Television Policy

Television Policy: The MacTaggart Lectures

BOB FRANKLIN
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 304
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3366/j.ctt1r286x
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  • Book Info
    Television Policy
    Book Description:

    Television Policy offers a unique and authoritative account of the major developments in television programming and policy since 1976 by collecting in a single volume the MacTaggart lectures delivered at the Edinburgh International Television Festival across the last quarter of a century. The MacTaggart lecturers include the most celebrated and distinguished programme makers, producers, performers, playwrights, policymakers and senior media executives across all sectors of broadcasting. They include Greg Dyke, John Humphrys, John McGrath, Marcel Orphuls, Norman Lear, Jeremy Isaacs, John Mortimer, Peter Jay, Ted Turner, Jonathan Miller, Denis Foreman, John Schlesinger, Troy Kennedy-Martin, Philip Whitehead, Christine Ockrent, Rupert Murdoch, Verity Lambert, David Elstein, Michael Grade, Dennis Potter, Janet Street Porter, John Birt, Laurence Marks, Maurice Gran, Peter Bazalgette, Richard Eyre, David Liddiment and Mark Thompson.With a Foreword by John Willis and an introductory essay exploring the history of the MacTaggart lectures and a review of the shifting themes and concerns of the lectures, the book provides a forum for the significant debates which have helped to shape both television content and policy across twenty five years of considerable and unprecedented change in broadcasting. Topics covered include the future of public service programming; the relationship of government to broadcasters; the impact of ownership on the freedom of broadcasters; and debates about whether and how television should be regulated.Television Policy is essential reading for all students of media and communication studies as well as those interested in reading accounts of television programming and policy written by some of the most eloquent, eminent but contentious figures in television broadcasting.Features* The first collection of the prestigious MacTaggart Lectures* A unique insight into the development of television programming across 25 years

    eISBN: 978-0-7486-7959-1
    Subjects: Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xii)
    John Willis

    Just as T.S. Eliot’s J. Alfred Prufrock laments ‘I have measured out my life with coffee spoons’, British broadcasters could equally have measured out their lives with MacTaggart Lectures. From the early explorations of naturalism by John McGrath and Marcel Ophuls to John Humphrys’ accusation that some programming has become ‘meretricious, seedy and cynical’, the MacTaggart Lectures have offered us a route map across the shifting sands of British broadcasting, a compelling insight into the preoccupations, passions and ambitions of television’s leaders. Bob Franklin is to be congratulated for compiling this unique collection of the MacTaggart lectures which offer readers...

  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-34)
    Bob Franklin

    The origins and development of the James MacTaggart Memorial Lecture and the Edinburgh International Television Festival (EITF) are typically, and in some ways appropriately, regarded as inextricably connected, but the MacTaggart Lecture can claim rights of prima geniture. The first lecture, delivered in Edinburgh by radical playwright and director John McGrath on 25 August 1976, formed part of a retrospective celebrating the work of the recently deceased, Scottish television producer and director, James MacTaggart. The retrospective had been organised by the BBC in association with Granada Television and the highly successful and prestigious Edinburgh International Film Festival, which had begun...

  6. TV Drama: The Case against Naturalism
    (pp. 35-44)
    John McGrath

    John McGrath shapes his recollections of working with James MacTaggart in London in the early 1960s into what Troy Kennedy Martin (1986) described as a ‘swingeing attack on naturalism’. Naturalism he argues imposes a certain ‘neutrality about life on the writer, the actor and the audience’: it presents a world that is ‘static, implied and ambivalent’.

    McGrath argued that the television image is not conducive to naturalist drama because it lacks sensuality. While a cinema screen can ‘flood the senses’, a ‘television shot is at best nice’: it is akin to listening ‘to a symphony over the telephone’. Also, it...

  7. Naturalism and Television
    (pp. 45-52)
    Marcel Ophuls

    Marcel Ophuls, the maker of television documentaries such as The Sorrow and the Pity, Sense of Loss and Memory of Justice, opens his lecture on a biographical note, expressing his admiration for his father, Max Ophuls, and describing how he himself became what he deprecatingly describes as ‘a self indulgent specialist of four-and-a-half talking-head marathons’: i.e. documentaries. Ophuls declares himself the spiritual as well as the biological offspring of his father, sharing fully ‘his assessments of the shallow, anti-creative, anti-humanist and authoritarian theories which seemed to us . . . the systematic foundations of the naturalist tendency’. His critique of...

