During the early 1980s the Thatcher Government’s commitment to free market economics and broadcasting deregulation, combined with the development of cable and satellite broadcasting technologies, signalled the emergence of a multichannel system which challenged fundamental tenets of public service broadcasting. At the same time, a series of editorials in The Times attacked the license fee and urged the government ‘to begin a process of redefining public service broadcasting’ (Seymour & Colin 1991, p. 69). Later that year, the Peacock Committee was commissioned to investigate the prospect of replacing the license fee with advertising revenues as the source of BBC finances. Peacock eventually rejected the proposal but, in 1988, a government White Paper announced the ambition to create ‘a more competitive and open broadcasting market’ which would place ‘the viewer and listener at the centre of broadcasting policy’ in order to reduce the paternalism of PSB and give audiences ‘a greater choice and a greater say’.
The idea that PSB represented little more than the outmoded, paternalistic, ideology of a self-serving broadcasting elite, which denied viewers freedom of choice in programming and led to economic inefficiency, gained currency throughout the 1980s. Rupert Murdoch used the platform of the 1989 MacTaggart lecture to denounce the ‘propagandists’ and challenge the ‘consensus among established broadcasters that a properly free and competitive television system will mean the end of “quality” television and that multi-channel choice equals multi-channel drivel’ (Potter & Jeremy 1989, p. 158).