The Murdochs VS the BBC: Round two: twenty years on

By Danny Lee Contributor: Michael Morgan Bain - with many thanks James Murdoch opened the floodgates to hell on Friday night and reopened old wounds as he delivered 34th James MacTaggart Lecture from the Edinburgh International Television Festival. The commercial media sector is in some form of agreement with Murdoch Jnr as he describes the BBC ambition and activities as “chilling.” In reality, Murdoch would love a society without the BBC as he calls for the corporation to be dismantled.

Giving away free online news content is set firm with the BBC but the passing thought of free online news in the present and the future to News International is now unthinkable as the thought of Katie Price and Peter Andre rekindling their romance. Technically licence fee payers pay for their online news content from the BBC through the licence fee. I would rather have a BBC in its current form to inform, educate and entertain. I would add inspire and amused too, would you rather have all of those five things or private sector media landscape? James Murdoch believes the BBC is the root of all evil and state sponsored journalism is killing the private sector. News Corporation’s Fox News is very outspoken and brash. It has had a surge in viewers since Barack Obama presidency. It seems there is no one to regulate or control Fox News properly as it is naturally spearheading the republican charge against Obama and the liberals. The enigmatic rhetoric table thumping Republican Glenn Beck has made me feel a little queasy lately. He is able to say Barak Obama has “a deep-seated hatred for white people," adding, "This guy is, I believe, a racist." I worry if this was the future of “independent” news media under Murdoch’s idea in the UK. State sponsored journalism would be under direct control from the government or around this definition. The BBC provides public service journalism, bringing you stories nationally and internationally and with BBC World News, it promotes a British media view around the globe, something Sky News with its current viewer reach or the British Govt. would never embark upon or are able to do currently. Sky (BSkyB - News International/News Corporation) is more expensive than the licence fee. It costs just £11.63 to bring you in my view quality broadcasting with no shareholders and no desire to compete for profit. Unlike Sky, this advertises its basic TV, package for £16.50. With my neck on the line I would like to draw a comparison to the US and UK healthcare systems and how they work. The BBC is very much like the NHS where you pay for public service broadcasting and much more through the licence fee, just as you pay for the NHS through your tax. Take the US healthcare system where you have to buy insurance or else you are not treated. I read somewhere that 15% of Americans cannot afford health insurance and therefore do not get healthcare. This seems in my eyes just like Sky. If you can afford an extra whopping £198 for just one entertainment pack, not including the £60 set up fee. You still cannot get Premiership football or live cricket. Is this what private sector media will do in the future with a weakened BBC? Consumers cannot watch programmes because they are out of reach rather than free to air. Would you rather see a liberated British media, which could and would bring you a Fox News style broadcaster airing its opinions, verging on propaganda or a respected broadcaster such as the BBC in your living room? If Murdoch has his way, could the BBC remove all of its radio, TV and interactive services of Sky as a way of making their point. Making profit from journalism, I believe you have to strike a correct balance between great and incisive journalism and making a profit. Being solely profit driven, do so at your mercy. However striking the balance in television is all together a different matter. In America regulations are relaxed and commercial advertising is more liberal and commercial networks are seemingly more wealthy. As a result high quality imports have landed on British screens such as Damages, Heroes, Desperate Housewives and Lost to name but a few. We need to revive the beleaguered programming budgets of the commercial broadcasters. We need to look at our American counterparts and look at a similar plan to incorporate more advertising and use product placements on television to supplement the dwindling advertising revenues from traditional commercial media to technology heavyweights such as Google. Michael Morgan Bain was at the MacTaggart lecture and I ask him whether James Murdoch had valid points to downsize or dismantle the BBC: “James Murdoch is a very clever man, but he didn't win any fans at Edinburgh. I think that he fundamentally raised a good point in that the BBC is slightly like an anti-competitive entity which is supported by the UK ; and that the budgets afforded by BBC is unreasonably large compared to Five and ITV's budgets. I don't know that anyone took anything he said seriously though because it was so obviously motivated by his push for Sky to become the number one in the UK market. It's funny that he justified his opposition of the BBC one with public choice when Sky, despite what it's platform is, is actually really anticompetitive.” The Murdoch’s are increasingly worried over the spread of the BBC over the world, just like News Corporation. The BBC in Britain can produce and deliver high quality unbiased journalism and much more such as television, radio, interactive and online for a lot cheaper than British Sky Broadcasting. Rather than dismantling the BBC, I would let the private sector media use the resources of the BBC if it wanted and if it was available and rather collaborate on ideas rather than destroy one another in a bid to save money. If I had my way, I would give the BBC more money to expand further overseas, acquire more media assets. I would use them as a vehicle to make a handsome profit in order to use those profits if it was legal to be reinvested into the UK and even be used as a fund for external broadcasters rather than top slicing the BBC’s licence fee. Mr Bain shared the same sentiment overall, “I am pro BBC. It really is a globally envied organisation which reflects the great things about Britain.” He emphasises a similar point made in the blog that the BBC to have unequivocal control over making commercial profits internationally. However, Michael adds, “We should not have to fund international BBC TV.” It is clear to him that this should be left to BBC Worldwide and its profits. He adds a final but very important point “BBC is getting a rough ride from the public lately but we shouldn't forget the value the corporation has to our national identity.” News Corp still has an fascination needing to expand profit in the UK; they still see a huge market in the UK, with the BBC and Ofcom as a hurdle to jump now rather than a mountain to climb. I believe a journalists core purposes is to find a story, report from the most obscure or difficult places around the world and to hold people and power to account rather than mix with entertainment and tabloid journalism. James Murdoch may have a point but he has irritated me somewhat. Maybe there is a conflict of interest as to why I am putting up a passionate defence for the BBC. As subject to ratification from the BBC appointments panel, I will sit on the BBC Trust Regional Audience Council for the South East. I felt compelled that I had to defend the BBC with this first blog. Please comment, analyse and criticise. I may have missed the point with James Murdoch’s keynote speech but this is for you to decide.


I'm no expert on this subject, so do you -
A. Agree with Murdoch in that there is too much regulation from Ofcom? Not just for Sky, but also for the BBC? Is it ruining the potential to be “creative” with such things like Project Canvas? (Didn’t Sky call for Ofcom to do more in this case?)
B. Murdoch’s speech highlighted the problem of charging for online content. Emily Bell wrote a brilliant piece in the Guardian about it. She writes about the state of the US media, which is supposedly worse the than UK. But the US doesn’t have its own version of the BBC, so is the problem really the BBC? Or just the problem of working out how to make online news profitable?

By Rebecca Hughes