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F*ck The People, This Is Business.
September 28, 2003 10:41 AM   Subscribe

Rupert Murdoch, The Guardian Newspaper Group, magazine group IPC (and others) have formed an unlikely coalition, the British Internet Providers Association, in order to do one thing: decimate the BBC Online website, and protect their own online ventures. They demand that "BBC Online should be scaled back to being a 'news portal' and...should release its internet source code to commercial organisations." Spin-off projects such as iCan, the grassroots political site which the BBC is set to launch in October, would be trashed, and the BBC's use of its website to promote programmes, magazines and services would be restricted. In addition the BBC would face a cost ceiling on its online budget and be forced to "provide links to the news services of its competitors."
The Governement's closing date for submissions to the BBC Online review is November 17th, 2003.
posted by Blue Stone (32 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
wasn't Murdoch also the name of the villian in MacGuyver?
posted by mcsweetie at 11:09 AM on September 28, 2003


So, companies are complaining because another company is successful?

You know what, I was selling some used books a couple months ago. I think the government should stop amazon from selling books.

Yep.
posted by angry modem at 11:33 AM on September 28, 2003


The point here is that the BBC isn't a company. The BBC is funded by a licence fee. That said, it's a tax that I'm actually happy to pay.
posted by danhon at 11:38 AM on September 28, 2003


Ahh, I stand corrected.

*goes back to eating cereal*
posted by angry modem at 11:45 AM on September 28, 2003


danohn, so what if it's funded by a license fee?
posted by Blue Stone at 11:59 AM on September 28, 2003


sorry - danhon.
posted by Blue Stone at 12:00 PM on September 28, 2003


In this case, compare what the BBC does to prison labour. What company wants to compete with something that's government subsidized? They will either force quality down, or jack up production costs, and they can usually, and unpredictably, undercut the market despite what the economy is doing. If nothing else, they have an "in" to get laws passed in their favor, or against competitors.
They are an artificial thing, and their attraction is providing everyone with consistent, low-quality product, rather than providing the majority with a selection from low to high quality, as the free market does.

What Britain should consider is, instead of promulgating a government monolith to compete with free-enterprise monoliths; to break up all of the monoliths. Since the airwaves are public, put the giants on the same level playing field with small operators and start-ups.

For example, limit how many channels that any corporation or organization can operate in a market area. ONE BBC channel, ONE Murdock channel, ONE Viacom, ONE Time Warner, ONE Disney, etc., leaving dozens for the very small networks, syndicated entertainment channels, and local productions. What an explosion of options.

Then abolish the TV tax.

Change the philosophy from having the government rule over the airwaves to having them *prevent* others from rule and domination. And if BBC only costs a tenth of what is does now, there is no need for a TV tax.
posted by kablam at 12:13 PM on September 28, 2003


In other news, a consortium of soft-drink makers called Citizens for Honesty in PAC Naming is petitioning for the dismantling of municipal water supply systems, which are typically maintained through large government subsidies. A spokesman for the group stated that the universal availability of copious amounts of safe, tested drinking water was "severely and unreasonably inhibiting" sales of their products. "What incentive do consumers have to purchase,our brown, fizzy water with corn syrup and phosphoric acid when, thanks to unreasonable government competition they can get the unadulterated product practically for free?"
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:18 PM on September 28, 2003


Damn. Guardian Media Group has disappointed me. BBCi is successful because it's very, very good. I think they're worried because of the future possibility that the text produced on the site is going to be open source so that anyone can use it as they see fit so long as the Beeb get a credit somewhere. This is the same argument ITV are using lately -- they're complaining because the Beeb are creating more populist programming and attracting a larger audience. Actually they are creating BETTER populist programming and that's why people are watching.

And why shouldn't the BBC use some of the license fee to advertise it's programming? If I've paid for something it would be nice to know when it's on ...
posted by feelinglistless at 12:45 PM on September 28, 2003


I agree with feelinglistless. While I really like the Guardian website for it's news, i think the iBBC service is far superior in many other areas and it's internet radio service is fantastic. I've been visiting the BBC website more and more often of late.
posted by carfilhiot at 12:53 PM on September 28, 2003


All I know is BBCi is one of the better sources for Doctor Who and Buffy stuff, and I will always have a soft spot in my heart for h2g2 even though I rarely go there anymore.

