Media Perspective: Commercial rivals could rue the BBC joining their ranks

The vultures are circling the BBC. The fallout from Sachsgate or whatever you want to call it has given round after round of ammunition to the enemies now going into battle with the Corporation over its levels of executive pay and its encroaching commercial powers. But, perhaps we should be careful before launching an all-out assault on the BBC's beleaguered forces.

There is no doubt that the BBC faces massive issues, many of which, including the seeming arrogance and slow-paced decision-making coming from its leadership together with its lack of editorial control over top talent, are faults of its own making. However, the witchhunt led by the vested interests of the Murdoch and Rothermere-owned press has been unedifying, to say the least. To decide the future of the broadcast economy and of the BBC's programming output on the basis of a public frenzy whipped up by a Sun editorial or a Daily Mail front page makes about as much sense as leading a damsel in distress to Russell Brand's boudoir.

That said, there are problems surrounding the BBC's status that need to be resolved. One of which, the extension of BBC Worldwide's activity via Project Kangaroo, is looked at in more detail on this page. While advertisers can see potential upsides to this development, they are less sanguine over the BBC's move into local video news (to the possible detriment of local newspapers and commercial radio stations) and the apparent aggressive audience-chasing of Radio 1 into an audience older than its remit. This week saw the launch of a House of Commons Culture Committee investigation into the BBC's commercial interests, something which has already provoked ISBA into uncharacteristic rapid response mode.

Such industry intervention is welcome and a co-ordinated response from advertisers and commercial rivals could go some way to keeping the BBC within its box. This needs to be based on strong analysis and calm reasoning rather than a knee-jerk reaction to the hysteria of the past weeks, not that the BBC should escape further censure for the actions of Brand and Ross and its own apparent ineptitude. In 2006, Ofcom, which is investigating the incident, slapped a six-figure fine on Emap for similar, though less publicised, indiscretions surrounding Kiss FM's Bam Bam Breakfast Show. If the BBC is found in breach of guidelines, only a financial punishment (albeit at taxpayers' expense) in proportion to Emap's should appease its commercial rivals.

The flipside of Ofcom's involvement in the Emap episode goes to show, however, that it is incumbent on the BBC's commercial rivals to have their own stables in clean and working order before crying foul to the authorities. Otherwise, it might just prove a case of being very careful what you wish for.

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