British Studies Web Pages



Media in the United Kingdom - Introduction

This section is taken from Media in the United Kingdom published by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Jan 2002, and the extracts presented give an overview of the changing state of the media in the UK at the beginning of the 21st century.

Events are changing very rapidly, throughout the extracts there are references to a new Communications Bill which is hoped to be made law sometime in 2003. As always in the debate accompanying the passage of a Bill through Parliament, changes will be made before it finally becomes an Act of Parliament. See our Media Links both for some alternative views of these contemporary changes, and sites where you can keep up-to-date and see if the hopes outlined here are actually being realised.



The written word - the press

Broadcasting - structure and regulation

On the air - radio

The small screen - television

Programme standards and obligations

Advertising and sponsorship in broadcasting

Useful addresses

Go back to:


Newspapers, magazines, television, radio, the internet - collectively termed 'the media' - play a vital and influential part of daily life in the UK. They inform and educate, question and challenge and, of course, they entertain. And, with their long tradition of independence an freedom from state control, they boost democratic debate on the issues of the day.

The media have to satisfy a demanding audience. Television viewing remains the most popular home-based pastime among people in the UK; about 97 per cent of households have a colour television set. Radio is now enjoying a resurgence, with 90 per cent of the population regularly listening to the radio, a figure that is steadily growing. More daily newspapers, both national and regional, are sold for every person in the UK than in most other industrialised countries. Evidence of the internet's growing significance is the fact that 30-40 per cent of the population are now 'going online' and more than 15 million homes use the internet on a regular basis.

As the growth of the internet suggests, the UK media are being transformed by new technology. In broadcasting, greater diversity has been opened up by the arrival of digital satellite, cable and terrestrial transmission. Already, more than 7 million homes have extended the range of TV services available to them by signing up to digital TV platforms The roll-out of digital radio is gathering speed. Responding to the structural changes taking place, the Government is creating a more flexible regulatory framework for the communications sector, which is likely to be law by 2003.

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), while maintaining its long-standing and international reputation as a public service broadcaster, is adapting to meet the commercial challenges of an increasingly competitive media environment Under new management, it is launching a range of services for digital television, digital radio and the internet. Its commercial rivals are also using the advent of digital to launch new services. ITV has introduced ITV2 and ITV Sport while Channel 4 has launched E4 and FilmFour. There continues to be a notable increase in the number of independent radio services, both analogue and digital.

All the UK major media owners are waiting to see if the new legislation, pencilled in for 2003, will relax rules governing cross-ownership between newspaper groups, television companies and radio stations. In any new legislation, the Government's goal is to balance the need for plurality of service provision and diversity of viewpoint with the desire of media owners to remain competitive and take advantage of commercial opportunities on the global stage.

  Produced in Poland by British Council © 2003. The United Kingdom's international organisation for educational opportunities and cultural relations. We are registered in England as a charity.