Mr Murdoch and the BBC

First, the magazine industry lobbied MPs hard about the way the BBC moved into their business, using its own free ads for its own products to gain entry to their market. Next, the local and regional papers lobbied MPs about the impact the free BBC web and media service was having on their sales. Now James Murdoch points out the obvious main concern – the stronger the BBC brand and web offer is, the less private sector competitors can charge for news and views and the less plurality and choice there will be. THe BBC web offer is paid for by a poll tax which others cannot share or levy.

There needs to be a new settlement, to promote a vigorous and diverse media. We want the digital revolution to open up and sustain more choice and diversity of opinion, not to reinforce an old statist centralising system.

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26 Comments

  1. Brian Tomkinson
    Posted August 29, 2009 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    Just goes to show how futile it is to lobby MPs.

  2. backofanenvelope
    Posted August 29, 2009 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    If you ask the Home Office about the TV licence tax, they will tell you that it is nothing to do with the BBC, you are paying for a licence to operate a TV set. There is, therefore, nothing to stop the Tories re-distributing the £3.5 billion a year raised by the TV licence tax. Stop the BBC in its tracks by cutting their share to half the money raised.

  3. backofanenvelope
    Posted August 29, 2009 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    Why not take half the TV licence tax and use it to help reduce the national debt? You could call it the Brown Legacy Tax. Or BLT. In fact, you could do this with all sorts of jolly taxes, once you are in power.

  4. Pete Chown
    Posted August 29, 2009 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    A subscription model for the BBC’s television channels seems like the obvious step. When the licence fee started, there was no way to stop people tuning in, if they hadn’t paid. Now there are lots of subscription channels, so why shouldn’t the BBC’s channels work the same way?

    (It’s true that this would have to wait until after the digital switchover, because there is still no way of doing subscription analogue channels. This is only a few years away, though.)

    The funny thing is that I would buy a subscription to the BBC, assuming it was reasonably priced. I resent being told that I must pay or be prosecuted, but if the BBC was just another business selling its services, I would probably be happy to buy! I suspect most people see the BBC the same way; their income might not drop as much as they expect.

  5. Stuart Fairney
    Posted August 29, 2009 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    Whilst there is an obvious irony in someone called Murdoch complaining about a powerful media monopoly (which may or may not have escaped him), the point is nonetheless valid.

  6. Mike Stallard
    Posted August 29, 2009 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    The BBC is, in fact, a nationalised industry. It is staunchly Labour.
    I was amused by a clever article on Labour List about someone or other accusing the BBC of being very right wing and that proved that it is impartial. Erm…
    Me, I am against nationalisation whenever I can be. And in this case, I can be.
    So I am.
    The News, which is the only programme I make a point of watching, is, frankly, little more than a party political broadcast or loads of OOOer! stories or gossip.
    So I look for a lot of programmes like ITV, Sky and Channel 4.
    And, of course, not paying the poll tax called the licence fee.

  7. Phil C
    Posted August 29, 2009 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    There is simply no valid argument for a licence funded BBC; it is a relic of the early days of wireless.

    There may be an argument for public service broadcasting, which could be met by commissioning the relevant programmes (public information, for example) from competing broadcasters.

    But with the public debt the size it is, this is one cabinet of the family silver which could be sold off without any regret.

  8. Brian E
    Posted August 29, 2009 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    In my view, the BBC should not provide any programmes, other than news, which the commercial channels are providing free of charge. For example, why provide a program like “Eastenders” when there are similar offerings on other channels? The same applies to sports; why bid tax-payers money for something that a commercial channel is prepared to provide? (This would also bring down the cost to the other channels and perhaps cut the disgusting amount of money clubs are able to pay to footballers). The BBC should not be trying to compete for audience numbers but providing those programmes which are not commercially viable for the other channels and setting the standard for quality that others would want to emulate. At the same time it needs a radical overhaul to get rid of the pro-global warming, pro-EU, pro-left-wing bias. We need a channel where we can rely on good, genuimely independent, unbiased views on all subjects from experts, not the same faces paraded night after night trotting out the same lines we’ve heard a thousand times before.
    It’s worth looking at http://biased-bbc.blogspot.com/

  9. Caledonian Comment
    Posted August 29, 2009 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    A bloke I know has neither Sky nor Freeview, with only access to terrestrial channels. He doesn’t use the internet either.

    He argues vehemently – and I think I agree with him – that he should get a discount on his TV licence because he is unable to access BBC3 or BBC4, or BBC iPlayer or BBC news on the web.

    Why should he pay for sevices he can’t receive ? Mind you, I suppose if we had the choice none of us would pay anything towards the BBC.

  10. Neil Craig
    Posted August 29, 2009 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    Because the BBC is funded by state fiat it is effectively the propaganda arm of the civil service (not Labour or the LibDems though there is a correlation). The BBC’s answer to virtually all political questions is more government, more taxes & more regulation as is bound to be the case for big government lobbyists. The answer is either total privatisation or removing most of the management structure & divvying out cash directly to programme makers proportionately to audience figures, with some loading for viewing times & arguably some for serious programmes.

