Television in Europe

Television in Europe

Television in Europe

Television in Europe


In this companion volume to Telecommunications in Europe, Noam looks at television in a country-by-country study, blending economic analysis, history, and economic journalism. He focuses on the breakdown of monopoly control of national communications systems. What Noam describes in broad historical scope in Western Europe has been revisited more recently and immediately in the dramatic events of Eastern Europe as, for example, the reformist forces in Romania based their operations in the newly liberated national broadcasting studios. Communications policy is closely linked with fundamental traditions concerning democratic control and freedom of speech.


Like its companion volume Telecommunications in Europe, this book deals with the rise and decline of powerful monopoly institutions in the communications field. In television, these are the public broadcasting institutions that have dominated Western European television from its inception. These organizations, though they varied, shared fundamental similarities: most countries had two or three television channels and a handful of radio stations, all operated by a semipublic institution with an exclusive franchise and governed by a body that incorporated many of the significant political groupings in society.

This system was largely stable for about forty years following World War II (and sometimes going back to the 1920s). But in the 1980s, pressures emerged that could no longer be contained. A new media system began to replace the old one, accompanied by extraordinarily bitter political disputes. This was not surprising, because the influence of television over the general population was deemed so significant, and the cultural resources that the traditional broadcasters controlled were so large. On the other hand, European societies were free and open for print media and films, and the monopoly status of the electronic media was therefore an anomaly.

By the end of the 1980s, European television had been fundamentally transformed, and television was opened to private broadcasters in almost every country. If the structure of media affects their content and if media shapes society, then those structural changes must have a significant long-term impact. The democratic transformation of Eastern Europe is frequently attributed, at least in part, to the reach of Western media. It may well be that the cumulative impact of the new media environment on Western Europe will turn out to be as important.

In the past, a scarcity of electromagnetic spectrum allocation (often self- imposed) permitted only a tiny number of program channels. Because of their limited number and cultural and political importance, control over channels was an issue of great significance.

The well educated generally disliked sharing the channel with those of lesser sophistication. In the United States, commercial television's body-count economics were aimed at the peak of the bell-shaped statistical distribution, often but erroneously referred to as the "lowest common denominator." Because it strongly reflects popular tastes, many of the educated elite stopped watching such television. In many European countries, on the other hand, they took . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.