Compare and contrast british media and american media

            The role of the media has always brought controversy with some people feeling that the media does not perform upto the expected standard when it comes to the delivery of news - Compare and contrast british media and american media introduction. There are those that feel it is the media that keeps people in the know of information that would otherwise be out of their reach. Britain and America are two  of the most powerful nations in the world and consequently the role played by their media. Differences and similarites between the media in America and Britain is therefore important as it offers an insight on their perspective on issues.

            News is not an exclusive category of information that journalists search for. Rather, it is the information that journalists collectively decide is worth seeking out. It is what journalists decide is imporatant that becomes news and not what the citizens feel is. In most parts of the world, the news media are becoming more oriented to the markets, that is commercial, and also more focused on entertainment.  This is as a result of three trends that have rapidly caught on  since the 1980s. These are,  the rapid increase of privately owned television channels and the weakening of programme requirements on commercial broadcasters, that is deregulation.

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            From watching commercials on television, it can be seen that the approach of the British media to advertising is different from the American media. Differences occur in the amount of information carried by commercials, the creative approaches employed in terms of soft and hard sell and the use of humours language and imagery  (Winski 1990).

            These differences have not always been there. In the 1950s when television advertising was permitted in Britain, many agencies in Britain hired people with American experience. This was a time when America was seen as  being superior in terms of development in all sectors media included. During this period a number of American media agencies were opening offices in London. This was to serve the needs of clients in Britain and the European market.  They wanted to exploit the untapped market and hoped to gain from the supposed slumber of British media (Lannon, 1986).

            Britain has also been influenced by American philosophies and concepts. Early television advertising in Britain therefore tended to be dominated by commercials made in the American style and and supported by American research methodologies imported to service the needs of major corporations such as Colgate,  Procter & Gamble, and General Foods. In this sense, the British media advertising in the media may have taken a longer time. This took place when the British people felt that they needed to have media advertisement that respected their culture and understood their specific needs. The American media was viewed as foreign and therefore not worth trusting in terms of the information it was feeding the British media (Lannon 1986).

            According to Weinberger and Spotts (1989), the lower information content in British commercials tends to support the view that American advertising is more hard sell. In an investigation of humor in commercials, the two reported a significant difference between the two countries, with 35.5 percent of British commercials being perceived as having humorous intent, compared with 24.4 percent of American commercials.  A high number of consumers in Britain feel that they are being entertained whereas the American consumers feel they are being informed. It is through this humour that the audience gets to gain interest in the product and  eventually buy or not buy it. British consumers also feel that today’s media advertising is more original, more clearly devised, less patronizing and more imaginative. This is in comparison with media advertising of the past produced in the American style (Anon, 2006).

            The tradition of American television is of live commercials, film spot commercials and sponsored programs that ran 60 seconds compared with 7 to 30 seconds in Britain. This implies that the attention of the British audience can be  easily caught. British advertising makes frequent use of features inherent in the culture of the British, such as the persistence of class divisions and affection for eccentricity, and often employs understated humor and the soft sell approach. The focus of British commercials tends to be more more on visual cues as these are viewed to have more content and more effect on the audience (Weinberger and Spotts, 1989).

            People abroad admire British advertising  because of the strong cultural relationship it establishes with its audience. It tends to be an idiosyncratic advertising method that cannot be easily understood by people who are not British. It tends to communicate more with the audience or rather consider the cultural orientation of the audience. The Britsh tend to have a culture that is more definable as compared to the Americans whose culture cannot be easily defined. It therfore becomes confusing for the media to know which approach tio take in informing the audience (Hallin and Mancini, 2004).

             In line with this view, the equivalent for American  advertisers might be the heavy use of sentimentality in a way British audiences would find excessive as they tend to be conservative.  The essential difference between American and British television advertising is that the British commercials contain a high level of entertainment.  British people take BBC as a reference for serious matters, even when it comes to typical American subjects like the upcoming presidential elections and this goes far in showing their level of conservancy and understand why they majorly trust a media of their own (Hallin and Mancini, 2004).

            There are some notable differences in news  judgment among the media sectors, both in terms of subject matter covered and the depth and diversity of news. American media standards are respectful of figures and facts, quotes, surveys and polls. American editors are accused of being suspicious of opinionated, impressionistic, and analytical reports from oversees. It also make itself an easy target for government manipulation by its reliance on hard news. American editorials in newspapers tend to be unconvincing, bland and inarticulate. It is alleged that few editorialists in America have the courage  to say anything interesting, if it may also be controversial. The media in America tends to be geared to impress the audience rather than give them objective news.  This is perhaps aimed at avoiding conflict and maximizing sales as they depend on the audience to give them a market (Hallin and Mancini, 2004)

