Reference > Media law & regulation > Official media reports > Broadcasting
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Report of the Imperial Wireless Committee 1919-20
Chairman: Sir Henry Norman.
Presented to Parliament, May 1920.
Recommended that wireless communication links should be established throughout the British Empire.
Report of the Broadcasting Committee
Chairman: Sir Frederick Sykes.
Presented to Parliament 1923.
As radio broadcasting began to be established, the government appointed the Sykes Committee to report on the possible future organisation, finance and administration of a broadcasting system.
Sykes Committee quotation.
Report of the Committee on Broadcasting 1925
Chairman: Earl of Crawford and Balcarres
Presented to Parliament 3 March 1926.
The Crawford Committee established the idea of the public corporation to act as 'Trustee for the national interest'. It proposed that the body should be known as the British Broadcasting Commission, appointed by the Crown, but that the Postmaster-General should remain the licensing authority and collect licence fees—already set at 10 shillings (50p). It also recommended a higher proportion of educational content and that 'every effort should be made to raise the standard of style and performance ... particularly in music' and 'that a moderate amount of controversial matter should be broadcast, provided that the material is of high quality and distributed with scrupulous fairness'. The nine regional operations of the British Broadcasting Company should be incorporated into the new Corporation's network, controlled centrally from London, but with freedom to continue providing a regional service. Government acceptance of the Crawford Committee recommendations was announced and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) came into being on 1 January 1927.
Report of the Television Committee 1934-5
Chairman: Lord Selsdon
Presented to Parliament January 1935.
The Selsdon Committee was set up in May 1934 'to consider the development of Television and to advise the Postmaster General on the relative merits of the several systems and on the conditions under which any public service of Television should be provided'. At the time the BBC had been transmitting a regular service using the electro-mechanical Baird system and a team at Marconi-EMI under Isaac Schoenberg was working on an all-electronic system.
Selsdon recommended that both technologies should continue to be developed but that the BBC should be the television broadcasting authority regardless of which technology were eventually to be adopted. The cost of the service should be borne out of the licence fee but with the Treasury making a contribution from its share of the revenue.
Among other things, it proposes that the target pricing point for receivers should be £50, approximately equivalent to 12 times the average weekly wage.
Broadcasting Committee 1935
Chairman: Lord Ullswater
Presented to Parliament February 1936.
The Ullswater Committee was appointed in 1935 to consider the future of the BBC, whose first 10-year Charter was due to expire at the end of 1936.
No significant changes were recommended, so in June the Postmaster-General, Major G C Tryon, announced that the Charter would be extended for 10 years, that the number of governors should be increased from five to seven, that the licence fee should remain at 10 shillings (50p) with the BBC receiving a greater share of the revenue and that both television and Empire radio broadcasting should be developed. Only the proposal that cultural aspects of broadcasting should be assigned to a Cabinet minister was rejected.
Report of the Television Committee 1943
Chairman: Lord Hankey
Published 29 December 1944, presented to Parliament March 1945.
The Hankey Committee was appointed in September 1943 (although its existence only became known in January 1944 following a leak) 'to prepare plans for the re-instatement and development of the television service after the war ... to at any rate the larger centres of population within a reasonable period after the war'. Other issues to be addressed included 'provision to be made for research and development' and for 'guidance to be given to manufacturers with a view especially to the development of the export trade'.
After hearing evidence from, among others, John Logie Baird and J Arthur Rank, Hankey recommended revival of the service that had existed until 1 September 1939, operating in the London area on 405 lines, although it was anticipated that in due course a system of more than 1,000-line definition might be developed of which 'cinemas may be expected to make considerable use'. 'In the educational field also, we believe that Television opens up considerable possibilities. But it is in the televising of actual events, the ability to give the viewer a front-row seat at almost every possible kind of exciting or memorable spectacle, that Television will perform its greatest service.'
Government White Paper, published 2 July 1946.
As well as announcing that the BBC Charter would be renewed without the extensive review that accompanied the previous extension (Ullswater Committee) and that a new £2 combined licence for radio and television was to be introduced, the new Labour government's policy review proposed one important innovation: the introduction of a cultural radio channel, to be known as the Third Programme. Another innovation was a requirement that the BBC should broadcast a daily review of proceedings in Parliament—a topic that still exercises politicians 54 years later. The ban on advertising was upheld.
Report of the Broadcasting Committee 1949
Chairman: Lord Beveridge
Presented to Parliament 18 January 1951.
The growing debate about the preservation of the broadcasting monopoly and the possible introduction of commercial television was reviewed by Beveridge (who had been a principal architect of the British welfare state during the war years), who decided in favour of monopoly and against advertising or 'sponsorship'.
