The History of England

from Celts through 20th century

The press, television and radio

Category: Cinema + TV/Radio

In Great Britain, as well as in the rest of the Western world, newspapers, magazines, radio and television have long been capitalist enterprises. Two streams are distinguished here in the mass media, each with its own objectives, methods and forms of presentation: ‘big media’ and ‘opinion press’. The ‘big media’ are supposed to keep the ruling circles more or less accurately informed of the state of affairs on the economic and political fronts, to provide news and political opinions. They do not try to be popular. The ‘opinion press’, on the other hand, has the function of manipulating public opinion, preventing public passions from running too high, and obscuring the causes of the problems and difficulties besetting its readers. Since the nineties of the last century, with growing political and industrial strife and socialist ideas beginning to spread, this category of press has served as a new diversion to lead workers’ minds away from the class struggle. In discharging this function today the bourgeois mass media naturally concentrate on those spheres of public life where class relations manifest themselves indirectly, if at all. The ‘opinion press’ caters to those sections of bourgeois society where there is growing social passivity and political apathy, resulting in the main from the indifference of their state machinery to the interests of the public. Assisted by the bourgeois mass media the ruling classes of Britain are determined to keep the ‘small man’ in the orbit of its influence and control.

The most important of the British press are national newspapers. They are distributed and sold in all parts of the country. Nearly all the national newspapers have their head offices in London, but the famous newspaper street, Fleet Street, now houses only two of them, the Daily Express and the Daily Telegraph. The rest have moved to cheaper parts of London.

The national papers are divided into two main groups: quality papers and popular papers. The former group includes The Times, The Guardian, the Daily Telegraph, the Financial Times, The Observer, the Sunday Times and the Sunday Telegraph. Very thoroughly they report national and international news. The latter group — the News of the World, The Sun, the Daily Mirror, the Daily Express. These newspapers tend to make news sensational, they publish ‘personal’ articles which shock and excite. Instead of printing factual news reports, these papers write them up in an exciting way, easy to read, playing on people’s emotions. Their aim of entertaining people really means appealing to the lowest level of public taste, avoiding serious political and social questions or treating them superficially. Trivial events are treated as the most interesting and important happenings. Crime is always given far more space than creative, productive or cultural achievements. Much of their information concerns the private lives of people who are in the news. The popular newspapers are very similar to one another in appearance and general arrangement, with big headlines and the main news on the front page.

Being formally independent and non-party the newspapers, both quality and popular, are the true guardians of the established interests, the mouthpieces of the ruling class.

The daily papers have no Sunday editions, but there are Sunday papers, nearly all of which are national, and some of which are closely linked with daily national papers. On weekdays there are evening papers, all of which serve their own regions only, and give the latest news. London has two evening newspapers, the London Standard and the relaunched Evening News.

The four most famous provincial newspapers are The Scotsman (Edinburgh), the Glasgow Herald, the Yorkshire Post (Leeds) and the Belfast Telegraph, which present national as well as local news. Apart from these, there are many other daily, evening and weekly papers published in cities and smaller towns. They present local news and are supported by local advertisements. But many of the local newspapers are folding, because nobody wants to buy them. For years they are kept afloat thanks to advertisement and specialize in featuring cheerful stories such as how a pair of old-age pensioners got rich by breeding some domesticated animals commercially, or a local potter won an order from Japan.

The Times (founded 1785) is called the paper of the Establishment. Politically it is independent, but it is generally inclined to be sympathetic to the Conservative party. It is not a governmental organ, though very often its leading articles may be written after private consultation with people in the Government. It has a reputation for extreme caution in its attitudes, though it has always been a symbol of solidity in Britain. In 1979—80 it suffered serious difficulties in connection with the introduction of new technology. This caused the loss of many jobs and strong protests and strikes of printers. Its owner, Lord Thompson, closed the paper for eleven months in order to force the trade unions to agree to his decision. But in 1981 he sold The Times to an Australian tycoon, Rupert Murdoch.

The Guardian (until 1959 — Manchester Guardian) has become a truly national paper rather than one specially connected with Manchester. In quality, style and reporting it is nearly equal with The Times. In politics it is described as ‘radical’. It was favourable to the Liberal Party and tends to be closer in sympathy to the Labour Party than to the Conservatives.

