An Empirical Study on Broadcast Regulation and Satire: Who Might Make a Mockery of Democracy?

Young, Jennifer (2022) An Empirical Study on Broadcast Regulation and Satire: Who Might Make a Mockery of Democracy? Doctoral thesis, University of East Anglia.

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Satire is a powerful tool for exposing pomposity and hypocrisy. With a long tradition of holding politicians to account, it challenges the orthodox. It can be offensive, distasteful, and unkind, and so creates disputes concerning the limits to freedom of expression.

This thesis discusses satire, freedom of expression and the audience’s right to receive information and ideas. By examining the historical and legal context of satire, this thesis provides insights into how regulatory frameworks governing satire evolved, impacting on democratic debate. By understanding the effects that historical restrictions had on creativity it considers the present and future implications on writers and producers of political satire. It discusses laws that affect the creation of content and how courts and editors interpret and apply these to offensive satire.

It considers current regulatory impact through an empirical approach, to understand how practitioners interpret and apply laws to the creation of ‘traditional’ television and radio satire. This thesis adds to existing research by determining the factors which influence editorial decisions on political satire. The research was completed using interviews with writers and those in editorial roles, from self-styled ‘right wing’ comedians to broadcast practitioners in editorial positions, including Lord Michael Grade and the BBC’s Chief Advisor Politics. The interviews focussed on socio-political comedy content which might breach The Ofcom Broadcast Code regulations of Harm and Offence and Due Impartiality.1

This thesis concludes that much of satire on British traditional broadcast media has been smoothed out and left toothless. Two factors facilitate this, one being a concern of offensive content creating a negative reaction from parts of the audience and the other through practitioners (mis)interpreting guidelines on due impartiality. Editorial control and self-censorship leave the audience unchallenged, unprovoked, and less informed politically. This thesis suggests the impartiality requirement is especially damaging to political satire which should be protected and defended as vigorously as ‘serious’ political speech because of its role in democratic debate.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Social Sciences > School of Law
Depositing User: Chris White
Date Deposited: 06 Sep 2023 09:00
Last Modified: 06 Sep 2023 09:51

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