Murdoch: UK television "on wrong path"

Saturday, August 29 2009, 09:52 BST

By James Welsh

Sky chairman James Murdoch has said that British broadcasting is "on the wrong path" because it relies on "authoritarianism" and "endless intervention, regulation and control".

Murdoch, who served as Sky's chief executive for four years and is now News Corp's chairman and chief executive for Europe and Asia in addition to chairing Sky's board, said that "a dramatic reduction of the activities of the state" was needed to secure British broadcasting's future in an "all-media market".

"We have analogue attitudes in a digital age," Murdoch told the gathered audience of top media executives in his keynote MacTaggart lecture at the MediaGuardian Edinburgh International Television Festival, twenty years after his father Rupert issued a multichannel wake-up call to the British media establishment. "We have business models and a policy framework based on spectrum scarcity. We have limited choice and we have central planning.

"The result is lost opportunities for enterprise, free choice and commercial investment."
He likened the British broadcasting system to "creationism, the belief in a managed process with an omniscient authority... there is a general agreement that the natural operation of the market is inadequate, and that a better outcome can be achieved through the wisdom and activity of governments and regulators".

Murdoch argued that "creationism" would fail along the lines of 1970s industrial planning, and attacked the licence fee and digital switchover as "regressive taxes and policies". He said digital terrestrial television was "inefficient infrastructure" and that the BBC Trust, Channel 4 and Ofcom are "unaccountable institutions".

The BBC, he said, is unable "to distinguish what is good for it, and what is good for the country", and he criticised the repositioning of Radio 2 to appeal to 25-45 year olds and "the nationalisation" of Lonely Planet.

"The right path is all about trusting and empowering consumers," he said. "It is about embracing private enterprise... as a driver of investment, innovation and independence. The only reliable, durable, and perpetual guarantor of independence is profit."