Broadcasting Act 1990

The United Kingdom's Broadcasting Act 1990 forms part of the UK's legal framework on electronic communications, and concerns the provision and regulation of independent television and sound programme services and of other services provided on television or radio frequencies...

The guiding principle under the Broadcasting Act 1990 was that deregulation would stimulate competition, increase efficiency and widen consumer choice.The aim of the Broadcasting Act 1990 was to reform the entire structure of British Broadcasting; British Television, in particular, had earlier been described by Margaret Thatcher as “the last bastion of restrictive practices“. The Broadcasting Act 1990 can be interpreted in a number of different ways. It has been heralded as a milestone in the ‘commercialisation’ of television, while on the other hand it has been challenged as an example of re-regulation rather than deregulation.

The motivations behind the Government’s intervention in broadcasting could be summarised as follows:

  • Pressure from the advertising industry for new broadcast outlets.
  • The BBC had requested a 41% increase in the licence fee and philosophically the government was against the anti-competitive nature of the BBC. Why should it continue to benefit from the licence fee?
  • Thatcher’s government were committed to principles of privatisation/deregulation/free market and the BBC sat uncomfortably with these principles. There should be less Government interference in industry.
  • There had been conflict between the Government and the BBC over programming on politically sensitive subjects (notably Northern Ireland).

The Broadcasting Act 1990 also

  • makes provision with respect to the provision and regulation of local delivery services;
  • makes provision with respect to the transfer of the property, rights and liabilities of the Independent Broadcasting Authority and the Cable Authority and the dissolution of those bodies;
  • makes new provision relating to the Broadcasting Complaints Commission; to provide for the establishment and functions of a Broadcasting Standards Council;
  • amends in other respects the law relating to broadcasting and the provision of television and sound programme services and to make provision with respect to the supply and use of information about programmes;
  • amends the Wireless Telegraphy Acts 1949 to 1967 and the Marine, &c., Broadcasting (Offences) Act 1967;
  • revokes a class licence granted under the Telecommunications Act 1984 to run broadcast relay systems.

Monitoring and Scrutiny, Broadcasting Act 1990, Broadcasting Act 1996

The Broadcasting Act 1990 was a framework reform package for British broadcasting, including television. Created 5th terrestrial television channel – now known as Five, and multi-channel satellite television. The BBC was required to source at least 25% of output from independent production companies. In radio, three independent national radio stations were created.

The Act also established the Independent Television Commission and Radio Authority (now replaced by Ofcom).

With the development of the electronic communications infrastructure, 'broadcasting' now is now included in the new definition of audiovisual media services.

Supervision and enforcement

The Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) supervises the regime; Ofcom and the Advertising Standards Authority enforce regulatory breaches under the Broadcasting Codes.


Broadcasting Act 1990