Are Murdoch's plans threatening that stuff? That'd tick me off.
posted by ZachsMind at 1:00 PM on September 28, 2003


> In this case, compare what the BBC does to prison labour.

Considered.

But I would not put media in the same category as a manufactured widget. Commercial influences in media corrupts it, as we've seen time and time again. So does government influence, but at least one of these alternatives can be controlled through democratic forces, not just pure economic forces.

Media defines how we see our world and what is "important" and what isn't. Media is arguably the most powerful influencial force in our lives. Period.

I'm willing to give exception to media that has more leeway in regards to constantly focusing on the bottom line even if that means hurting the media industry somewhat. Europe also socialized healthcare, thus hurting the private medical industry, but those countries see that the social benefits outweigh the economic ones.

This is why NPR rocks the house.

GS: In other news, a consortium of soft-drink makers called Citizens for Honesty in PAC Naming is petitioning for the dismantling of municipal water supply systems,

Not much unlike how the water bottlers association of America is in bed with the "privitize water now!" crowd. Water as well as media should be seen as an essential service in need of social protection.
posted by skallas at 1:17 PM on September 28, 2003


They are an artificial thing, and their attraction is providing everyone with consistent, low-quality product, rather than providing the majority with a selection from low to high quality, as the free market does.

That must be why millions of Americans tuned in to the BBC during the war with Iraq; they were sick of all that high-quality product from the free market American media.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 1:23 PM on September 28, 2003


And several of you have re-stated my argument with the assumption that the choice is *either* government or corporate giants.

But my point is that *neither* will give you the best media, either alone or together.

The best option for Britain is *not* just "government and major media corps", but something that opens the system up to *more* choices. And what the government should be doing is *preventing* people like Murdock from monopolizing the public media.

Granted, the BBC is special, but I think special enough that they should be used as a media resource for all the media services in Britain, rather than solely as a competitor. For example, one of the reasons US news has become so pitiful is that there is no will to put correspondents on the four corners of the globe--not enough draw for the networks. Ignorant pretty people, "talking heads", 'sell' the news better than David Attenborough.

But the BBC could hire journalists who are also trained as historians or political scientists, or as other experts in whatever it is they are reporting on. Again something that the government could afford that would be unprofitable for either the big media or for most small media. And who would be more believeable: a BBC expert reporting for many news services, or Dan Rather wearing a turban and a 3-day beard for CBS?

The BBC, big media and small media, can all be included for their strengths, giving the public more of what they want, and better quality at the same time. The government shouldn't own the river, just keep it clear of debris.
posted by kablam at 1:57 PM on September 28, 2003


Armitage Shanks: I believe that the BBC got some very pointed critisizm of thier coverage. I think the most famous case was the fall of the Baghdad Airport (as well as Baghdad itself). The BBC was one of several news organizations claiming that the US was not making the progress it claimed it was and when the airport and the capital fell many Brits (and others) lost a great deal of respect for them as a news organization.

The BBC is somewhat similar to NPR or even PBS. While all worthy sources of news and other programming they don't have the muscle to compete with commercial ventures . . . except the BBC which is party due to the more more substantial funding given to it by the government. As kablam points out that gives them an unfair leg up on commercial competitors. For instance, let's say there's a recession and ad spending is off which forces other news organizations to be more thrifty. The BBC has a constant source of funding (taxes) which aren't subject to recession so they could use that to expand their operations. Of course, commercial ventures probably profit more during better times so I don't know if there's an answer but to say that it's a legitimate gripe that a state funded news outlet does not have to play by the same rules as the commercial ventures.

I like George_Spiggott's analogy but I have to ask if he would support a government funded fast food chain, a government funded theme park, a government funded auto manufacturer, etc. I think it's a valid argument but at some point it does fail and personally I've always had a somewhat paranoid streak about state run media. I'm not accusing the BBC of being a propaganda machine but I don't think you can equate television programming with safe drinking water.
posted by billman at 2:08 PM on September 28, 2003


The BBC was one of several news organizations claiming that the US was not making the progress it claimed it was and when the airport and the capital fell many Brits (and others) lost a great deal of respect for them as a news organization.

