Do the right thing 

1 September 2001

Should the present system of licences being virtually permanent have existed from the start, instead of the obsession with “letting everyone have a turn” that the ITA and IBA had?

The original campaigners for independent television, such as Lord Derby, basically wanted a system where the frequencies, once granted, would only be removed in the circumstances of gross impropriety.

Independent Television Authority - ITA

Why did they feel this way?

They were always suspicious of the concept of the ITA which they saw as a perpetuation of the state control (and an effective monopoly) of television.

How did the ITA see its own role originally?

The ITA in the early days shaped a system under Fraser where, although they had a lot of power, they tried to use it in a relatively limited way as much of the time as they could. The system as devised was conceived as providing at least two separate stations to the major centres of population.

How were the original ITA aspirations derailed?

What the ITA didn’t envisage was the Establishment backlash of the government-commissioned Pilkington Report into Television, with the basis of independent television being re-examined again before it was properly established and the withholding of the frequencies necessary for them to realise this vision.

What was the ITA’s reaction to Pilkington?

It seems clear that the ITA resented that its opinions were ignored or disbelieved, whilst the BBC were able to successfully spin their own position with evidence which, looked back on now, was clearly biased.

What legislative changes followed in Pilkington’s wake?

After the 1963-4 Acts the ITA effectively ‘became the broadcaster’ and took closer control over the schedules in ways that would have appalled people in 1954.

Independent Broadcasting Authority - IBA

Almost every franchise decision the ITA and IBA ever seemed to be something that made things worse, over time, in the areas affected.

Certainly it isn’t clear that few if any franchise decisions had any real benefit, and the system was greatly disturbed in 1968. Of course, the people finally making the decision had little direct experience of the industry. Indeed, they appear at times to have been dazzled by the glitter of applications without looking properly at the substance and how they would operate practically.

Saying that, bidding for franchises instead seems worse still, considering the aftermath of the 1990 Broadcasting Act

Put simply, the choices ended up as being as arbitrary as under the previous ‘beauty contests’.

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