Reaction to James Murdoch's MacTaggart lecture

James Murdoch, News Corp chief executive in Europe and Asia, took a well-aimed swipe at the BBC as he delivered the annual MacTaggart lecture at the Edinburgh TV Festival on Friday night.

Murdoch said the size and ambitions of the BBC were “chilling”, accused it of mounting a “land grab” before going on to criticise media industry regulator, Ofcom, calling for regulation to be scaled down.

The speech came 20 years after his father, Rupert Murdoch, gave a similar speech criticising the domination of the BBC and ITV in which he said the broadcasters were ‘innately unsympathetic to markets and competition”.

Here are a number of industry responses to James Murdoch’s broadside.

Michael Lyons, BBC Trust chairman, said:

‘British broadcasting is admired around the world. Its diversity of broadcasters and their variety of funding is a strength and not a weakness.

‘Our starting point is what is in the interests of the public and the BBC agrees with James Murdoch’s analysis that we need to trust them. And the public tell us that they, in turn, trust the BBC and value the wide range of services we provide.

‘The BBC has no choice but to serve all audiences, but that doesn’t mean that it can or should seek to squeeze out other providers.

‘We have to be careful not to reduce the whole of broadcasting to some simple economic transactions. The BBC’s public purposes stress the importance of the well-tested principles of educating and informing, and an impartial contribution to debate in the UK.

‘As to the BBC Trust, let me underline that it is here to strengthen the BBC for the benefit of licence fee payers, not to emasculate it on behalf of commercial interests.”

Ed Richards, Ofcom chief executive:

‘I thought it was a very interesting polemic, with a whole range of different issues raised. Much of didn’t surprise me; one or two areas did, and developed some arguments we need to engage with…[after saying that BBC salaries will need to be made public]  are in an age now where the public who are paying for something expect to know what their money is being used for.”

Dawn Airey, Five chief executive:

In the Financial Times: ‘It was a classic free-marketer position…but also self-serving particularly in relation to online news.”

For the Guardian: ‘The one thing he obviously didn’t talk about was the dominance of Sky.”

Airey told the Telegraph: ‘Perhaps the BBC should go back to having a couple of big broadcast channels, a couple of radio stations with a clearly defined remit and a reduced licence fee to support that.

“A lesser funded BBC, to keep it very honest, is almost inevitable I think how public service intervention is funded is surely going to be reduced, not go up. I do think that the BBC has made mistakes in their investments.”

Jana Bennett, BBC head of vision:

‘Given the way the audience and their public want to trust their news, I think it would be a regrettable step to go for partial news, as if that’s really going to help public debate and civic society, so I’m afraid I really don’t share that view.

‘I also question his idea that somehow the American model for news production is really healthy, because it isn’t.”

Andy Duncan, Channel 4 chief executive:

‘The one part of James’s business that is doing really well, Sky, is part of a heavily regulated sector and a mixed ecology, while the one bit of the business that is really struggling has very light regulation: newspapers.”

Emily Bell, Guardian News and Media director of digital content:

‘It is highly dubious whether [the BBC] is in itself the largest obstacle to charging for online content.

‘A younger audience, and a poorer audience, is not going to pay for news and one of the driving motivations of most news journalists, whether working for profit-seeking organisations or the BBC, is to have their work put in front of as many people as possible.

‘There is no real shared opinion that over the next couple of years the internet itself will have to charge for the previously free. That would require large numbers – hundreds of millions – of people to change their behaviour.”

Simon Shaps, former director of ITV, wrote in the Independent:

“His implicit argument that the impartiality rules which have governed TV news for more than half a century should be swept away, takes the fight right to the heart of the enemy camp. In his analysis, ITN could be replaced by the rightist Fox News without any democratic deficit.

“When James Murdoch claimed that the “defining characteristic” of UK broadcasting was the “absence of trust” he wasn’t – mercifully – talking about rigged game-shows and premium-rate phone lines.

“This time round, the trust issue was the regulatory and political myopia that failed to allow consumers free reign to determine what appears on screen, and in print…

‘James Murdoch had some sport in weighing the sheer quantity of regulatory intervention, his uncompromising message was that the media, and television in particular, could only survive in a radically different environment, with consumers in the driving seat.

“The question James Murdoch doesn’t answer is what he would do with the freedoms this world would offer. For that, we are clearly going to need to stay tuned.”

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