Public service broadcasting (PSB) is closely associated with John Reith, the first Director General of the BBC, who argued that the fundamental purposes of broadcasting were to ‘educate, inform and entertain’. For Reith this implied that broadcasting should be protected from commercial pressures and the profit motive; should provide radio and television programmes with universal audience appeal and reach; should be organized as a monopoly to ensure ‘unified control’, and should be closely regulated to guarantee high quality programming (Stewart & David 1999, p. 224). Broadcasting’s ‘responsibility’ was to ‘improve the audience’, to ‘carry into the greatest number of homes everything that is best in every department of human knowledge, endeavour and achievement’: a responsibility which frequently triggered the criticism that PSB was inherently paternalistic.
In 1985, the Broadcasting Research Unit (BRU) identified eight ‘main principles’ of PSB. (1) Geographic universality – programmes should be available to everyone; (2) universality of Appeal – programmes should cater for all tastes; (3) minorities (ethnic or cultural) should enjoy particular programming provision; (4) broadcasters should nurture a sense of national identity and community; (5) broadcasting should be protected from vested interests, whether economic and political, to ensure impartiality and balance; (6) costs should be shared equally by everyone who receives the service – the licence fee; (7) broadcasting should be structured to encourage competition between broadcasters resulting in higher quality programming not increased audience size or dumbing down; (8) public guidelines for broadcasting should liberate not restrict programme-makers (BRU 1985, p. 128-130). These principles of public service broadcasting have provided not merely an inspirational ideal type, but an account of the particular organizational form which broadcasting has assumed in both the public and private sectors of British broadcasting.