  8. Taboos in Television
    (pp. 53-60)
    Norman Lear

    Norman Lear’s lecture recalls the progress of television programmes, especially situation comedies, in addressing previously taboo subjects such as homosexuality, abortions and black family life. He regrets the current backlash which seeks to reinstate these old taboos: they grow back ‘like weeds in an unattended hothouse’. The pretext of those who censor is the need to protect viewers from offensive material, but the real concern is to ‘block content which might be too informative and provocative’.

    These taboos were overturned following confrontations between writers and producers like Lear and the Program Practices Department – which ‘is the euphemism for censor’: cuts...

  9. Signposting Television in the 1980s: The Fourth Television Channel
    (pp. 61-70)
    Jeremy Isaacs

    Jeremy Isaacs’ MacTaggart Lecture articulates his vision for the new fourth channel. He envisages broadcasting in the eighties as being characterised by a confrontation between ‘a BBC on two channels and an ITV on two channels’; the former ‘poorly off and getting poorer’, the latter ‘rich’ and getting ‘richer’.

    While Pilkington’s (1962) assessment of ITV was critical, Annan (1977) found much to praise. The change reflected the impact of Pilkington’s remarks in shifting the Independent Television Authority (ITA) from being a ‘friend’ of the companies in the direction of more rigorous regulation. Isaacs argues that ITV enters the 1980s with...

  10. Television Drama, Censorship and the Truth
    (pp. 71-78)
    John Mortimer

    Mortimer begins with an anecdote to introduce his argument that ‘there is no clear or necessary distinction between fact and fiction, between drama and documentary, between creating and reporting’. Indeed ‘one gives life to the other’ and both are equally important in the search for truth. Consequently, censoring drama is as ‘damaging and dishonest’ as censoring the news.

    Mortimer’s working life illustrates this synergy between fact and fiction. His simultaneous engagement with law and the theatre prompted the discovery that while the playwright ‘has to face up to the fearful truth of existence’ the lawyer can exist ‘in a world...

  11. The Day after Tomorrow: The Future of Electronic Publishing
    (pp. 79-88)
    Peter Jay

    Peter Jay criticises the current overregulation of broadcasting and outlines a possible future organisation for what he prefers to describe as ‘electronic publishing’: his assumption is that the problem of ‘spectrum scarcity’, which provided the original rationale for regulation, has been overcome. ‘Within less than two decades,’ he argues, we will inhabit ‘a world in which there will be no technically based grounds for government interference in electronic publishing.’

    Jay sets out his vision. Every household will be connected by an interactive fibre optic link which allows ‘the nation’s viewers’ to ‘simultaneously watch as many different programmes as the nation’s...

  12. The Primacy of Programmes in the Future of Broadcasting
    (pp. 89-96)
    Denis Forman

    Denis Forman argues that while technology has created the new broadcast delivery systems of cable and satellite, these developments are unimportant compared to the quality of the programming which they deliver. It is time we ‘directed our attention not so much to the messenger as to the message’. It is crucial to persuade politicians, with their privatising ambitions and monetarist policies that ‘the true value of our business lies in our programmes’.

    The collapse of the plan to cable Britain offers testament to this view: ‘not many people are willing to pay . . . for a service that....

  13. Reflections on Working in Film and Television
    (pp. 97-104)
    John Schlesinger

    John Schlesinger’s lecture is based around a ‘few observations about my time in this business’ working in television and film. Schlesinger readily conceeds that he could never ‘understand the difference’ between ‘making television’ and ‘making a film for television’. The one difference is the distinctive audience reaction to the two media: the cinema creates a ‘special experience’.

    Schlesinger began in television working on Tonight (‘I got the sack’) and with Huw Weldon on Monitor; the year with Monitor was ‘among the happiest I’ve ever spent in this profession’. Schlesinger went to America to make Midnight Cowboy. On arrival, he recalls...

