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Murdoch v. the BBC
September 1, 2009 7:00 AM   Subscribe

"If you think you can get fucking angry, I can get fucking angry."

James Murdoch, Chairman of News Corp, gave this year's MacTaggart Lecture (vid) (transcript) in which he delivered a broadside on the role of the BBC, accusing it of 'dumping' news on the commercial market. An alternative view was given by the BBC's Robert Peston, who asked "Should we be relaxed if 'can't pay' means 'can't know'?" Their after-dinner discussions led to a 'vigorous exchange of views.'

There was a mixed reception to the speech in the UK media, and even The Wire's dominic West got in on the act.

Previous MacTaggart speakers include Dennis Potter and Jeremy Paxman, amongst others.
posted by Jakey (43 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
The BBC is the only guarantee we have that news journalism has a future in this country. Without the BBC, Sky News would turn into Fox News overnight, and ITN would stumble over itself trying to copy Sky. With the newspapers dying, that would be that.
posted by WPW at 7:07 AM on September 1, 2009 [15 favorites]


Ooooooh, look at 'em squirm!
posted by Jimbob at 7:08 AM on September 1, 2009


My wife visited Scotland recently and brought back newspapers. I was amazed at how much better they were than the U.S. equivalents.
posted by mecran01 at 7:17 AM on September 1, 2009


Good to see the BBC punching back, even if it must do so in the curiously annoying voice of Robert Peston.

It's evidently dawning on the Murdochs — or James realized all along, and can't confront the old man about it — that charging for content, or more specifically their content, isn't going to work, and isn't going to cause a domino effect among other papers. This is a really childish, balled-fists, angry effort to somehow skew the playing field in their favor. The BBC, after all, takes fright easily. It's good that Peston at any rate resists intimidation.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 7:17 AM on September 1, 2009


I'm sorry, James Murdoch is complaining that the BBC is skewing the news market? Did his soul leap immediately from his body after that claim?
posted by boo_radley at 7:20 AM on September 1, 2009 [7 favorites]


The BBC news website, argued Murdoch, is preventing commercial news organisations from investing in news, with potentially dire consequences for society and democracy.(via)

Biggest laugh I've had in long while. He should go into comedy. Oh wait, News Corp already do Fox News and The Sun.
posted by permafrost at 7:22 AM on September 1, 2009


The BBC is the only guarantee we have that news journalism has a future in this country in the English speaking world. Fixed that for you.
posted by MasonDixon at 7:24 AM on September 1, 2009 [6 favorites]


What exactly is the problem here? The BBC can go ahead and give away the news as they've been doing, and Fox can go ahead and sell fiction, as they've been doing. I don't see the conflict.
posted by Aversion Therapy at 7:25 AM on September 1, 2009 [4 favorites]


...or is News Corp infecting the news commons with its pernicious capitalist ideology? Stay tuned, we'll have the answer after these messages.
posted by rusty at 7:32 AM on September 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


"How dare you be better than me?????!!!!!! How dare you..."
posted by fuq at 7:32 AM on September 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm torn between laughing at Murdoch who fears the BBC News and the people who think BBC News is good. The BBC is good at international news but if you live in the UK you will know more about what it is going on in the Middle East or the United States than what is going on in your own city (excluding London of course).

Take a look at the BBC west midlands page. It covers Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton and about 20ish towns. Roughly 2.6 Million people.

It rates 6 whole news stories. One a murder from two days ago. One a puff piece on train station redevelopment. A car accident. An assault. A swimming pool shutdown.

This is a pretty accurate sample of what they regularly provide.

If this is your competition you had better be paying people to take your papers because you suck.
posted by srboisvert at 7:40 AM on September 1, 2009


The BBC and the NHS are two major reasons why I'm proud of my country. I don't think I'm alone in that view. Quite frankly, having looked at the quality of debate in the US I think that the costs to British society of not having the BBC as a strong and free broadcasting voice would be almost incalculably high.
posted by jaduncan at 7:43 AM on September 1, 2009 [5 favorites]


Boo_radley: he has a soul? I mean, I figured his father Rupert consumed it before giving him any ranking in News Corp.
posted by mephron at 7:45 AM on September 1, 2009


Boo_radley: he has a soul? I mean, I figured his father Rupert consumed it before giving him any ranking in News Corp.

I had always assumed that all Murdochs and their offspring were formed with soul-devouring metaphysical black holes in lieu of souls. I mean, isn't "Murdoch" actually more a title for a certain class of demon than a family name? "Rupert the Murdoch" is the fully qualified designation, I believe, making his son "James the Murdoch."
posted by saulgoodman at 7:56 AM on September 1, 2009 [7 favorites]


from main link: Murdoch made his Edinburgh speech 20 years after his father Rupert's lecture, which lambasted the "anti-commercial attitudes" of the British broadcasting establishment, particularly the BBC.

Ah, so Rupert made the same speech in 1989? In the twilight of the Thatcher years, when the Conservatives were just starting to make the same noise about 'England is a nation of entrepreneurs'?

