Saturday, August 29, 2009

James Murdoch, the evil BBC, a chilling Orwellian landscape and give me choice, lots of choice ...

(Above: Spike Milligan and fan Chuck Windsor).

Who better to turn to than the BBC to read up on James Murdoch's attack on the dominant BBC?

Murdoch attack on 'dominant' BBC, notes the header, as it goes on to report the highlights of James Murdoch's presentation of the MacTaggart lecture 20 years after his father.

Well he would say that, and here's the rub. News Corp's desperate plan to organize an oligopoly of media organizations prepared to charge for content over the intertubes faces a few regulatory problems, but also, and perhaps more importantly, the problem of publicly funded news organizations.

So it was only a matter of time before News Corp lackeys would start doing a Peter Costello and rail about the free content provided by public broadcasters, and James no doubt milked a tear of gratitude from his father's eye as he moaned and groaned:

Mr Murdoch said that organisations like the BBC, funded by the license fee, as well as Channel 4 and Ofcom made it harder for other broadcasters to survive.

"The BBC is dominant," Mr Murdoch said. "Other organisations might rise and fall but the BBC's income is guaranteed and growing."

What to do? Well of course it's about time to socialize the losses and make sure that sundry anti-trust and competition acts in sundry parts of the world are suspended, because poor News Corp is fighting with one hand tied behind its back.

News Corporation lost $3.4bn (£2bn) in the year to the end of June, which his father, News Corporation boss Rupert Murdoch, said had been "the most difficult in recent history".
Other media organisations are also struggling as advertising revenues have dropped during the downturn.

There's no such thing as a free lunch in the world of the Murdochs, nor free news, though I'm not quite so sure why the health of News Corp is in any way tied to my consumption of content. I stopped reading Murdoch - or at least paying - for Murdoch publications long before the intertubes came along.

But the shout of "no fair" is loud, and will get louder, so alternative news sources will cop a bucketing for a tendency amongst certain consumers not to pay for the stuff that News Corp provides (never mind that the day I pay to read Janet Albrechtsen, they've prized the cash out of my estate's cold dead hand):

Mr Murdoch said free news on the web provided by the BBC made it "incredibly difficult" for private news organisations to ask people to pay for their news.

"It is essential for the future of independent digital journalism that a fair price can be charged for news to people who value it," he said.

Not really. News is now superabundant, and I have no real interest in ambulance chasing stories, but if that were my fetish, I'd be able to find plenty for free. If it's exposing the failings of government, then I take most of those stories as read, while I've still yet to read a decent analysis in a Murdoch rag exposing the failings of the system that led to the last global financial crisis. Just more "capitalism is good" while "socialistic government is two legged baaad" (but please, no mention of George Orwell).

Never mind. Blathering on about people wanting to charge a fair price for news to people willing to pay for it is already available the market place as a business opportunity. The reality is that a lot of people don't value the kind of news or journalism on offer, and don't want to pay for it. That's the nub, and who can blame them.

Sure this kind of wishful thinking is essential for the future of News Corp's plan to start charging for its content, but if that company thinks it can take out public broadcasters (or more bizarrely get them to charge for their content in a double dipping way), then the company is in for the mother of all wars.

News Corporation has said it will start charging online customers for news content across all its websites.

It owns the Times, the Sunday Times and Sun newspapers and pay TV provider BSkyB in the UK and the New York Post and Wall Street Journal in the US.

And how did News Corp establish its forward looking, futuristic embrace of new technology on the intertubes? James Murdoch back in April 2008, as reported in James Murdoch attacks BBC iPlayer service:

He claimed the BBC was using its market power to squeeze competition in the broadband TV market with its iPlayer service. He described the service as a big step and "pre-emptive intervention" that was "squashing a lot of competitors."

He added: "I'm not saying it's a bad product but I am saying it does crowd out competition and innovation."

The BBC itself has been surprised by the success of a new service that enables viewers to download BBC programmes screened over the previous seven days. Last month, iPlayer handled 17.5m requests for downloads less than three months after its launch.
Just over £130m has been earmarked by the BBC for investment in on-demand services over five years.

Well where's the News Corp iPlayer, or iView, where's the Murdoch Kindle designed to bring us into a new world of portable electronic news reading, where's the flexibility and digital interactivity of a company that seems to think a blog like The Punch is some kind of exciting on line initiative?

So it went, so it goes and so it will continue, with the rhetoric ratcheted up a notch or three, as reported in more detail in James Murdoch launches attack on the BBC:

James Murdoch, the heir to his father Rupert’s global News Corporation empire, tonight accused the BBC of undertaking a “chilling” land-grab of the media that posed a “serious and imminent” threat to the future provision of news in Britain.

Murdoch junior, who is News Corp’s chairman and chief executive for Europe and Asia, warned that the dominance of the BBC risked creating the type of news media which George Orwell described in the novel 1984. “As Orwell foretold, to let the state enjoy a near-monopoly of information is to guarantee manipulation and distortion,” he said.

