It’s rarely you’ll read a defence of the BBC on this blog, and you’re not going to read one now.
But James Murdoch’s McTaggart lecture should be read in the sure and certain knowledge that his objection is not so much to a leviathan ‘with more money than the rest of the sector put together and 50% of the market‘, but that said leviathan is not News Corporation.
Capitalism is a wonderful thing. To paraphrase Adam Smith, it is not from the benevolence of the Murdoch family that we expect our live Premiership action, but from their regard to their own self-interest.
But the ideal world of every individual capitalist is one of monopoly, and where that is impossible a dominant market position. Because then you can charge more, or in Mr Smith’s words ‘the price of monopoly is upon every occasion the highest which can be got‘. To mangle the words of Mr Murdoch, the ‘only reliable, durable, and perpetual guarantor of profit‘ is monopoly or oligopoly. The purchase of a hefty stake in ITV, or the recent London freesheet wars, look more like actions designed to hurt competitors than anything else.
The traditional news media, aka the ‘dead tree press’, are losing money hand over fist as consumers turn to the Internet for their news and comment. Only this week it was announced that the venerable Birmingham Post daily was to move to a weekly format. And it has to be said that the majority of bloggers who comment on news and current affairs are parasitic (as I am) on these free news feeds, provided among others by the BBC and News Corporation.
This is probably not a sustainable long term situation for the traditional news media. While wonderful for consumers of news , it cannot last. But outside of specialist providers like the Financial Times, attempts (like those of the Independent newspaper) to charge for Web access have so far proved ignominious failures.
News Corporation have announced their intention to switch their news websites to a charging model. This is going to be difficult to pull off. Could the Times, Sun, Guardian, Indie, Mail, Telegraph and Mirror execs meet together and decide to simultaneously charge for news, in a great ‘conspiracy against the public’, it might be possible, but there are laws against that sort of thing. The conventional wisdom is that the first to move will simply lose all their online readers to other sites – as happened to the Indie – without any corresponding increase in paper sales. So they have a problem – a real difficulty – to which I am not unsympathetic, and which would become somewhat simpler were there not a great free news leviathan called the BBC.
It is in the light of these issues that this year’s McTaggart lecture – which contains many cogent and accurate criticisms of the BBC, should be read. And you can read it, including “would we welcome a world in which The Times was told by the government how much religious coverage it had to carry? ” on no fewer than 12 pages of the Times website, where the editor has, doubtless exercising his independent editorial judgement, put up the entire lecture.
(As readers will know, B-BBC is an anarcho-syndicalist commune aka a broad church, and some of my fellow contributors – like David, above – are firmly of the opinion that the Corporation should be abolished and ‘the market decide’. I don’t attempt to judge these issues here. But I think some background to this particular story is in order)