James Murdoch attacks BBC

The annual Edinburgh International Television Festival’s keynote MacTaggart lecture is specifically designed to throw a spanner in someone’s works, and on Friday evening James Murdoch did just that. He attacked the BBC, unnecessary regulation; unaccountable institutions such as the BBC Trust; regressive taxes (ie the BBC licence fee) and the UK’s digital switch over. Indeed, Murdoch had a go at just about all aspects of the UK’s broadcasting policy especially those elements with the BBC or Ofcom names associated.

The lecture certainly delivered headlines and gave delegates something to talk about. He pointed out the “creationist mentality”, similar to the sort of industrial planning that went out of favour 30 and 40 years ago but that still persisted in certain institutions. He then mentioned by name the BBC Trust (the governors of the BBC), Channel 4 (the UK’s other public broadcaster) and good old Ofcom for good measure.

“And now,” he said, “[this creationist mentality] in an all-media marketplace, it threatens significant damage to important spheres of human enterprise and endeavour - the provision of independent news, investment in professional journalism and the innovation and growth of the creative industries."

He grumbled at media regulator Ofcom, and their rate of two consultations a week, 450 over the past year, spawning 18,000 pages of text. He moaned at the BBC, and its dominant position in the UK – including more than 50% of radio listening.

“There is a land-grab, pure and simple, going on,” he argued, “spearheaded by the BBC. Being funded by a universal hypothecated tax, the BBC feels empowered and obliged to try and offer something for everyone, even in areas well-served by the market.” Murdoch described the dampening effect of state-funded TV, and offered his opinion that as a result Britain was on the wrong media path.

“The right path is all about trusting and empowering consumers. It is about embracing private enterprise and profit as a driver of investment, innovation and independence. And the dramatic reduction of the activities of the state in our sector. If we do take that better way, then we – all of us in this room and in our wider industry – will make a genuine contribution to a better-informed society; one in which trust in people and their freedom to choose is central to the way we behave.”

Rules governing impartiality in television news should also be scrapped, Murdoch claimed. “We should be honest about this: it is an impingement on freedom of speech and on the right of people to choose what kind of news to watch.”