The Broadcasting Act 1990 is a law of the British parliament, often regarded by both its supporters and its critics as a quintessential example of Thatcherism.
The aim of the Act was to reform the entire structure of British broadcasting; British television, in particular, had earlier been described by Margaret Thatcher as "the last bastion of restrictive practices". It led directly to the abolition of the Independent Broadcasting Authority and its replacement with the Independent Television Commission and Radio Authority (both themselves now replaced by Ofcom), which were given the remit of regulating with a "lighter touch" and did not have such strong powers as the IBA; some referred to this as "deregulation". The ITC also began regulating non-terrestrial channels, whereas the IBA had only regulated ITV, Channel 4 and the ill-fated British Satellite Broadcasting; the ITC thus took over the responsibilities of the Cable Authority which had regulated the early non-terrestrial channels, which were only available to a very small audience in the 1980s.
An effect of this Act was that, in the letter of the law, the television or radio companies rather than the regulator became the broadcasters, as had been the case in the early (1955-1964) era of the Independent Television Authority when it had fewer regulatory powers than it would later assume.
In television, the Act allowed for the creation of a fifth analogue terrestrial television channel in the UK, which turned out to be Channel 5, now renamed Five, and the growth of multichannel satellite television. It also stipulated that the BBC, which had traditionally produced the vast majority of its television programming in-house, was now obliged to source at least 25% of its output from independent production companies.
The act has sometimes been described, both as praise and as criticism, as a key enabling force for Rupert Murdoch's ambitions in Britain. It reformed the system of awarding ITV franchises, which would prove controversial when Thames Television was replaced by Carlton Television, for what some felt were political reasons, and when TV-am, admired by Mrs Thatcher for its management's defiance of the trade unions, lost its franchise to GMTV (the by then former Prime Minister personally apologised to the senior TV-am executive Bruce Gyngell). It also allowed for companies holding ITV franchises to take over other such companies from 1994, beginning the process which has led to the creation of ITV plc.