    So long as they dependent on the state rather than customers they cannot help partiality.

  11. Dave t
    Posted August 29, 2009 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    Another example is the BBC paying out £75 MILLION to creaet digital content for schools via BBC Jam. They then folded it. What many teachers are now asking is WHO has the content created by OUR licence fee/tax and how much they are going to make selling it on. Why has the educational content not been released since Jam was shut down?

    The BBC and the way they use OUR money to push a leftie agenda or make money for their friends by using OUR money to create non jobs or short term projects is nothing short of disgraceful.

  12. Dave t
    Posted August 29, 2009 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    ‘create’ not creaet – sorry!

  13. Freddy
    Posted August 29, 2009 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    Loud cheers – the BBC is badly in need of pruning back a long, long way.
    You’re going to be short of money in the next parliament – how about selling off the BBC’s old program library ? Must be worth a bob or two to one of the big LA studios.

  14. Paul Danon
    Posted August 29, 2009 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    The BBC should only do what the private sector can’t. Arguably, the private sector can do pretty well everything: news, documentaries, classical music. Maybe the licence should be abolished and the BBC’s facilities sold.

  15. alan jutson
    Posted August 29, 2009 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    Yes what a conundrum.

    A State sponsored business, competing with private enterprise for customers.

    Yes its one sided because the State sponsored business does not have to make a profit, just run at cost.

    It can run an entirely different business model, because it has guaranteed income, even from non customers who may purchase from the opposition.

    Perhaps this was not a problem 20-30 yerars ago when it was supposed to be a Public Broadcasting Company (with little competition), but now the dividing lines are blurred, and its business plan (that is what it is) is to try and grow its services into areas where others have spent a fortune attempting to get a foothold.

    The problem is the same for any private enterprise, which medium do you advertise in for best effect and return ??

    Its the same for any private enterprise company when competing with any State sponsored/funded business.

    By contrast the BBC can try them all out, without it making any inroads into its bottom line.

    Yes its unfair competition, has been for years, but you will need a complete rethink on all State sponsored organisations, if the situation is to be corrected or reversed.

  16. Robert Eve
    Posted August 29, 2009 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    Agree with you but has Cameron got the nerve to do it?

  17. Alan Wheatley
    Posted August 29, 2009 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    The BBC net should be widespread and thin. There should be no (relevant) area into which it should not go, especially to break new ground, but having got there it should have a thin presence, leaving room for others. For instance, a soap opera of course, but not more than one. It should stride to be the best, but even if the best it will still leave room for others.

    The BBC should put much more resource into addressing minority interests, as everyone is entitled to get coverage for their passion from the national broadcaster. These will tend to be cheaper to cover as there will less to pay for “entry” and for “star personalities”.

    We should not judge the BBC as to how well they are serving the population by simply looking at macro viewing and listening figures, as a remit to cover minority interests will inevitably generate minority levels. Incidentally, minority interests can become majority interests given the right coverage of something inherently good but previously unnoticed.

    All this can be done for less. The licence fee should gradually be reduced in real terms to a level sufficient to fund top quality wide/thin coverage.

  18. no one
    Posted August 29, 2009 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    The BBC also tends to swamp out the market place for educational materials, there should be a healthy market for different teaching materials to be sold to schools, but in this country the market is somewhat skewed because the BBC churns out so much stuff which is free to the schools

    On the whole what the BBC produces is the same old prejudiced politically correct middle class worldview that their wider output reflects

    We would be better off paying for such material the way its done in the vast majority of countries

    The BBC really shouldn’t be wasting licence fee money trying to nudge into so many markets and competing unfairly with those who need to charge

  19. Ian Henley
    Posted August 29, 2009 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    The BBC do fantastic work in many areas, but they are too powerful, too featherbedded and are certainly not impartial in their reporting.

    Why should, for example, the licence payer be compelled to fund the BBC web site? How can other news providers compete against this generously funded service? Why should those who have no wish to access the BBC site be compelled, by law, to pay for it?

    As a first move to The Conservatives should promise to reduce the licence fee by the amount of funding per head that goes into the site, and spin it off as a separate business to sink or swim.

    This will clear the way for other news providers to innovate and compete and also provide more balanced news reporting.

