV
GMTV was the national Channel 3 breakfast television contractor, broadcasting in the United Kingdom from 1 January 1993 to 3 September 2010. It became a wholly owned subsidiary of ITV plc. in November 2009. Shortly after, ITV plc announced the programme would end...

 (the now-former Prime Minister personally apologised to the senior TV-am executive Bruce Gyngell
Bruce Gyngell
Bruce Gyngell was a hugely influential Australian television executive, prominent for 50 years in both Australian and U.K. television. Although Gyngell began his career in radio, in the 1950s he stepped into the arena of early television broadcasting, helping to set up Channel 9, the first...

). It also allowed companies holding ITV franchises to take over other such companies from 1994, beginning the process which has led to the creation of ITV plc
ITV plc
ITV plc is a British media company that operates 12 of the 15 regional television broadcasters that make up the ITV Network, the oldest and largest commercial terrestrial television network in the United Kingdom...


In radio

In radio, it allowed for the launch of three Independent National Radio
Independent National Radio
Independent National Radio is the official term for the three national commercial radio stations broadcasting on analogue radio in the United Kingdom...

 stations, two of them on medium wave using frequencies formerly used by the BBC
The British Broadcasting Corporation is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters is at Broadcasting House in the City of Westminster, London. It is the largest broadcaster in the world, with about 23,000 staff...

, and the other on FM using frequencies formerly used by the emergency services. It set out plans for many more local and regional commercial radio
Independent Local Radio
Independent Local Radio is the collective name given to commercial radio stations in the United Kingdom. The same name is used for Independent Local Radio in Ireland.-Development of ILR:...

 stations, generally using parts of the FM band not previously used for broadcasting, which have since come to fruition. Its plans for expanding community radio
Community radio
Community radio is a type of radio service, that offers a third model of radio broadcasting beyond commercial broadcasting and public broadcasting. Community stations can serve geographic communities and communities of interest...

 were only really developed in the 2000s.


The Act passed through Parliament despite opposition from much of the Labour Party
Labour Party (UK)
The Labour Party is a centre-left democratic socialist party in the United Kingdom. It surpassed the Liberal Party in general elections during the early 1920s, forming minority governments under Ramsay MacDonald in 1924 and 1929-1931. The party was in a wartime coalition from 1940 to 1945, after...

 and from some members of the ruling Conservative Party
Conservative Party (UK)
The Conservative Party, formally the Conservative and Unionist Party, is a centre-right political party in the United Kingdom that adheres to the philosophies of conservatism and British unionism. It is the largest political party in the UK, and is currently the largest single party in the House...

, who saw it as representative of a decline in standards, and on occasions saw it as enabling what was, for them, an unwelcome Americanisation. Notably, Douglas Hurd
Douglas Hurd
Douglas Richard Hurd, Baron Hurd of Westwell, CH, CBE, PC , is a British Conservative politician and novelist, who served in the governments of Margaret Thatcher and John Major between 1979 and his retirement in 1995....

 has since criticised the Act's after-effects, describing it as "one of the less successful reforms of those years". These Conservatives would have described their position as paternalistic
Paternalism refers to attitudes or states of affairs that exemplify a traditional relationship between father and child. Two conditions of paternalism are usually identified: interference with liberty and a beneficent intention towards those whose liberty is interfered with...

 as a term of praise, while supporters of the Act would use it against them as a term of abuse. Since Tony Blair
Tony Blair
Anthony Charles Lynton Blair is a former British Labour Party politician who served as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 2 May 1997 to 27 June 2007. He was the Member of Parliament for Sedgefield from 1983 to 2007 and Leader of the Labour Party from 1994 to 2007...

 became leader, the Labour Party's broadcasting policy has generally shifted much more towards that expounded in the Act.

The then Home Secretary
Home Secretary
The Secretary of State for the Home Department, commonly known as the Home Secretary, is the minister in charge of the Home Office of the United Kingdom, and one of the country's four Great Offices of State...

, David Waddington
David Waddington, Baron Waddington
David Charles Waddington, Baron Waddington, GCVO, DL, QC, PC , is a British politician. A member of the Conservative Party, he served as a Member of Parliament in the House of Commons from 1968 to 1990, and was then made a life peer...

, described the Act as heralding "a massive expansion in choice", and supporters of the multichannel age in British broadcasting have praised the Act, and later regulation influenced by it, for such reasons. Supporters of the previous, more regulated system have strongly criticised the Act, and some have blamed it for what they see as a "dumbing down
Dumbing down
Dumbing down is a pejorative term for a perceived trend to lower the intellectual content of literature, education, news, and other aspects of culture...

" of British television and radio. Like many other reforms of the Thatcher years, it has a tendency to polarise opinion very strongly. One initially less-obvious effect of the Act was that technical standards ceased to be monitored & enforced by the regulatory body along with the programme content.

External links

  • Torycasting - an account of the Act (among other things) from a perspective generally critical of the latter-day Conservative Party.
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