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.”

  • It’s outrageous – and it’s an electoral bribe of the highest order.

    Murdoch got a good deal off Labour and he’s got a better one from Cameron.

    There are EU content rules that every other member state applies to broadcasters of Murdoch’s size. They are waived in the UK.

    Every other EU member state of comparable size would charge a levy on the PVR-type recording devices that Sky use to deliver their Sky+ service. They are waived in the UK.

    In every other EU member state, Sky would have to charge re-tranmission fees to carry BBC, ITV and C4 or C5 on their platform – after all, the majority of viewing on Sky systems is still spent watching PSB channels.

    Labour effectively waived these rules and have allowed Murdoch to overtake ITV without placing any obligations on Sky to actually make programmes.

    I wrote this up in a bit more detail here: http://www.leftfootforward.org/2009/09/labours-bskyb-windfall/

  • So which party should the electorate vote for in the next General Election, Paul, to undo this unholy alliance? LibDem? It would appear that the two main parties are compromised beyond redemption.

    And what’s to be done with those big fat porkers who’ve been sated at the licence payers’ expense?

  • I’d be happy to be outraged at the high salaries that BBC staff get paid if we could also have the same level of transparency from other corporations that rely upon regulatory handouts.

    BSkyB are, effectively in receipt of £millions from the British taxpayer.

    Remember Nevin, if you want to hobble any organisation, demand a high level of transparency from them.

  • Retransmission charging isn’t an issue when the alternative is ubiquitous delivery; it’d be stupid not to allow Sky to retransmit, considering the positive impact it has on backhaul etc.

  • frustrated democrat

    The fact that far from being non partisan that the BBC is left leaning in its higher paid, higher echelons makes it fair game for any right of centre Government.

    The salaries and pensions it is paying to employees and presenters are beyond belief when they are funded by the taxpayers who are struggling.

    I major cut in the license is overdue as their inefficiency is staggering, the sooner the better.

  • Nabidana,

    Sky hardly makes any original content at all made for British or Irish markets. It makes more subscription revenue than ITV makes in advertising. Most sky viewers spend most of their time watching PSB channels. Why should the licencefee payer be subsidising the most attractive carrot that attracts subscription revenues for BSkyB?

    Frustrated Democrat: The BBC is massively more efficient than any other broadcaster in terms of taking revenues and turning them into programmes. I have no idea where you get the idea that it’s inefficient.

    And in terms of it’s ‘bias’, are you not aware of who the chief political correspondent there is FFS?

    Nick Robinson is the most plainly partisan Political Editor that the BBC has ever had – he’s so obviously a Tory it’s ridiculous.

  • Brian Walker

    Paul, I was sitting back admiringly there until you raised Nick Robinson. Perhaps this is irony? There is absolutely no mileage whatever in a BBC senior pol corr being biased. Knowing intimately how the job is done, (and Nick very well), it would be impossible.

  • LabourNIman

    Put this into perspective – this is just another step (and probably the deal Mandelson hinted at) towards Murdoch being allowed to have a right wing news station in the UK. Just look at fox news in the USA.

    I can’t believe Labour aren’t making more noise about this. This is a plan to make the BBC a regional channel, ITV bankrupt and C4 just doesn’t have the ££ to compete with the big names