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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

Mark Thompson on Murdoch's media dominance « Previous | |Next »
September 2, 2010

One strand of Mark Thompson's McTaggart lecture at the Edinburgh International Television Festival was his reply to James Murdoch's lecture the year before in which he attacked the BBC (for its dominance) and public broadcasting.

Thompson, the BBC director general, pointed out that with News Corp's likely purchase of the 61% of BSkyB it doesn't already own, it would own and control close to 50% of the national press (Sun, Times, News of the World and Sunday Times) and Britain's biggest commercial broadcaster – Sky would have created a concentration of media ownership across newspapers, TV and publishing more significant than anything to be found in any other major market. As Thompson pointed out, this would not be allowed in the USA or Australia.

Dominance is what Australia's existing cross-media ownership rules were designed specifically to prevent. No one company is to be allowed to have significant press holdings and a major stake in Australia's major commercial broadcaster. After the shakeout in free-to-air commercial television the laws now function to prevent a Murdoch empire with the run of the press and a commanding position in commercial TV.

The context is that BBC is fighting on a number of fronts---fending off commercial rivals, political detractors, Treasury cutters, newspaper axe-grinders--whilst being dependent on public funding, in the form of the licence fee. The BBC is fighting for its survival (a reduced licence fee) and it is being forced to do some cost cutting in the context of the austerity economics of the Conservative Cameron Government.

The BBC, like the ABC in Australia, is sufficiently popular and successful that it is impossible to imagine scrapping it as an institution. It will be cut down because it is seen as too big. On the other hand, Murdoch's acquisition of Sky News opens up the possibility of turning Sky News into a British Fox News. That shift to an ashamedly right-wing British television news with attitude requires the removal of Britain's impartiality laws.

So we have a threat to democracy which occurs when journalists collude with politicians---when they find themselves on the same side rather than on opposite sides... when journalists decide to be cheerleaders rather than act as watchdogs on politicians based on the commitment to public interest.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 10:51 AM |