The Daily Telegraph in theory is independent, but in practice it is very close to being an organ of the Conservative Party. Being well produced and edited it is full of various information and belongs to the same class of journalism as The Times and The Guardian. It reflects and defends the class interests of the Establishment. As regards the Financial Times, the name of this newspaper defines its character, and its political attitude is strongly Conservative.

At the end of 1986 a new quality paper, The Independent, was launched in London. Despite its defying title it is likely to become pro-Conservative, rivalling the Daily Telegraph. Some three years later The Independent on Sunday followed.

The Morning Star (founded in 1930 as the Daily Worker) may be regarded as the national Communist daily newspaper of the British working people, whose political and economic rights and interests it has been defending since the time of its foundation. The Morning Star, incorporating the Daily Worker from 1966, includes its Communist predecessor and continues its line. It is in the vanguard of the working masses of the country and is an important instrument of the British Communists for the unification of all progressive forces. The Morning Star makes a tangible contribution both to the cause of the international workers’ movement and strengthening and preserving peace all over the world.

  National Newspapers

Title and foundation date Controlled by

Circulation 1988

National dailies  

P o p u 1 a r s  

Daily Express (1900) United Newspapers


Daily Mail (1896) Associated Newspapers Group


Daily Mirror (1903) Mirror Group Newspapers


Morning Star (1966) Morning Star Cooperative Society


The Star (1978) United Newspapers


The Sun (1964) News International


Today (1986) News International



Daily Telegraph (1855) The Daily Telegraph


Financial Times (1888) Pearson


The Guardian (1821) The Guardian and Manchester Evening News


The Independent (1986) Newspaper Publishing


The Times (1785) News International


National Sundays  


News of the World (1843) News International


Sunday Express (1918) United Newspapers


Sunday Mirror (1963) Mirror Group Newspapers


Sunday People (1881) Mirror Group Newspapers


The Mail on Sunday (1982) Associated Newspapers Group


News on Sunday (1987) News on Sunday Ltd

not available


Sunday Telegraph (1961) The Daily Telegraph


Sunday Times (1822) News International


The Observer (1791) George Outram & Co/The Observer


Though small in circulation the Morning Star is the only paper in Great Britain which belongs to its readers, who support it and on whose voluntary donations it exists.

A popular opinion about the leading British newspapers was wittily and not without a sense of humour expressed by an Advertising Copywriter:

The Times is read by the people who run the country.

The Daily Mail is read by the wives of the men who run the country.

The Guardian is read by the people who would like to run the country.

The Daily Mirror is read by the people who think they run the country.

The Financial Times is read by the people who own the country.

The Daily Telegraph is read by the people who remember the country as it used to be.

The Daily Express is read by the people who think the country is still like that.

Weekly and monthly reviews are a very important element in the British press. There are about 8,000 periodicals in the United Kingdom, which are classified as ‘general’, ‘specialized’, ‘trade’, ‘technical’ and ‘professional’. General and specialized periodicals include magazines of genera} interest, women’s magazines, publications for children, magazines dealing with sport, gardening, hobbies and humour, etc. There are journals specializing in a wide range of subjects, as well as publications of learned societies, trade unions, universities and other organizations.

The highest circulation belongs to women’s weeklies Woman and Woman’s Own (1,700,000 and 1,660,000 respectively). The most important journals are The Economist, the Spectator and the New Statesman. The Economist, of a conservative character, covers a wide range of topics on events of international, political and economic interest. The Spectator, a journal also with conservative views, devotes much space to reviews of books and to literary and other artistic matters, as well as many other different subjects, including politics. The New Statesman, a radical left-wing periodical, inclining towards the left wing of the Labour party, contains articles on national and international affairs, reviews, politics, literature and the arts.

Traditionally the leading humorous periodical in Britain is Punch, best known for its cartoons and articles which deserve to be regarded as typical examples of English humour — rarely unkind, but not always capable of being universally enjoyed. It also has serious articles.

Among other more or less important periodicals are Tribune, supporting the Labour party, New Society, New Scientist, Country Life, Private Eye — a satirical fortnightly, also covering public affairs. A more recent publication is Financial Weekly, a periodical for the world of business and finance. The Times publishes separately a weekly Educational Supplement, Higher Education Supplement and Literary Supplement.

The class character of the information substance of the British press is determined by the views of its owners. For instance, Rupert Murdoch, the owner of the transnational corporation News International, one of the biggest media tycoons, has a long anti-labour record. In 1986 he built an ultramodern computerized print-shop in the East London port district of Wapping, where the corporationowned London papers — The Times, the Sunday Times, The Sun and the News of the World — are printed.