            Every serious British newspaper carries two, three or more pages of arts commentary and criticism which reflect, report, and review a razzle of activity in a style which may be provocative or ponderous. In most cases, no American newspaper dares venture past the first of these. The tone in US arts coverage is uniformly uninquiring, respectful and inherently supportive. This shows that the British newspaper is more inclusive and all encompassing as they to cover all aspects of the society including news that is seen as not commercially viable such as news in the arts (Bennett, 2003)

            The media in America is overwhelmingly owned by individuals. The Public Service Television (PBS) is not well resourced and accounts for less than 2 percent  of audience share .  The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) of commercial advertising has become increasingly detached meaning that the American media is essentially made up of entrepreneurial actors striving to meet consumer demands. Yet, running counter to the increasing importance of market forces, American journalism continues to reflect a ‘social responsibility’ tradition.  The ownership of the British media by the public perhaps makes it more responsible in terms of what is covered and reported. The owning of the American media by individuals makes it less accountable to the public (Iyengar and McGrady 2007).

            News coverage is expected to inform the public by providing objective reporting on current issues. In recent years, however, the rise of cable and satellite television and web-based journalism has made social responsibility norms weak. People are more exposed and have the choice of choosing where to find influence as they cannot be restricted. Increased competition has resulted in smaller market shares for long-standing news organizations as new media systems are giving them a run for their money (Shanor, 2003).

             The eventual reduction decline in revenue led to significant budget cuts. One effect was the closure of a large number of foreign news bureaus (Shanor, 2003) and a sharp reduction in foreign news coverage during the post-Cold War era . News organizations increasingly changed to soft journalism, increased by the rise of local TV news programmes, centred on accidents, crime, and calamities (Bennett, 2003).

            Britain represents a media system that is blended in between the pure market (US)

and public service (Denmark and Finland) models. Britain’s broadcasting organisation, the BBC, is the largest, best resourced public broadcaster in the world, and has a very large following in terms of audience. In 2006, the BBC’s two principal channels, along with publicly owned Channel 4, accounted for 43% of viewing time in Britain in 2006. On the other hand, the principal satellite broadcaster, BSkyB, was allowed to develop in a largely unregulated form, and the principal terrestrial commercial channel, ITV, was sold in a public auction during the 1990s, and its public obligations though still significant were lightened. This move towards the deregulation of commercial television had major consequences, some of which are only now becoming apparent (Bennett, 2006).

            In the US, newspaper circulation has been declining steadily for several years contributing to a significant reduction in the number of daily papers. As a matter of fact, there are hardly any American cities with more than one daily paper. The British press is somehow unique in that its national newspapers beat the local press in terms of sales. This gives rise to heated competition between ten directly competing national dailies. Five of these serve relatively small  rich markets, depend mostly on advertising and are oriented towards public affairs, while the other five are directed towards a mass market and focus on entertainment. The latter group, which accounts for over seventy five percent of  circulation in national newspaper, has become increasingly frantic in the pursuit of readers in response to a steady but now accelerating decline of newspaper sales (Curran and Seaton 2003).

            The foreign coverage of ITV’s programme in current affairs was cut by fifty percent between 1988 and 1998. By 2005, its factual international programming had dropped below that of any other terrestrial channel (Seymour and Barnett, 2006). This had a knock-on effect on other broadcasters, most notably Channel 4 whose foreign coverage in 2005 was almost a third less than in 2000 but also on the BBC where there was a softening of news values (Winston 2002).

            The market-driven television system of the United States is mostly concentrated with domestic news. American network news allocates only one fifth of their programming time to reporting foreign news (47% of which, incidentally, is about Iraq). Whole areas of the world receive very little coverage and, indeed for much of the time, are virtually blacked out in American network news. Most of the time that the American media reports on foreign news , it is usually about negative issues (Winston, 2002).

            By contrast, the European public service television channels pay significantly more attention to events happening overseas. This tends to put Britain forward in terms of having focus on other countries as it finds news happening oversees to be of significance to its citizens. Both British and American television channels devote a much smaller proportion of their foreign news time (respectively 8% and 5%) to other countries in their continent and in Britain’s case much less attention to the rest of the world. Their main focus  which accounts for between over 50 percent and over seventy five percent of their foreign news coverage is overwhelmingly on their geo-political attachments, in which Iraq and Afghanistan loom large. This could indicate that both media concentrate only on external news that they feel has profound effect on their countries (Winston, 2002).

            When it comes to newspapers, the pre-occupation with soft news is no longer an American focus. In fact, our sample of American newspapers was more oriented towards hard news than their counterparts in the European countries. This finding may be attributable, in part, to the inclusion of the New York Times, which is viewed as the most elite of American dailies and to the fact that the US press lacks a tabloid tradition. As expected, the British press, with its significant tabloid tradition, concentrates on with domestic stories (83%), soft news (60%), and devotes more space to sport (25%) compared to the British media (Iyengar and McGrady, 2007).

