Public Broadcasting in Britain and America

October 25, 1972

Report Outline
Debate Over Direction of Public TV
Divergent Approaches to Broadcasting
British Broadcasting as World Standard
Special Focus

Debate Over Direction of Public TV

Publicly financed television in both England and the United States has become a battleground of ideas about democratic control. Fifty years after the British Broadcasting Company went on the air with its first radio program, Nov. 13, 1922, a debate is being heard once again over the future direction of broadcasting in the United Kingdom. In the United States the funding of public television, long the critical issue, has assumed political overtones. President Nixon in vetoing a bill for long-term funding of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), spoke last June of “serious and widespread concern” that it was becoming the “center of power and focal point of control for the entire public broadcasting system.” The veto and other events have thrown American public television into turmoil.

Problems in public television are an indication of its significance. The BBC-produced series “Elizabeth R,” when shown on public television in the United States, drew larger audiences than the rival offerings on commercial networks. A program called “V.D. Blues,” offered by the Public Broadcasting Service to viewers across the country, drew an especially strong response after it was shown in New York. The next day, according to The New York Times, one of the city's venereal disease clinics reported the number of people in line for blood tests was one-third higher than normal.

The very popularity of the non-commercial medium and its concern with controversial public-affairs programs has made it suspect in some quarters. Others question the extent of government involvement in broadcasting. Clay T. Whitehead, director of the President's Office of Telecommunications, told the Senate Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights, Feb. 2, 1972: “I think most Americans would agree that it would be dangerous for the government itself to get into the business of running a broadcasting network.”

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