Wow. Whatever gave you that idea?
posted by i_cola at 2:48 PM on September 28, 2003


billman, for the record, it's not state run (they wish), it's state funded. The government has no control over the output of the BBC, other than a 10 yearly review in which it's obligations as a public service broadcaster are spelled out. In fact the government hate the BBC because they believe they are biased against them.
posted by chill at 2:57 PM on September 28, 2003


theres a price to pay for newspaper support.

can anyone tell me of a labour government in the uk that has survived a republican administration in the us ?
posted by sgt.serenity at 2:57 PM on September 28, 2003


The guardian working with Rupert Murdoch? wtf?
posted by delmoi at 3:07 PM on September 28, 2003


In fact the government hate the BBC because they believe they are biased against them.
May I underline this by saying that all governments hate the BBC because they believe they are biased against them and this was as true for Harold Wilson in the 1960s and 70s as it was for Thatcher in the 80s and the current government. It's a sure sign that they're doing something right.

Personally I think that it's impossible for any news organisation to achieve an inhuman "Objectivity", but it's useful if they are capable of some measure of self-awareness and self-criticism as the BBC seem to be and as News International is signally not.

With the BBC Charter coming up for review this is the competition making belligerent noises. News International has been particularly belligerent, and this isn't the first time that they've demanded that the BBC give away their product to the competition.

Rational argument doesn't work. Won't someone just slap them?
posted by Grangousier at 3:14 PM on September 28, 2003


The private media companies are permitted to sell advertising, the BBC is not. If the media conglomerates' web publications aren't making money in the UK, it's hardly BBCi's fault: they aren't making money in the US either.

The free market alone has never given the world anything like the BBC. For the equivalent of $15/mo, the British get what is far and away the finest television and radio network in existence. It is quite simply one of the great treasures of modern civilization, Britain's gift to itself and to the world.

If the principle of free market competition is so great, let it compete against another principle. See how it fares. Right now, everybody seems to be doing just fine.
posted by George_Spiggott at 4:05 PM on September 28, 2003


The membership of this group (established 1998, apparently) is a little broader than the blurb suggests - I don't think there's much written or broadcasted publically outside the BBC in the UK that isn't covered by these people. Still, like feelinglistless I'm disappointed that the Guardian are inviting themselves to be tarred with the same brush as the Murdoch press and the Daily Mail. BIPA is chaired by a Telegraph Group exec; that their flagship paper is currently publishing a regular column slagging off the BBC's alleged left-wing bias is worth bearing in mind. There is perhaps some sense in the idea of gently pushing BBC Online back towards news coverage, but those with political axes to grind should not be the ones to voice it.
posted by zygoticmynci at 4:18 PM on September 28, 2003


billman, please get over this 'government funded' nonsense. The householder pays a tax to an independent agency, the TV Licensing folk, who pass it on to the Beeb.

The govt. are away from all this: they set the framework, but have no editorial influence. If it was otherwise - do you think that the Hutton inquiry would even have been needed?

For essential public utilities, health/water/transport/education, I & and most brits see a tax and regulatory element as being essential.

My doctor is paid by an organisation that is one remove from the govt. - does it stop him from dissenting where necessary? No.

The licence fee, when one considers all it provides [from 5 national AM/FM radio stations, 2 national TV stations (terrestrial), several digital only radio & TV stations, the whole of BBCi, BBC Online & BBC News (online/print/broadcast)] is an affordable tax amounting to about £2 a week - for those who pay! That excludes UK licence dodgers and overseas intarweb users.

I am cancelling my Guardian subscription today. Well, I don't buy it anymore, but if I did...
posted by dash_slot- at 4:26 PM on September 28, 2003


That must be why millions of Americans tuned in to the BBC during the war with Iraq; they were sick of all that high-quality product from the free market American media.

Really? Do you have something to back that up with?

