Any spat between Rupert Murdoch and the BBC raises a bit of a
Where do you put your money when it comes to BBC commercialism and BSkyB
playing the victim?
When Murdoch hit out at the BBC’s move into commercial territory last
week, his agenda was, of course, a personal one. The BBC has launched
its own 24-hour news service, News 24, to rival Sky News, and cable
operators are asking viewers to choose between the two. That Murdoch
should cry foul comes as no surprise. And, for once, Murdoch has my
The arguments for why the BBC should get its hands mucky with commercial
ventures are well rehearsed: commercially generated revenues are, we’re
told, ploughed back into the publicly funded services, so our licence
fees go further.
Sound thinking, until competition from the BBC in the commercial arena
begins to threaten the viability of an existing media brand. Of course,
it’s perfectly possible that the BBC’s commercial products may be better
than those already on offer, but it should not be the BBC’s role to
produce more of the same.
Throw in the recent Independent Television Commission announcement on
pay-TV bundling and the argument takes on a new dimension.
The ITC is keen to open up the cable television market so that viewers
can select from a raft of services, rather than be forced to take whole
packages of unwanted channels in order to get the few they actually want
In theory this should widen choice, boost take-up of cable TV and put
the viewer in the driving seat. There are, however, some obvious
Most important, fledgling channels won’t have the opportunity to
establish themselves in the viewers’ repertoire and niche channels will
find it harder to survive.
The cable and satellite TV market should be thrown wide open to allow
viewers as much choice as possible, but it would be a shame if channels
providing arts or nature programming should disappear as a result.
Which brings us back to the BBC. If the BBC offered less of the Noel’s
House Party/Pets Win Prizes fare and more cultural and minority
programming, I’d feel a lot happier about the ITC’s unbundling proposals
and allowing a free market in the cable arena.
With the European Commission investigating Murdoch’s claims that Sky
News is suffering unfair competition from News 24, evidence that the BBC
could be overstepping its charter is mounting.
Commercial TV should be exactly that - driven by the demands of the
market; wall-to-wall soaps, sports and movies if that’s all people will
And public service TV should provide what the free market won’t. By
blurring the lines between the two the BBC is playing a very dangerous