Delivering the prestigious MacTaggart Lecture at the Edinburgh Television Festival, James railed against the “authoritarianism” of the Government and its watchdog Ofcom in regulating the broadcasting industry. He criticised rules designed to uphold impartiality in broadcast news and advocated the system of self-regulation which applies to the press.

Orwellian? George Orwell should get a dollar each time his name is abused, and having recently purchased a new copy of one of his rarer works, and presumably with a dollar now travelling to his estate, can I just say that if any empire could be described as Orwellian, it's one that cheerfully houses a demagogue like Glenn Beck.

Self regulation? Come on down Kyle Sandilands, all is good.

Be in no doubt that the Murdochs are feeling the chill:

The corporation’s governing body, The BBC Trust, had an “abysmal record” in overseeing the organisation’s activities and cited a series of examples of the BBC’s expansionism. “The scale and scope of its current activities and future ambitions is chilling,” he said. “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.”

The growth of BBC Radio 2, he said, had damaged the radio industry in general by taking listeners that were already well-served by the commercial sector. “Performers like Jonathan Ross were recruited on salaries no commercial competitor could afford, and audiences for Radio 2 have grown steadily as a result,” he said. “No doubt the BBC celebrates the fact that it now has well over half of all radio listening. But the consequent impoverishment of the once-successful commercial sector is testament to the corporation’s inability to distinguish between what is good for it and what is good for the country.”

Or perhaps the consumer's inability to distinguish between what is good and free, and what is average and expensive, and that what is good for News Corp is necessarily good for the country.

He also criticised the BBC’s “nationalisation” of the Lonely Planet travel guide, which the corporation bought, as “a particularly egregious example of the expansion of the state into providing magazines and websites on a commercial basis.” The BBC Trust had shown a “total failure” to “ask tough questions about what [the BBC’s] management was up to”.

But when his bile gets into the institution itself, he's on shaky grounds. My appreciation of British humor, and a cheerful regard for Britain itself was shaped around listening with my father to The Goons, with its cheerful Wallace Greenslade opening "This is the BBC." Even now, if I'm somewhere in the world, I only have to hear the BBC to feel an overwhelming, quite absurd nostalgia. Come to think of it, I don't have to travel, I only have to listen to ABC news radio.

Sure, it took an Australian comedian to explain the English sense of humor to the English, but that's the charm of a BBC willing to give things a go.

Chuck Windsor and I have so much in common, him being such a big Goons fan and all. My father also brought home the Daily Mirror, then a Murdoch rag, now long gone. The tones of Wallace Greenslade still ring affectionately in my ear, while the damage the Mirror did - by turning my mind tabloid - still hasn't been fully assessed.

He (Murdoch) claimed that authoritarian control had “always been a part” of the British media and even questioned whether the BBC had been founded as a force for good. “The early years of British broadcasting were dominated by concern about the potential of the new technology for creating social disruption. To deal with that perceived threat, there were two responses: to nationalise broadcasting through the BBC, and to ensure that any other provider was closely controlled and appropriately incentivised.”

Well News Corp, as a result of a belated failure to adjust to the new world, a dinosaur still wondering how and why the meteor hit, is now flailing around at everyone, and especially the spectre (special executive for counter-intelligence, terrorism, revenge and extortion) of socialist fiends and socialism:

Murdoch also warned that the recent demise of local news media should not be allowed to become an opportunity for state-supported journalism. “I saw recently an article in which the editor of The Guardian (Alan Rusbridger) suggested that the government should fund local news coverage of court proceedings and council meetings, a profoundly undemocratic and ruinous idea.”

Twenty years ago, Rupert Murdoch’s MacTaggart Lecture was characterised by his claim that television was a business and should not be the preserve of a publicly-supported duopoly of the BBC and ITV. Yesterday his son, ended his own speech with a similar homage to capitalism in the media. “There is an inescapable conclusion that we must reach if we are to have a better society,” he said. “The only reliable, durable, and perpetual guarantor of independence is profit.”

Whoooo, I'se chilled to the bone. But I do so love capitalism, and above all I love consumer choice, and it strikes me that if we are to reach and to have a better society, it would be so much if it were without Fox television. The only reliable, durable and perpetual guarantor of independence is choice, and between News Corp and other sources of news, I choose other sources of news.

And if News Corp thinks it can shut down all those other sources, while charging for its own continued dominance of the marketplace, let the war begin. I'm sure all those terrified of the state and of government and of public broadcasters, already feeling the chill sweeping around the world, will rally to the cause and fork over billions to restore News Corp to its pedestal. Or not.

Right now we're in the huffing and puffing phase. But as things get more desperate and desperate companies start to do desperate things, expect the media world to get ugly as it eats its own.

So enough with the phoney (phony?) war phase, with the speech making and the pamphlet dropping, and bring it on. Let's get out the calculator, start the charging for content, and may the best provider win.

Gee, it's hard to compete with free ... but I'm sure News Corp will manage.

(Below: and a final message from the Goons).

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