MEDIA PERSPECTIVE: For once Murdoch is right to cry foul over BBC News 24

Any spat between Rupert Murdoch and the BBC raises a bit of a problem.

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

to see.

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

pay for.

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



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