            There are are also differences between the British and American media in terms of dealing with controversial issues. The issue of gay men and lesbians. Mediawatch shows some striking similarities between how British and American activists have dealt with the hostile manner in which lesbians and gay men have been portrayed in the media. In 1952, there was a series of articles under the heading “Evil Men” ran in The Sunday Pictorial (Iyengar and McGrady, 2007).

            These articles claimed the British natural tendency to pass over anything unpleasant in scornful silence was providing a cover for an unnatural sex vice which is getting a dangerous grip in Britain. A number of doctors believe that the problem would be best solved by making homosexuality legal between consenting adults and the media concentrated on this view (Iyengar and McGrady, 2007). The  views above could suggest that the British media is liberal which could be a bit confusing as it is known to be conservative (Iyengar and McGrady, 2007).

            As much as there are many similarities between activism in British and American media, important differences can also be found.  Activism in America  tends to be focused currently on the issue of winning friends and influencing people in media as it relates to the portrayal of lesbians and gay men. This is evidenced by the mainstream public relations campaigns that American political lobbying groups and media watching and lobbying groups tend to concentrate on scream defiance in the media. The American media seems to be vigorously liberal and it seeks to have a greater following or perhaps make more money (Iyengar and McGrady, 2007).

            People argue that as much as it could be wrong for the media to support controversial issues, it is merely carrying out its duty. It is expected to inform the public of issues happening within and out of the country whether contraversial or not and leave the decision to judge the news content to the audience.

             Events such as gay and lesbian marriages can dominate news for hours especially when compared to the airtime or space given to other important issues such as education and healthh care policies. This could be the reason why it is accused of concentrating on pleasing the public rather than being objective.

            Another controversial issue is terrorism. In the view of Americans, the British media appears to be only half free. This is because the British media can be subjected to prior restraint. However, the similarities between the British and American media far overshadow their differences. Both function in liberal democracies that cherish as a primary value the independence of the media from intrusion by government as much as that value is sometimes practiced in the breach. Just like in America, in Britain, the major issue has been coverage of terrorism by television. The immediacy, intimacy and reality of the electronic media elicits both a visceral and mental reaction that the print media cannot duplicate (Anon, 2006).

            Using American standards,  the intrusion of the British government into how the media conducts its affairs is regrettable. The government however feels that the argument put forward against terrorist interviews  that a terrorist is an advocate of murder and such inter-views are an incitement to commit murder in the future as well as a reward for having done so in the past is convincing enough. The British media on the other hand argues in defence that such interviews make it possible for the public to see the advocates of violence for what they really are and that the average viewer is revolted by the arrogant justifications of murder given by terrorists..(Anon, 2006).

             This kind of intrusion can interfere with the ability of the press to provide the  public with accurate information. this can happen in cases where the government intends to carry out a project that may not benefit the public. the media may in fear, not report this and therefore not perform its role effectively. On the other hand, the media may abuse its freedom to release information to the public that is not confirmed and cause unneccessary panic among the public members.

            Most of the advertisements in the American media  especially during the prime time news especially in television. This is because it is assumed that this is the time that most people watch television. The British media on the other hand do not have a specific time for advertisement as the audience does not have have a specific time to  watch news.

            In conclusion, the differences and the similarities  in the media does not really matter at the end of the day. what matters is the quality of the information. It is the level of effectiveness in terms of serving the public that matters. The primary role of the media is to inform, educate and entertain the public and if it does this then it is effective. In accomplishing these goals, it is important that the cultures of the people and their beliefs are respected.


Anon, W. (2006) World Press Trends. World Association of Newspapers-Zenith Media,


Bennett, L. W. (2003) News. New York: Longman

Curran, J. and Seaton, J. (2003) Power without Responsibility, 6th edition. London: Routledge

Hallin, D. and Mancini, P. (2004) Comparing Media Systems, New York: Cambridge

            University Press.

Lannon, Judie (1986), “New Techniques for Understanding Consumer Reactions to Advertising,”         Journal of Advertising Research, 26 (4), RC6-9.

Iyengar, S. and McGrady, J. (2007) Media Politics. New York: Norton

Shanor, D. (2003) News From Abroad. New York: Columbia University Press

Weinberger, Marc G. and Harlan E. Spotts (1989), “A Situational View of Information Content in        TV Advertising in the U.S. and U.K.,” Journal of Marketing, 53 (January), 89-94.

Winski, Joseph M. (1990), “Who We Are, How We Live, What We Think,” Advertising Age,     (September 24), 24-5.

Winston, B. (2002) ‘Towards Tabloidization? Glasgow Revisited, 1975-2001,’

            Journalism Studies 3 (1): 5-20


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