  14. ‘Opening up the Fourth Front’: Micro Drama and the Rejection of Naturalism
    (pp. 105-112)
    Troy Kennedy Martin

    Troy Kennedy Martin picks up the cudgels first wielded by John McGrath a decade earlier in his ‘swingeing attack on naturalism’. He defines naturalism in television as ‘actors talking in contemporary dress against a contemporaneous background’ intended to offer ‘a replication of real life. In dramatic terms it is the mediation of story through dialogue’; he concludes that naturalism is ‘ basically phoney’.

    Kennedy Martin proposes to open up a ‘fourth front’ alongside plays, series and serials, which would deal with ‘micro drama’ composed of ‘dozens of fragments of drama, shards of experience made and put out very quickly’. Micro...

  15. Power and Pluralism in Broadcasting
    (pp. 113-122)
    Phillip Whitehead

    Phillip Whitehead opens his lecture with the suggestion that the British broadcasting industry is suffering the most severe and sustained attack he can recall in the last twenty-five years. The assailants include politicians, government policy, new technology, free-market economics and even broadcasting regulators. The ‘buzzword’ informing policy change has been ‘choice’ measured by the number of available services. But diversity, Whitehead suggests, ‘has to be fostered’.

    Whitehead argues that Annan articulated the principle of a genuine ‘regulated diversity’ promoted via different authorities protected by separate sources of finance: a smaller BBC; local radio cut ‘adrift’ from the BBC and IBA;...

  16. Ethics, Broadcasting and Change: The French Experience
    (pp. 123-130)
    Christine Ockrent

    Christine Ockrent’s lecture explores and analyses the ethical consequences of rapid change in the French broadcasting system. She details the shift at TF1 Network from a public-sector organisation run by ‘miserly, incompetent civil servants’ to a private-sector broadcaster, owned by a civil engineering company which believes there is ‘no reason why a TV station should be run differently from a pipes factory’ and whose ethical ‘code of behaviour’ includes ‘simple mottos’ such as ‘Kill the enemy, the competition, the weak’. Ockrent believes that this subject will interest a British audience because ‘in many ways the French situation epitomises the fears...

  17. Freedom in Broadcasting
    (pp. 131-138)
    Rupert Murdoch

    Rupert Murdoch offers a highly contentious and critical assessment of public service broadcasting, denouncing it as an ideology deployed by ‘propagandists’ to protect the interests of a narrow broadcasting elite, but with debilitating consequences for British broadcasting. Most significantly, public service broadcasting and its ‘guardians’ militate against the prospects for viewer freedom and choice. Such restrictions ‘are not compatible with a mature democracy’.

    This ideology of public service broadcasting is a form of ‘special pleading’ which misrepresents an economically inefficient, paternalistic and unaccountable broadcasting system, as the only organisational structure capable of delivering quality programmes and encouraging creative risk-taking in...

  18. Deregulation and Quality Television
    (pp. 139-146)
    Verity Lambert

    Verity Lambert addresses the question ‘What can we do to preserve quality?’ in the context of a broadcasting system experiencing deregulation, reflecting both government policy and the emergence of multi-channel broadcasting. Lambert begins with definitions but acknowledges that the notion of ‘quality’ is contested. She suggests that money is central since it allows high production values, well-researched programmes, a good programme mix and funds innovation, risks and the occasional mistake. Lambert claims ‘you may not know it [quality] when you see it, [but] you certainly know it when you don’t’.

    The inclusion of a ‘quality threshold’ in the Broadcasting Act...

  19. The Future of Television: Market Forces and Social Values
    (pp. 147-156)
    David Elstein

    David Elstein’s concern is to explore the Thatcher legacy to broadcasting which, he argues, is characterised by a shift away from social values to market forces as the key engines driving broadcasting. The Peacock Committee initiated this ‘sea-change’ by introducing notions such as consumer sovereignty and competition into programming considerations. Significantly, the Peacock Committee exceeded its brief by largely ignoring the BBC, while proposing ‘the groundwork for a powerful attack on ITV’.

    Elstein argues that the 1988 White Paper (Broadcasting in the 1990s: Competition, Choice and Quality) and the subsequent Broadcasting Act 1990, with their requirements for the allocation of...