  20. Bazman
    Posted August 29, 2009 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

    The BBC not only serves to inform us, educate us and entertain us by its very existence, it also serves to protect us from a level of commercial saturation that would destroy much of what we currently take for granted. If you’ve ever watched television anywhere else in the world, you’ll know what I’m talking about. I have a satellite dish that points to Astra 19.2’E German channels mostly with some other foreign channels. Dire does not even cover it. Like the internet without any entertainment. Any comments from a media mogul should be taken with a bucket of salt. Anyone got anything to say about the cost of SKY subscriptions when talking about the cost of the TV licence?
    Internet freedom and net neutrality are the real issues. Interesting to hear his views on that. Probably not so keen on free and open competition there I bet. What he will want as he does now is special interest legislation to be dressed up to sound less self serving like special regulated prices for e commerce giants to save them from more internet competition. SKYNET anyone? Socialised internet will find many right wing supporters as well as state control fans. In the same vein Mandelson should realise as a smart guy, that the piracy argument has been going on since the industry was asking for taxes on magnetic cassette tapes and looking for technical magic bullets to prevent coping. They have not come up with a real strategy and throw around red herring that piracy funds terrorism, so does legitimate business. No talk of banning that. The future is still being written.

  21. Kenneth Morton
    Posted August 29, 2009 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

    How I agree!

    To add insult to injury the traditional areas of broadcasting where thirty years ago the BBC really was first class, wild life/documentaries and sport, are now contracting.

    Money is spent on building empires in every nook and cranny of Auntie until she now resembles the Old Lady who lived in a shoe and had so many children……

    It is now time to send them permenantly to bed without any bread having received a sound whipping by Jeremy Hunt and co.!

  22. Vanessa
    Posted August 29, 2009 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

    Mr Murdock was absolutely right. I am not a fan of the BBC as they are very biased in their reporting. I would rather pay my TV licence fee to Channel 4 which I watch about 90% of the time now. Everyone there speaks English which I can understand rather than the stilted way all BBC prresenters speak and Channel 4 is brave enough to interview people like the BNP so we can all make up our minds individually rather than being preached at which is what the BBC do.

  23. Mark
    Posted August 29, 2009 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

    You were right to title this post Mr. Murdoch and the BBC: they both need slapping down into place. Murdoch has used his subscription base to monopolise market segments (e.g. sports), and packaging of channels inflexibly to deny freedom of choice. The problems with the BBC are well rehearsed.

  24. Waramess
    Posted August 30, 2009 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    Quite right and let us do the same for the NHS, by far the biggest statist centralised system

  25. Bazman
    Posted August 30, 2009 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    The problem with all these posts and Murdoch’s concern for the rights and choice of the viewers, which in reality is finding more ways to charge people. His Father believes subscription is the way forward. who would have thought? None of you have wrote what would be a better way than the BBC. Again how many of you are fans of SKY. Good value SKY innit? Adverts too. Like adverts Me.
    The BBC costs less than two packets of fags a month or a lot less than a trip to the pub, so I do not believe that a load of middle class middle aged men cannot afford Twelve quid a month. Another red herring. Subscribe to SKY and watch fox news Al-Jazeera. The BBC could be forced to have a channel for right wing middle class men. Like Dave TV on Sky there could be ‘Montgomery Channel’. Just as narrow and stupid.

  26. jduck1979
    Posted August 31, 2009 at 1:13 am | Permalink

    I think instead of abolishing the licence fee, it should be capped off back down to £100 a year or less……… and any shortfall should be made up for by
    – Sales from BBC Magazines & Children’s comics
    – Selling the rights for BBC shows to other English language channels around the world
    – Sales of BBC shows on DVD / Blu-Ray / iTunes, etc

    At the same time, a new management team should be installed to purge the corporation of Waste / Political Correctness / ‘orrible Reality TV shows / and the fabled “BBC Bias” listed here:
    http://www.labour-watch.com/bbcbias.htm

    Looking at the list of Magazines the BBC has here >
    http://www.bbcmagazines.com/
    I think they should be slimmed down to
    – Top Gear Magazine
    – Gardeners World Magazine
    – Focus
    – Good Food
    – BBC Wildlife
    – Sky at Night Magazine

    The BBC NEWS website should be kept as is, as it’s one of the top3 News websites for the UK…. definately more useable than SKY NEWS’s effort… only real gripe I have with it is their “have your say” forum, which lets you recommend comments you agree with, but not give a “thumbs down” to comments that are a load of…..

    iPLAYER should also be kept (it’s usually the only way I get to catch TOP GEAR + the F1 hi-lights as my Dad always hogs the only TV in the house hooked up to Sky digital after 6pm), but made available to viewers outside the UK via a Monthly subscription (and help further cut down the license fee).

    TV channels should be slimmed down to
    – BBC1
    – BBC2
    – BBC News
    – BBC Parliament
    – CBBC / CBEEBIES

    And these channels should then focus on doing what the BBC always did best before it went Reality show crazy and ended up with only TOP GEAR the only show on it worth watching until the Formula1 coverage returned this year (e.g. shows like “Local Heroes” with Adam Hart-Davies, “Two Fat Ladies”, “Tomorrow’s World”, “Gardeners World” when Geoff Hamilton still presented it, “Dad’s Army”, “Red Dwarf”, “Monty Python”, etc).

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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