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Margaret Thatcher and Media Policy


Richard Tait

School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies, Cardiff University, UKNone
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Margaret Thatcher’s radical influence on the structure of the UK media can be seen to the present day. She set out to break the BBC/ITV duopoly, which she regarded as encouraging restrictive practices and a barrier to new talent. The 1990 Broadcasting Act undermined the public service commitment of ITV and paved the way for the destruction of its regional structure. Although she failed in her desire to replace the BBC’s licence fee with advertising, she forced the BBC to change its management and culture. The launch of Channel 4 as a publisher/broadcaster and the obligation on ITV and the BBC to take 25% of their programmes from independents created a thriving independent production sector. Her government helped Rupert Murdoch achieve his current dominance of the national newspaper and commercial television markets. Her period in office was marked by the role of lobbying by media organisations. The Thatcher government nodded through Murdoch’s key deals – the takeover of Times Newspapers in 1981 and the merger of Sky with British Satellite Broadcasting (BSB) in 1990 to create BskyB – without reference to the competition authorities or the regulators. The evidence disclosed at the Leveson Inquiry shows, in some cases for the first time, how Margaret Thatcher was personally involved in these deals, setting a precedent for the increasingly intense (and usually secret) contacts between politicians and media organisations which helped determine media policy under Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron. Only now, with digital technology setting the UK media a new set of challenges and with the phone-hacking scandal wrecking Rupert Murdoch’s bid for the whole of BSkyB, is the influence of the Thatcher years clearly fading.
How to Cite: Tait, R., 2013. Margaret Thatcher and Media Policy. JOMEC Journal, (3), p.None. DOI:
Published on 01 Jun 2013.
Peer Reviewed


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