  20. The Future of the BBC
    (pp. 157-164)
    Michael Grade

    Michael Grade’s MacTaggart Lecture, widely interpreted as an application for the job of Director General of the BBC, analyses the finances, management and programming of the BBC following a period of robust clashes with the Thatcher government and in the run-up to the Charter renewal in 1994. Grade argues for the significance of programmme quality and standards at the BBC for the wider broadcasting industry. ‘It is the BBC,’ Grade famously remarks, ‘which keeps us all honest.’

    Grade identifies a number of key problems confronting the BBC. First, the BBC has adopted a policy of ‘political appeasement’ in its relations...

  21. Occupying Powers
    (pp. 165-172)
    Dennis Potter

    Dennis Potter begins his eloquent lecture by warning his audience that he does not wish to be kind or gentle: his ambition is to ‘land a few blows on some of the nastiest people besmirching our once-fair land’: especially on that ‘pair of croak-voiced Daleks’ (John Birt and Marmaduke Hussey) who head the BBC. Potter argues that the BBC is currently under attack and ‘driven on to the back foot’ by an ideologically motivated and malicious government, aided and abetted by supine managers at the BBC who have responded by taking ‘several more steps backward’. The creative culture of the...

  22. A Culture of Dependency: Power, Politics and Broadcasters
    (pp. 173-182)
    Greg Dyke

    Greg Dyke attacks what he describes as the ‘culture of dependency’ in UK television which subjects broadcasters to an increasing dependence on government ‘in some cases for their very existence and, in the commercial sector, for their financial success’. He argues that it is ‘not the role of broadcasters to spend their time currying favour with the government’ since this is antipathetic to one of the fundamental activities of broadcasters in a mature democracy: namely posing challenging and critical questions to government. But the Broadcasting Act 1990 sent a message to the ITV companies that ‘being a business was more...

  23. Talent versus Television
    (pp. 183-190)
    Janet Street-Porter

    The theme of this lecture is the ‘crisis’ facing British television triggered by the departure of ‘talent’ – by which Janet Street-Porter means ‘everyone who makes a difference to what hits the screen’. The cause of this malaise is television management, which has typically been composed of ‘“M” people’ – ‘Middle-class, Middle-brow, Middle-aged and Male, Masonic in their tendencies and, not to put to fine a point on it, fairly Mediocre.’ The final problem with M people is that there have ‘ always been too many of them’.

    The other problem with television is its structure. Senior managers, moreover, have lost any...

  24. A Glorious Future: Quality Broadcasting in the Digital Age
    (pp. 191-200)
    John Birt

    John Birt, then Director General of the BBC, used his 1996 MacTaggart Lecture to outline his vision for the BBC in the digital age. He began by listing the BBC’s major achievements and concluded with a plea for an increase in the licence fee.

    Reformulating Reith’s original injunction that the BBC should ‘educate, inform and entertain’, Birt claimed in recent times the BBC’s role has been to ‘delight, educate and inform’ and, by so doing, to act as ‘the touchstone of quality in UK broadcasting’. Birt summarises the BBC’s considerable achievements: ‘we have become a major cultural patron . ....

  25. Rewarding Creative Talent: The Struggle of the Independents
    (pp. 201-210)
    Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran

    The theme of Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran’s lecture is the relative powerlessness of the creative workers (writers, producers and directors) – ‘the talent’ – in television and the other creative industries. Establishing an independent production company provides writers with creative control over their work but even independent producers can end up being treated as little more than ‘a glorified freelance at the mercy of the market’ without ownership and distribution rights over programmes. It is still preferable, however, to working directly for a broadcaster such as the BBC or ITV which often involves being ‘under-respected, under-consulted, [and] under-rewarded’.

    In 1989 Marks...

  26. Television versus the People
    (pp. 211-218)
    Peter Bazalgette

    Peter Bazalgette suggests that television is confronting a revolution in which power is shifting away from the ‘sleek barons of British broadcasting’ in favour of the viewer. But television is still plagued by regulators who apply ill-informed and outmoded criteria of ‘quality’ to programmes and content. They also fail to achieve healthy competition, which benefits the consumer: the key ambition for any regulatory regime. British television is ‘mollycoddled by regulations, bloated on protected revenue and addicted to a system set up forty-five years ago’. Bazalgette argues that ‘we need an end to the era of over-regulation’.

    He offers a wide-ranging...

