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Media Forms and Institutions in Britain

Course outline

This course explores British media (television, cinema, the press, the pop music industry), and their relation with digitalisation and the Internet. It provides an explanation of the way in which these different media industries have been and are being structured, organised and controlled, in the UK.

As one of the most important media forms, British terrestrial television and its relation with the principle of PUBLIC SERVICE BROADCASTING (PSB) will be core to the course. This institution, which has been eroded over the years and has been in question for some time, is still essential to understand the main features and characters of British media culture. Two main non-commercial channels in fact constitute the backbone of British broadcasting and reach massive audiences: BBC1 and BBC2. Together with the principle of PSB, these channels represent the core element of British identity in an increasingly globalised media landscape. This situation is rather different to that of America, where commercial principles are central not only to broadcasting, but to the whole media sector.

Apart from these issues, the course will also focus on the relatively recent introduction of digital technologies, as part of the historical evolution of British media and of the socio/cultural framework accompanying it.


The course aims to introduce you to contemporary British media institutions. It will also introduce and deploy, where relevant, some of the basic theoretical frameworks of British media studies to develop a systematic approach to the analysis of the media. You will examine British broadcasting but also British cinema and the press, the music industries and the landscape of new media.


By the end of the course, you will be able to examine and discuss British media in relation to key ideas and concepts in mass communications.

Teaching and learning methods

The course is organised around class screenings, lectures, class discussions and student presentations. You will be expected to be active in your relationship with British media, i.e. you should look at British newspapers and magazines (over someone’s shoulder on the underground – a British tradition; looking at headlines of different publications in newsagents; buying daily and weekly publications). These media will inevitably be new to you, so you will need to pay attention to headlines, news agendas and representations. You can profitably compare and contrast these with those at home: how are they similar and how are they different? Then you can begin to ask ‘WHY’? In the course, you will therefore be encouraged to reflect on the relevance of British models, and also on their relation of difference/similarity to the American system.

You will also need to watch British cinema and television: BBC1, BBC2, ITV 1, Channel 4 and Channel 5, together with digital, cable and satellite channels. Look out for news programmes, dramas, soap operas, comedies, documentaries, sport and other genres. Remember that comparing with those from home will give you a starting point for analysis. And don’t forget to listen to British music!

Each week session will be followed by a seminar, in order to give you an opportunity to bring up your own questions based on the weekly screening, lecture and readings. It is vital that you both do the reading and bring your own ideas to the seminar.

Coursework and assessment

Assessed component Basic requirements Weighting Deadline
Presentation Presentation with written written report of 1,000-1,500 words 20% Week 13 deadline for submission of written report
Essay 1500 words. Essay questions will be communicated in class by week 2 40% Week 8
Examination Two hours with a choice of questions 40% Week 14

Core reading

  • Bailey, M. (ed) (2009) Narrating Media History, Routledge
  • Barlow, D. and Mills, B. (2009) Reading Media Theory. Thinkers, Approaches and Contexts, Pearson Longman
  • Bignell, J. (2008) An Introduction to Television Studies, Routledge
  • Branston, G. and Stafford, R. (2010) The Media Student’s Book, Routledge
  • Chapman, J. (2005) Comparative Media History. An Introduction: 1789 to the Present, Polity
  • Curran, J. and Seaton, J. (2010) Power Without Responsibility, Routledge
  • Eldridge, J., Kitzinger, J. and Williams, K. (1997) The Mass Media and Power in Modern Britain, Oxford University Press
  • Williams, K. (2009) Get Me a Murder a Day! A History of Media and Communication in Britain, Hodder Arnold

The websites for the BBC and CHANNEL 4 are invaluable research tools, as are those for newspapers such as THE GUARDIAN. Do be careful to differentiate between articles, news items, historical material and sale pitches, as the websites are used to sell as much as to inform.