Tory media revolutionaries dance to Murdoch’s drumbeat

A big bang revolution in media regulation allegedly designed to cut the BBC down to a smaller size and boost regional newspapers is foreshadowed by busy shadow culture secretary Jeremy Hunt. In the Sunday Times he looked forward to a BBC licence fee cut and the scrapping of its digital TV and radio channels. Next, an early advance of a Thursday speech in the Torygraph goes much further, by promising the castration of media regulator Ofcom, leaving it only with ruling on taste and decency. It’s far from clear how relaxing media ownership rules, not necessarily a bad thing in itself, will do to help hard pressed regional journalism. Zilch for the Bel Tel and UTV, I’d say. But Hunt has been sounding bullish with his new media strategy, ever since the Tories scrapped a previous idea, also considered by Labour, of diverting some licence fee income to subsidise local news on ITV. The BBC, like bankers and MPs, has never been so vulnerable since the incomplete disclosure of its massive top pay packages, with 37 bosses earning more than the PM. This has helped to boost Hunt’s confidence in the new policy emerging since Murdoch heir James launched a notable attack on both regulation and the BBC in August, under the guise for supporting journalism . Strange coincidence? If regulation becomes a completely polarised issue in the election, it will be the media and its consumers who are most likely to suffer. Hunt quote

“Because our regulation is stuck in the pre-internet dark ages, we have left our media industries exposed and vulnerable to huge market shocks. It has taken the combination of a bitter advertising recession and the structural changes wrought by the internet for this to sink home,”

But Labour leaning analysts like Andy McSmith in the Indy (headed by Alistair Campbell on This Week on BBC1 last Thursday) suspect another agenda – a Cameron-Murdoch deal to remove ITV as a serious competitor to Sky and clear the field for Sky going head to head with the BBC after analogue switch-off from 2011. You might have wondered why Cameron stayed completely schtum over the Sun’s embarrassment in the Janes affair. Let battle commence. Just to give us the shivers, Mark Lawson offers a vision of a completely red meat free market in what used to called broadcasting.

From Andy McSmith

When the (BBC licence fee top-slicing) policy was abandoned in September, Jeremy Hunt, the shadow Culture Secretary, said that it was because enacting it might make the commercial television companies “focus not on attracting viewers but on attracting subsidies”. There was no gain for the BBC in the climbdown, because David Cameron had already said that the Tories will freeze the licence fee. What it will mean is that the BBC’s income will be capped, without the regional television companies seeing any government help, which will strengthen the market position of Britain’s only satellite television company, Sky. “This was done for News International,” a Tory insider said yesterday. “Murdoch wants Sky to go head to head with the BBC. He doesn’t want the independent companies strengthened.”

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London