When I arrived in the United Kingdom I continuously heard the term “The Beeb.” I soon found out that everyone was talking about the BBC. The BBC has various offices throughout the United Kingdom to provide specific news and programs for particular regions of the UK. The BBC offers news, television programs, and radio channels, which means that they cover nearly every aspect of the media world.
The United Kingdom has 5 main news broadcasters: BBC News, ITV News, 4 News, 5 News, and Sky News. However, the BBC heavily dominates the broadcasting and television industry in the UK. The United States has more news outlets to choose from like CNN, Fox News, ABC News, NBC News, CBS News, MSNBC, and many more. Although there is a slight hierarchy among the news outlets in the United States, there is not one particular broadcast network that dominates the industry. The United States also does not focus on the importance of radio as a broadcasting medium like in the UK.
To show our class exactly how big the BBC is both in size and importance, Jean Mackenzie, a broadcast journalist for the BBC, provided some very interesting facts. She said told us that about half of the people employed by the BBC are journalists, which shows the importance of news broadcasting within the BBC. Within any broadcasting network, there are three positions: reporters, anchors, and producers. The news outlets in the UK are more focused on the reporters than in the United States. Reporters take more control of the segments and stories in the UK than they do in the United States.
The BBC is a media powerhouse in the United Kingdom. From our arrival to Dublin to our last days in London, the BBC has been a part of our lives each day. The BBC is publicly funded using a licensing fee that each household pays each year. Each household pays £145.50 for color television or £49.00 for black and white television. Because the BBC is publicly funded, there are no commercials or ads on BBC networks. They feel that ads cheapen the entertainment that they are providing. The BBC has guaranteed cash flow from the licensing fee, so they do not need to depend on ads to make money. Differently, the news outlets in the United States have commercial breaks and ads periodically that help to fund the programs.
Every program that the BBC runs stands by their values: accuracy, impartiality, and taste/decency. This is somewhat different from other news outlets both in the United Kingdom and the United States because being first to report something isn’t important to the BBC. Accuracy is paramount within the company, so before they report something they must be absolutely certain that they are right. A great example is the 7/7 terrorist bombings on the underground system in London. The bombings shut the underground system down immediately, but no one knew exactly what was going on behind the scenes. People were not sure if it was simply a mechanical malfunction or if it was something more. Sky News likes to be the first news station to have the story, so they told the public that it was a mechanical issue. The BBC waited and waited until they were finally able to verify that the problem was in fact a terrorist attack. The repercussions that the BBC would face if their statements were false would be detrimental to the company. Other news outlets in the UK and the United States may take the risk of having a false statement in order to report first.
In addition to accuracy, the BBC must stay impartial on every topic or story that is broadcasted. This is very different from the United States where certain news outlets are known for having a certain kind of opinion. There is a very strict code for television news in the UK to prevent bias. The BBC can present other people’s opinions, but they have to remain unbiased. It is the BBC’s job to inform the public, not tell them what to think. Interestingly, the BBC even covers its own affairs unlike other news outlets. Taste and decency also plays a role in the BBC. If the BBC does not think that specific findings or pictures will help the viewer understand the story, then they will not broadcast it.
One of the biggest differences between the BBC and broadcasters in the US is the issue of impartiality. There is a strict code that states that the BBC must remain neutral on every subject. They simply report the news rather than tell the viewers what to think. In the United States, there is undoubtedly a large media bias within the news outlets. Unlike the BBC, most news networks in the United States do not stand neutral on their news reports. A great example is newscasts during political elections. News channels are not afraid to let their viewers know exactly where they stand and why the other opponent should not be elected. Certain news outlets are known for being very far to the left or to the right. For example, Fox News is perceived as very far right, and their newscasts reflect that. The BBC will try to include every viewpoint from guests or stories, so the public can make an informed decision.
Many of our speakers referenced the BBC because it is such a huge part of people’s lives in the UK. It is completely different than any news outlet that we have in the United States. Through the trip, the BBC has turned out to be the one of the most noticeable differences in media between the UK and the United States. Now the question is “Could the future of the BBC be one without a license fee?” Only time will tell, but people may realize that they do not want to pay a license fee for something that they do not watch. This could dramatically change the BBC and alter the way that we view broadcasting in the UK in the future.