A minority report by Conservative MP Selwyn Lloyd (who later became Foreign Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer) disagreed. He proposed a Commission for British Broadcasting to oversee the BBC as a radio broadcaster, a British Television Corporation, one or two other national commercial broadcasters each for radio and television and a potentially large number of local radio stations. Apart from separating television from the BBC, this has proved to be a fairly accurate description of the arrangements that exist 40 years later.
Memoranda submitted to the Committee are published in Cmnd 8117.
Beveridge Committee quotations.
Memorandum on the Report of the Broadcasting Committee 1949
Government White Paper, published 10 July 1951.
The Labour government's response to the Beveridge Committee report, which it endorsed (and rejected Selwyn Lloyd's minority opinion). It noted, in passing, that the Postmaster General actually had power already to authorise additional broadcasting organisations.
Memorandum on the Report of the Broadcasting Committee 1949
Government White Paper, published 15 May 1952.
After the change of power in October 1951, the incoming Conservative government published its own plans. For the first time the possibility of ending the BBC monopoly, if only for television, is suggested: 'In the expanding field of television provision should be made to permit some element of competition when the calls on capital resources at present needed for purposes of greater national importance makes this feasible.' New services would 'involve the use of higher frequencies'.
Government White Paper, published 13 November 1953.
The proposal was for a public corporation that would control standards of programmes that would be made by a number of privately financed companies. The companies would be allowed to sell advertising time but sponsorship of programming (in the dreaded American style) would not be permitted. The new public corporation would also own and operate the transmitter network, leasing its use to the programme companies in return for fees that would finance the system.
Direct Broadcasting by Satellite
Report of a Home Office study, May 1981.
Conclusions of a study commissioned by Home Secretary William Whitelaw in 1980 presents five options ranging from an early and full start (five DBS channels from 1987) through to no DBS at all for the foreseeable future. (In the end, option B—'a full but later start' (five channels in 1990)—was the outcome.
The report expressed concern that overspill of other European services into the UK might be detrimental to the quality of existing services, although technical considerations of satellite reception and television standards, plus low cable penetration and the prohibition on cable operators relaying anything other than UK services, diminish the significance of the incoming effect. However, the possibility of UK services being picked up across northern Europe and providing additional revenue is regarded positively.
A second report, on the technology aspects, was published 18 months later.
Report of the Inquiry into Cable Expansion and Broadcasting Policy
Chairman: Lord Hunt of Tamworth
Presented to Parliament by the Home Secretary, William Whitelaw, October 1982.
The report of the three-man Hunt committee, appointed on 6 April 1982, proposed a regulatory cable authority franchising local cable systems, the physical infrastructure (by a 'cable provider') and service provision (by a 'cable operator') of which could be combined in a single company.
Direct Broadcasting by Satellite: Report of the Advisory Panel on Technical Transmission Standards
Chairman: Sir Antony Part GCB MBE CBIM
Presented to Parliament by the Home Secretary, William Whitelaw, November 1982.
The report of a three-man committee, appointed on 9 July 1982, was produced at a time when it was expected that the BBC would be launching two channels of DBS (direct broadcasting by satellite) in autumn 1986 and that at least one of the three remaining channels allocated under the World Administrative Radio Conference (WARC) would be run by or for the Independent Broadcasting Authority. The committee was required to consider the technical standards to be used. It favoured the Multiplex Analogue Components (MAC) format as not only most likely to lead to the desirable objective of a common European standard but also as most likely to achieve consumer take-up.
'(8.14.1) We think that [the BBC's cautious financial strategy, starting with PAL and introducing E-PAL [extended PAL] later, might well not work. Previous experience with consumer electronics suggest that in these circumstances—and particularly if rival attractions such as cable are on offer—some consumers would be likely to wait to invest in DBS until E-PAL is available. ...
(8.14.4) We consider that MAC, with its higher quality and greater potential for development, will be more attractive commercially to both consumers and manufacturers. ...
'(8.15.5) We also believe the BBC to be mistaken about receivers. A substantial part of the cost of a home receiving installation for DBS stems from the aerial and outdoor unit, which is not affected by the transmission standard and will therefore be marketable throughout Europe. Much of the indoor unit will also be independent of the transmission standard.'
Comment: This was not only not the way satellite television developed but the rejection of the BBC's more realistic assessment contributed to one of the most disastrous and expensive failures of the Thatcher years. And if you think it wrong to attribute that fiasco to the government of the day, look at the evidence.
British Satellite Broadcasting: the full responsibility
Report of the Committee on Financing the BBC
Chairman: Professor Alan Peacock.
Expected by the Thatcher government to conclude that the licence fee should be abolished, the Peacock Committee favoured retaining much of the existing system as a 'least worst' option.
Page updated 5 August 2006
© David Fisher