  27. Public-Interest Broadcasting: A New Approach
    (pp. 219-228)
    Richard Eyre

    Richard Eyre’s 1999 MacTaggart Lecture announced the imminent demise of public-service television: ‘It’s a gonner’ – and for three reasons. First, public-service broadcasting relies on regulators who are increasingly overwhelmed by the expansive sources of broadcast information: this will result in inequities. Second, it relies on an active broadcaster and a passive viewer, but ‘at the end of a tiring day viewers don’t always choose what’s good for them’. Third, public-service broadcasting lacks any agreed definition. Modifying Oscar Wilde’s judgement of fox hunting, Eyre declares public-service broadcasting to be ‘The unsustainable in pursuit of the undefinable.’ Public-service broadcasting must give way...

  28. A Time for Change
    (pp. 229-236)
    Greg Dyke

    Greg Dyke’s second MacTaggart Lecture states his vision for a new BBC, which involves melding the public-service tradition with the realities of the digital television market in order to forestall the emergence of a ‘digital underclass’.

    Dyke’s vision embraces a number of concrete programming proposals, including shifting the BBC’s nine o’clock news bulletin to the 10 p.m. slot and the creation of two new children’s channels. BBC1 will remain the ‘gold standard of mainstream television’ but will become more focused on entertainment, drama and factual programmes. Some programmes currently at the margins of BBC1’s schedule will be given a higher...

  29. The Soul of British Television
    (pp. 237-244)
    David Liddiment

    The key theme in David Liddiment’s MacTaggart Lecture is that the soul of British television is in danger as a result of a battle for ratings in which ‘we’re losing sight of the innate value of programmes’. But television is about more than ‘just putting bums on seats’ and broadcasters must seek to make television interesting, ambitious and diverse as well as popular. Liddiment argues that broadcasters ‘have to take risks’.

    The BBC is the most powerful and dominant force in British broadcasting: £2.4 billion a year of public money and 43 per cent of all viewing and listening in...

  30. Television’s Creative Deficit
    (pp. 245-254)
    Mark Thompson

    Mark Thompson’s MacTaggart Lecture identifies a ‘creative deficit’ in British television resulting in many programmes appearing ‘dull and mechanical and samey’. The culprit is not competition (identified by David Liddiment in the 2001 MacTaggart Lecture), which can have positive effects, but a twofold conservatism: the ‘risk-aversion of the schedule’ in tandem with ‘an older cultural conformism’. Even Channel 4, which was initially inspired by a commitment to risk, diversity, originality and a schedule in which ‘everything was an experiment’, has become ‘distracted by its ambitious digital plans’ and allowed its ‘creative decision-making to become too centralised and risk-averse’.

    Thompson argues...

  31. Freedom of Choice: Public-Service Broadcasting and the BBC
    (pp. 255-264)
    Tony Ball

    Tony Ball, then Chief Executive of BSkyB, announced in the MacTaggart Lecture that an unprecedented majority (51 per cent) of the public, responding to a National Opinion Poll survey, believes that the BBC licence fee no longer represents good value for money. Worse, the poorest people feel most aggrieved with 60 per cent reporting their dissatisfaction with the value offered by the licence fee. With BSkyB now reaching 7 million homes offering viewers an ‘explosion of choice’, Ball argues it is time to reassess the relationship between broadcasters and government, as well as the character of public-service broadcasting. It is...

  32. First Do No Harm
    (pp. 265-274)
    John Humphrys

    John Humphrys addresses two connected themes. First, bad television has become ‘damaging. Meretricious. Seedy. Cynical’ and harms society; second, if journalists engage in self-censorship post-Hutton this will harm democracy. The Hippocratic Oath offers a sound principle for broadcasters and journalists – ‘First do no harm’.

    Humphrys invited sixteen Channel Controllers to send him ten tapes illustrating the ‘case for television’. Having watched them, he concluded that the ‘best television’ is ‘better than ever’ but the worst has become preoccupied with sex, confrontation, aggression and violent language, ‘even in the soaps’. Reality TV is the real culprit. It turns ‘human beings into...

  33. Appendix A Edinburgh International Television Festival, 29 August–2 September 1977: Programme
    (pp. 275-278)
  34. Appendix B
    (pp. 279-282)
  35. Index
    (pp. 283-292)