I seem to remember the dreaded and hated FOX News Channel's ratings going up, and all other channels going down, here in the States. In fact, it I seem to remeber a lot of people turning off the BBC.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 4:57 PM on September 28, 2003


Supplement to conversion table of standard measures:
lot of people == one of H.M.'s naval vessels
That aside, the link actually puts paid to the notion that the BBC is in any way a government mouthpiece better than many of the foregoing arguments did.
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:05 PM on September 28, 2003


Hey, you know, there are, like, 1051 people on that ship.

Still, there's this:

Ratings for its [the BBC's] newscast increased by 28 percent during the war, according to the program's distributor.

During the war, viewership for Fox News Channel jumped by 207 percent, for CNN by 250 percent and for MSNBC by 294 percent, according to Nielsen Media Research.


Which does not seem to be a ringing endorsement for people running to the BBC.
posted by moonbiter at 6:09 PM on September 28, 2003


In my opinion, government-funded media tends to target people who think. It's informative, thought-provoking, probing, questioning, challenging, esoteric media. (Certainly Canada's CBC Radio often is, and CBC TV sometimes is.)

Commercial media, on the other hand, seems to always target the lowest denominator. It's a shitfest of crappy "entertainment" that's better suited for turning off the brain than turning it on.

Commercial operators don't like government-funded stations? Oh, too bad, so sad. The day they quit shitting out crap television is the day I'll start to feel a smidge of sympathy towards them.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:14 PM on September 28, 2003


billman:
The BBC is somewhat similar to NPR or even PBS. While all worthy sources of news and other programming they don't have the muscle to compete with commercial ventures . . . except the BBC which is party due to the more more substantial funding given to it by the government. As kablam points out that gives them an unfair leg up on commercial competitors.

so, publically funded media is fine so long as its crippled and doesn't keep Murdoch and Turner awake at night? Personally, I would love it if the media conglomerates would look at the programming on public media and say, "you know, We should do a documentary series that's better than Frontline. We ought to do talk shows that are as smart as On Point, and, what the hell, why aren't our sitcoms funnier than Coupling?"

As others have pointed out, the BBC and its ilk adheres to the notion that broadcast media is an essential social service, and it must adhere to a certain standard of quality. Publically funded networks can set that standard, and I'd argue that they set it quite well. The main flaw of the American implementation, with PBS and NPR is that the majority of their funding is not guaranteed, so their reporting and news gathering activities are even more vulnerable in times of recession.

For instance, let's say there's a recession and ad spending is off which forces other news organizations to be more thrifty. The BBC has a constant source of funding (taxes) which aren't subject to recession so they could use that to expand their operations.

but it's precisely that response to such an economic cycle that points to reasons why the entirety of a nation's news diet should not be commercially funded. Periods of economic recession should not result in a corresponding decay of a nation's news distribution. Otherwise, you'll have a news media that's filled with empty, escapist entertainment high on sensationalism and low on substance.
posted by bl1nk at 7:26 PM on September 28, 2003


and, just to add, in NPR's case, periods of economic recession don't result in decay and empty, escapist entertainment. Just longer (and progressively more annoying) fundraising telethons.
posted by bl1nk at 7:33 PM on September 28, 2003


Rupert Murdoch has had an on-going feud with BBC. After criticsing and offending the Chinese government, Murdoch pulled the BBC from his China Star TV operations. Murdoch is also critical of the BBC's handling of the Kelly affair.

My vote is for the BBC for reasons said by George_S, five fresh fish and others.
posted by philfromhavelock at 8:07 PM on September 28, 2003


BBC became an important source of news on the Iraq war for Americans sick of the horribly biased reporting of FOX news and the other news networks who have become more like FOX to try to stay in business. Murdoch doesn't like that. It's really that simple.

Otherwise, you'll have a news media that's filled with empty, escapist entertainment high on sensationalism and low on substance.

I'd hate to see that happen.
posted by troybob at 9:38 PM on September 28, 2003


What's "internet source code," and why does Murdoch want it? Does he need the source to the IP stack that runs on the web servers? The source of the content on the web servers? The source for the BBC's content management system? It looks like he already has a copy of Vignette.

Why release it to commercial organizations? Hasn't the public paid for it? Do corporations even pay the applicable license fee?
posted by majick at 6:32 AM on September 29, 2003


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