United Kingdom profile

  • 18 December 2012
  • From the section Europe
Broadcasting House
Image caption The BBC - one of whose centres is Broadcasting House - has played a pivotal role in national life since 1922

The UK has a strong tradition of public service broadcasting and an international reputation for creative programme-making.

The fledgling BBC began daily radio broadcasts in 1922 and quickly came to play a pivotal role in national life. The Empire Service - the forerunner of the BBC World Service - established a reputation worldwide. The BBC is funded by a licence fee, which all households with a TV set must pay.

Commercial TV began in 1955 with the launch of ITV. Commercial radio arrived in the 1970s, although ship-based stations flourished in the 1960s before being outlawed. Hundreds of privately-owned radio and TV stations now compete with the BBC for listeners and viewers.

Home-grown soaps top the TV ratings, and many British viewers follow the ups and downs of life in East London's Albert Square, the setting for the BBC's EastEnders, and Coronation Street - ITV's soap about northern English working-class life. Programmes which catapult ordinary people into the public eye - known as reality TV - attract large audiences.

Once-dominant terrestrial TV networks face strong competition from digital satellite and cable, which offer hundreds of channels, and digital terrestrial TV (DTT), which carries a smaller number of mainly free-to-air channels. Terrestrial digital radio (DAB) has had a slower start. In a rapidly-changing digital world, British media providers are reaching out to online audiences.

The media are free and able to report on all aspects of British life. The variety of publications reflects the full spectrum of political opinion. In recent years, printed newspaper circulations have been sliding while online readership has surged. News Corporation, owner of The Times, has spearheaded attempts to make money from online content by charging readers for access to some of its titles.

Press regulation

In 2012, a judge-led inquiry into journalistic ethics recommended a new system of self-regulation for the press, backed by legislation. The inquiry followed a phone-hacking scandal at a News Corporation-owned title.

The main political parties subsequently agreed to set up a watchdog with powers to impose heavy fines on newspapers and force them to publish corrections. The new system would be backed by a Royal Charter, rather than by law. Critics said any state involvement in press regulation could jeopardise free speech.

There were 52.7 million internet users in the UK by December 2011 - nearly 85% of the population (Internetworldstats). Research by Google in 2010 found that the internet accounts for 7.2% of the UK's gross domestic product (GDP). The study said Britain is the world's leading country for e-commerce. A 2012 survey found that 27% of all time spent online was spent on social networks.

The BBC is Britain's most popular online news destination.

The press


  • BBC TV - operates BBC1, BBC2 and digital services including BBC News channel
  • BBC World News - commercially-funded international news channel
  • ITV - major commercial network, organised around regional franchises
  • Channel 4 - commercially funded but publicly owned national station
  • five - national commercial channel
  • Independent Television News (ITN) - supplier of news to ITV, Channel 4
  • British Sky Broadcasting (BSkyB) - operator of digital satellite platform, Sky, and provider of film, entertainment channels and news channel Sky News


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