Employment restructuring in public sector broadcasting : the case of the BBC
This thesis examines the nature and impact of a set of policies formulated during the
1980s upon the labour process of television production. It locates both the nature of
the reforms and the details of their impact within a broader account of the BBC which
had become the special target for the government of Margaret Thatcher during the
The study reports upon the emergence and development of a particular set of work
practices associated with television production within the BBC. Working within a set
of ideas called 'public service broadcasting,' the workforce had relied upon a unique
set of operating procedures that had survived well into the 1980s. This so-called
"privileged" organisation, reliant upon a license fee for its income, became the object
of intense interest when an expanding media industry was looking for additional
opportunities for growth including the advertising industry.
For those seeking to restructure this powerful organisation, often considered to
represent many of the core values of British society, such as free speech and a liberal
tradition resulting in high quality creative programmes, the challenge was to depict an
organisation that was in need of modernisation. The form that modernisation took,
under a government claiming to want to reduce the scale of the state, was an adoption
of neo-liberalism. Instead of a heavy bureaucratic state machine, open Inarkets would
allocate resources in television in the fonn of consumer choice. Policies would be
devised to replace centralised bureaucracy with devolved budgets Inonitored by
accurate financial information systems. This it was clailned would place the BBC
within a dynamic market place where a burgeoning independent sector would supply
a fresh source of creative talent and drive down costs.
Such claims made for the legislation and a number of management policies which
sought to reinforce these statutory reforms within the Corporation, appear not to be
supported by the findings where there is strong evidence of the growth of temporary
non-standard employment in place of secure full-time jobs. This has resulted in
lowered commitment and motivation in the workforce. The new procedures for the
production process of television Inanufacturing resulted in unforeseen inefficiencies
which held the potential to increase costs. Alongside these problems, the role of the
producer had been redefined to the point where informal social and political skills
were required and supplemented the core creative skills which had traditionally
defined this role.
The introduction of market-driven reforms has redefined the nature of the television
labour process. From the results of this research, it appears that a series of
contradictions and unanticipated outcomes makes many of the original claims for
these policies appear hollow. If this public sector broadcaster as an agency of the
central state is to survive and flourish, it will have to create a role for its producers
which allows for sustaining trust, open and honest cOlnmunications and creativity.
The teams with which they work will need security, training and careers for sustaining
motivation and ambition.