In investing large fortune in the new undertaking, Murdoch intended to make his papers more competitive through modernization, which makes possible substantial cuts in personnel, and to bridle the print workers’ union by facing it with the prospect of waiving of some of its rights, with its members either accepting Murdoch’s fettering terms or being locked out. The print workers couldn’t tolerate it, supported by their trade union they called a strike.

Murdoch’s News International has a turnover of 1.4 billion dollars a year and publishes more than 80 newspapers and magazines in Australia, Britain and the USA.

Being the proprietor of mass-circulation papers read on three continents, he can exert a substantive influence on developments in Australia, Western Europe and the USA by manipulating public opinion and encouraging those political forces and politicians invariably opposed to social progress. He uses his political influence exclusively to back the right, in the interests of big business.

There are a number of news agencies in Britain, the oldest being Reuters which was founded in 1851. Reuters, a world news organization, is owned jointly by the Newspaper Publishers Association, the Press Association, the Australian Associated Press and the New Zealand Press Association. The agency employs some 540 journalists and correspondents in seventy countries and has links with about 120 national or private news agencies. The information of general news, sports, and economic reports is received in London every day and is transmitted over a network of teleprinter lines, satellite links and cable and radio circuits. The news is distributed either direct or through national news agencies.

One of the most powerful sound broadcasting services is the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), based at Broadcasting House in London. In a sense the BBC sets the tone in propaganda taking the stand and reflecting the views of influential circles in the West.

The BBC is controlled by a board of governors appointed by the government. Being ‘politically independent’ the BBC is the mouthpiece of the dominating class. In 1985 the Conservative Government banned a TV film about Northern Ireland which was prepared by an ‘independent’ BBC journalist.

The BBC has four television channels: BBC 1, BBC 2, the ITV (Independent Television) and Channel 4. BBC 2 offers more serious programmes than BBC 1 — documentaries and discussions, adaptations of novels into plays and serials, operas and concerts. The programmes of BBC 1 consist mainly of lighter plays and series, humour and sport, as well as some documentaries.

The huge commercial interests of television is the responsibility of the Independent Television (ITV). The whole of ITV is controlled by the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA). It was set up in 1954. There are fifteen different television programme companies, each serving a different part of the country. These companies get most of their money from firms who use them for advertising. ITV programmes are interrupted at regular intervals by advertisements.

Soon after the introduction of the ITV the advertisers began to realize the immense power of the medium for selling their goods. The new lords of the air were not only very rich, they also enjoyed, if they wished to exercise it, an almost unprecedented patronage. This patronage had fallen into the hands of financiers, radio-peddlers and cinema owners.

Channel 4 which began broadcasting in 1982, is also controlled by the IBA and forms part of the so-called independent television network.

The BBC has four national radio channels. Radio 1 provides mainly a programme of pop music. Radio 2 has light music and entertainment, comedy as well as being principal channel for the coverage of sport. Radio 3 provides classical and twentieth century music, talks on ancient and modern plays and some education programmes. Radio 4 specializes chiefly in providing the main news reports, talks and discussions, drama, music, etc. The BBC has some 27 local radio stations and 37 commercial independent stations distributed throughout Britain.

Radio and television programmes for the week are published in the BBC periodical, Radio Times. The BBC publishes another weekly periodical The Listener, in which a selection of radio and TV talks are printed.

The BBC has a powerful external service, known as the World Service, providing programmes in about forty different languages. The activity of this service is based on wide experience and age-old traditions of the British propaganda both at home and in foreign policy. The radio and television service of the BBC is a most influential branch of the ideological ‘industry’.

Both the BBC and the IBA broadcast educational programmes for children and students in schools of all kinds, as well as for preschool children, and for adults in colleges and other institutions and in their homes. Broadcasts to schools cover most subjects of the curriculum, while education programmes for adults cover many fields of learning, vocational training and recreation. Supporting material in the form of books, pamphlets, filmstrips, computer software, and audio and video cassettes, is available to supplement the programmes. The BBC broadcasts television and radio programmes made specially for students of the Open University, most of whose 130 or so undergraduate courses contain video and audio components, some of them available on cassettes for use with correspondence texts. The BBC Open University Centre also produces educational and training audio-visual materials in collaboration with external agencies such as the Department of Education and Science, the Department of Trade and Industry.

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