The stage is now set for a battle for the British media between News Corp and the BBC.
James Murdoch fired the starting gun with his MacTaggart lecture in which he accused the BBC of launching a chilling land-grab and of “dumping free, state-sponsored news on the market”.
He desperately wants the BBC curbed so that News International’s newspaper can begin charging for online content.
Yesterday, BBC director general Mark Thompson hit back with an email to all BBC staff in which he said that support of the corporation is growing, citing figures which show 69 per cent of the public now regard the corporation as trustworthy, compared with 60 per cent in 2004.
He accused Murdoch of being “desperately out of touch with what the audience themselves are telling us”.
But at the same time, he gave some ground to the BBC’s critics by admitting: “it is the right time to take a searching look at what the BBC should look like in the post-2012, post-switchover world” and saying he would: “look at how we can help promote the right environment for the creative industries as a whole, an environment in which other media providers can grow and succeed and plurality can flourish”.
HIs comments come as BBC chairman Michael Lyons claimed new research shows that the public don’t want the section of the BBC licence fee allocated to funding digital TV switch-over – which amounts to £130m – diverted to funding broadcast news outside the BBC post 2012.
The BBC is facing a tough fight ahead on several fronts.
On the one hand News Corp, in all probability backed by Associated Newspapers and Telegraph Group, will use their collective clout to call for a scaling back of the BBC’s Online operation to help their websites become profitable.
Meanwhile, Ofcom has to find a way to fund commercial public service broadcasting outside the BBC which will all but disappear without some form of public subsidy and which is becoming increasingly dwarfed by the BBC.
And in the background to all this – the collapse in profitability off regional newspapers is, in many places, leading to a devestating effect on local democracy and community cohesion around the British Isles.
An in-depth feature appearing in the next edition of Press Gazette (October) revisits the Derbyshire town of Long Eaton a year after its paid-for local newspaper closed – and it paints a terrifying picture of what happens to a community which is abandoned by journalism.
While News Corp and others will fight tooth and nail to defend their own commercial position – and the BBC looks set to fight hard against giving up any of its £4.6bn a year licence fee funding – politicians need to look at the wider picture which is a battle for British journalism.
Serious journalism is looking increasingly difficult to fund across the board. But without it, and without plurality, we aren’t just looking at the closure of a few newspapers – we are facing a wholesale collapse in democracy and public accountability in this country.