James Murdoch’s MacTaggart lecture in Edinburgh on Friday night to accuse the BBC of launching a “chilling” land-grab for space in the British media.
But Murdoch’s words should also send a chill through the corridors of the BBC.
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Because it is a near certainty that Murdoch junior and/or senior have made the same complaints about the scope of the BBC’s online news operation to David Cameron, who is likely to become prime minister next year.
The Sun has backed the winners in every UK general election since 1979. Whereas broadcasters are barred from being partisan – The Sun can and will openly campaign on behalf of its favoured political party to its 7.8m readers.
Like Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair before him, David Cameron will have been courting Murdoch for support from The Sun which could make the difference between a hung parliament and overall majority.
It seems increasingly likely that the price for Murdoch’s support may be curbs on the BBC.
Murdoch junior makes a compelling case. Look at the newspaper market, he says. Would we allow a situation where The Times was told how much religious coverage to carry and one newspaper had more money than the rest and controlled more than 50 per cent of the market?
Murdoch fears that British journalism does not have a future unless it can be charged for online – and that this may not be possible while a free competitor in the form of the BBC is “dumping free, state-sponsored news on the market”.
So it seems a fair bet that in exchange for bellicose support from The Sun and the News of the World in particular, the Conservatives will look favourably on curbs to the BBC’s web operation.
Perhaps changes are needed to help the private sector flourish.
But is worth noting what happened when the regional press loudly protested against the BBC’s plans to launch a new network of local news video-based websites – successfully halting the plan in November last year.
The result has been that 300 fewer journalists are employed covering Britain’s regions. And far from expanding into that gap – the regional newspaper industry has accelerated its cost cutting since then and made even more journalists redundant.
Murdoch junior wants more competitive freedom in broadcasting – but he seems to have a blind-spot when it comes to his own company.
BSkyB has revenue of £5.3bn – more than the BBC’s £4.6bn annual licence fee income. To turn his argument on its head, in the national newspaper market would we allow just one national newspaper to have a virtual monopoly on coverage of most of the high-profile sporting events in the UK?
And without the BBC – what serious competition is there for an ever-expanding UK News Corp empire?