Reithian Tradition Challenges Face Director-General BBC Maintain Essay

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Reithian Tradition

challenges face Director-General BBC maintain Reithian tradition British public service broadcasting face technological change crises funding content ? Are lessons draw past?

The Reithian tradition comes from John Reith who was the British Broadcasting Corporation's director general. He created a concept of broadcasting that was centered along educating viewers. He was an autocratic leader which made the approach of educating viewers successful. He built internal checks which helped to control his benevolent style of dictatorship. He was greatly convinced that the strategy of educating viewers would greatly help the organization. He in fact summarized the purpose of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in three words which were to educate, to inform and to entertain. These remain to be a part of the mission statement of the organization to this very day. Other broadcasters around the world such as the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) which is located in the United States have also adopted this approach of running broadcasting companies.


In broadcasting, Reithianism became known as the term for the principles that were set out by Lord Reith. They included an equal consideration of all viewpoints that were presented as complete and utter integrity, universality and being committed to serving the public. Reithianism can be distinguished from the free market approach to broadcasting whereby the broadcasting corporations aim to attract as large an audience as possible and generate as much revenue as possible. Reithianism is about artistic merit, educative value and impartiality in broadcasting.

During the time of Lord Reith, the core function served by public service broadcasting was a cultural mission. The BBC had to facilitate efforts to build the nations as well as to build a common culture by providing education, information and entertainment to the citizens. Reithian principles allowed the BBC to assume a prominent role as the government's mouthpiece to pass information to its citizens. This was because there were several positive characteristics that were held by the public broadcasting service which included geographical availability, independence from state and commercial interests, concern for the nation's identity and culture, impartiality in programming and substantial financing. The BBC was socially embedded and it had the necessary economic and political conditions to enable it to succeed with implementation of the Reithianism values. This helped the country to nurture a democratic society and grow to what it currently is.

One important thing to note is that though the public broadcasting model was modeled on principles of giving service to the public, it was never intended for it to serve the general interest of the public. This is where Lord Reith came in to change the dominance of public service broadcasters in order to serve the needs of the citizens. Therefore the programming on BBC was planned to take into account the educational needs of the citizens while creating a national identity. It was also used extensively to pass messages on health, education and family planning. Reithianism greatly succeeded because it ignored the drive of profit which was what led the other broadcasters and instead served the needs of the majority.

Challenges faced

Digital inclusion and participation

The Reithian tradition was formed and has been followed by the British Broadcasting Corporation for over 80 years. The BBC has strived to inform, entertain and educate its audience. This has become the principle of public service in broadcasting. However, a new field is emerging which concerns digital inclusion and participation. This means the ability for the audience to understand, participate and influence the broadcast Kumar, 2009()

Audience participation plays a huge role in ensuring there is enough representation and contribution in societal debates on current issues thus bring about empowerment of the members of the audience and bring about participatory democracy. It also helps to attract loyal audiences who will provide long-run viewership rather than just those viewers who watch the broadcast for a short period of time. Audience participation also envisions a different kind of relationship between the broadcaster and the audience since it engages the audience thus bringing about an active audience that is in participation with the broadcaster and not a passive audience. Another important aspect of audience participation is that it presents a new source of revenue for broadcasters. This is because by having an active audience, the broadcaster is able to turn them into customers. Audience participation has also been known to lead to the development of new and innovative formats of media Feintuck & Varney, 2006()

To achieve digital inclusion and participation in today's public service broadcasting system has been one challenge faced by the BBC which makes it hard to maintain the Reithian values. The BBC is struggling with starting and continuing dialogues between researchers, activists and other policy makers on issues related to research and consumer input. They are trying hard to ensure widespread digital participation of the audience which has proved to be a challenge. The scale of the challenge is that even though the BBC has a large audience, most of them do not have access to digital media with which they can participate in such dialogues and discussions. Therefore, the BBC risks leaving behind this huge population as digital inclusion and participation continues becoming embedded in our day-to-day lives Kumar, 2009()

Closing up this digital exclusion gap while at the same time continuing in its pivotal role to educate, inform and entertain the public has given the BBC key decision makers a headache. The BBC has, however, worked hard to ensure digital inclusion and participation by encouraging citizens to develop their media skills. This message has been passed through media literacy seminars, websites and other media. This has helped the BBC to continue in its mission to educate and inform the public but to retain the motivational power gives a huge challenge. Though there are opportunities to alleviate digital exclusions there are other challenges to be dealt with which make the BBC's education strategy difficult to achieve. This magnifies the challenge and impedes on the BBC's work to educate, inform and entertain the public. However, by the BBC capitalizing on its widespread reach across television, radio and on online platforms, it becomes perfectly positioned to play its role to encourage people to participate in such discussions and dialogues and benefit from what they have to offer Kumar, 2009()


Finance is one major challenge faced by the BBC in maintaining the Reithian tradition. As the BBC strived to achieve public reach, new commercial broadcasters opened shop who worked to keep up their economic viability for the working class people who felt they were rather dissatisfied by the middle class programs that were being shown on the BBC. Therefore, more and more of the audience of the BBC switched to commercial broadcasters who catered for their sophisticated demands. With the BBC working hard towards meeting the needs of all citizens of the country, the broadcaster was hesitant to move towards the general opinion of the public. This was so because the BBC was working towards the general satisfaction of all citizens and not just a segment. This created avenues for commercial broadcasters to come in and gradually invade into the market of the BBC since they were well funded and were able to provide more sophisticated programming.

If the BBC was to fight with competitors to keep ratings high, this meant that it would have to lose its identity as a public broadcaster. This had two major implications. First was that the BBC audience had to settle for lower quality programming in order for the BBC to stand by its own commitment to deliver on its principles of educating, informing and entertaining the public. The second implication was that the BBC could not fetch much from advertisers since their audience was not the preferred audience of advertisers. Therefore the BBC had to struggle with financing its programming from other sources. Recent studies have shown that the BBC has been receiving little income from its advertisers.

At the same time, the BBC had to try hard to keep a few quality programs. If the BBC was being continuously battered in the war for ratings, the broadcaster would not be able to justify their own existence. This gives the BBC an intricate balance of delivering on its commitment to Reithian values and at the same time delivering quality programming that gives them good ratings. The BBC has to do this in the tight budget and with stringent financing situations.

Programming challenges

The programs that typified the Reithian values have over the years slowly faded as the broadcaster tries to adapt to the current times and with the ever-changing programming needs set by competitors and the developing knowledge of the public. The BBC is therefore facing a challenge in making its programming to be top quality for their audience while at the same time ensuring that the programs meet the Reithian values. With the future being digital, the BBC cannot continue being confined to traditional analogue programming and services. This would be…

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