The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) has endured as institution over the decades, surviving many challenges. Launched in 1927 as a British public service institution that would ‘inform, educate and entertain’, it has become a British institution that served the world. It enriched democracy by serving audiences, irrespective of class, wealth, age and any other division, all over the nation, as equal citizens. It has served the world by reporting expertly and fairly into many closed and authoritarian political systems and by displaying cultural ingenuity and sensitivity in doing so. It has held power to account and represented the interests and voices of the less powerful. The founders saw the BBC as an institution that would create informed public opinion as the basis for functioning democracy at a time of risk. They thought the Corporation needed to accumulate authority and trust to be an independent arbiter of information. The first and founding principle was editorial independence. Yet the trust and reliability that this engendered had to be remade time and again throughout its history.
These words open a new chapter on the BBC by Jean Seaton. The chapter, entitled The BBC: Guardian of Public Understanding is included in the new open access volume Guardians of Public Value, edited by