Apparently it's a family tradition once every two decades for the male heir to display his stupidity in all its regal spendor.
posted by koeselitz at 7:59 AM on September 1, 2009


mean, that Murdoch thing ... it breeds?
posted by symbioid at 8:00 AM on September 1, 2009


i used to smoke pot with him in college. he was fun back then. i guess people change.
posted by snofoam at 8:10 AM on September 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


The BBC is good at international news but if you live in the UK you will know more about what it is going on in the Middle East or the United States than what is going on in your own city (excluding London of course).

It's a bit unfair to imply that the BBC offers good international news and poor local news and that's it, as if its vast national news operation were all "London news". The BBC's national coverage of politics, business, sport, media and entertainment is not London news. If many of the events covered happen in London, that's because Britain is massively London-centric. The BBC may be partly to blame for this, but you can't really expect it to pretend that London isn't the political and financial capital of the country. (And with its Salford move, it is actually making more effort than many to alter the role it plays in reinforcing Britain's Londoncentrism.)

Besides, what happens in Westminster and the City of London may well affect you in Birmingham, srboisvert, much more than many things that happen in Birmingham.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 8:27 AM on September 1, 2009


Also, my own conscience dictates that I must choose the network which produces Doctor Who. As we all know who that is, my choice is made. Mr Murdoch only makes it easier for me by being a dick.

The Beeb, for their part, seem to aggravatingly to want to encourage me to make a balanced decision by continuously doing monumentally stupid things, but I guess 'fair and balanced' is just in their nature. Sigh.
posted by koeselitz at 8:32 AM on September 1, 2009


Hopefully the Conservatives (who seem like a shoo-in at the next election) will realise that treating news as a liberal free market would undermine what they, as 'Conservatives' and often 'nationalists', should look to preserve about the UK. I'm hoping against hope here though. the fact that Murdoch Jr. is making these points in an open forum a few months before an election and the inevitable cost cutting decisions the new government will have to take isn't much of a coincidence.
posted by Gratishades at 8:34 AM on September 1, 2009


Speaking of which: can any UKian [you know I only do that to bug you] tell me whether this is a common sentiment in your nation? I mean: in the US, conservatives are constantly bellyaching about Public Radio and Public Television, saying they have a liberal bias and that they're relics of socialism. I grew up with a world-traveling father who spoke of the BBC in hushed tones and listened to programs regularly on his short-wave radio, so I always assumed that in the UK it was different, since the BBC fortunately had a much more 'indisputable' common legacy. Was I right? I mean: is it common for Conservatives and Conservative politicians to publicly decry the fact that the BBC gets public money, and to deride it for accepting those funds?
posted by koeselitz at 8:55 AM on September 1, 2009


The BBC is the only guarantee we have that news journalism has a future in this country in the English speaking world. Fixed that for you.

The CBC, while it's not the BBC, does a very good job of covering news. Pity you can't get it anywhere in the US - I'm sure it would be very popular.
posted by GuyZero at 9:32 AM on September 1, 2009


The BBC is good at international news but if you live in the UK you will know more about what it is going on in the Middle East or the United States than what is going on in your own city (excluding London of course).
Sort of agree but you're leaving out the local radio networks, each of which have web presences too - I get to listen to the Cheshire/Staffs local football phone-in (whingeing in familiar accents ftw) after the games even though I'm thousands of miles away and there's the rest of local programming. They've just given you lot a Black Country-specific sub-site will beautiful Cheshire is still lumped in with the Clayheads.
As for Murdoch, the cheeky talentless twat only there on his father's aprons strings should shut the fuck up - though I suppose nepotism is a value they share with the rest of our media.
posted by Abiezer at 9:32 AM on September 1, 2009


The CBC, while it's not the BBC, does a very good job of covering news. Pity you can't get it anywhere in the US - I'm sure it would be very popular.

The local public radio station here in Spokane plays some CBC stuff. Mainly "As It Happens", but some other stuff too. I don't know if everything they do has quite the same attitude as that show, but I find it amusing.
posted by hippybear at 9:35 AM on September 1, 2009


koeselitz- there is a, less pronounced, tendency of the right wingers thinking that the BBC has a 'liberal bias'- being full of the arty farty and therefore likely to have non-Conservative sympathies. It isn't as popular a position to take in the UK as one sees in the US though as the Beeb is generally held in high regard. The Conservatives are seen as less supportive of the BBC but it would not be a big vote winner to claim that one wanted to dismantle it (though suspicions about hamstriniging the organisation when the Conservatives are in power are often worried about).
posted by Gratishades at 9:35 AM on September 1, 2009


As jaduncan alluded upthread, the BBC is widely viewed in a similar light to the NHS - it's not perfect, but we'd rather have it than not. It commonly ranks as the most trusted UK news source (e.g.).(notwithstanding my grandad's refusal to watch it because 'it's tory')

There's been a lot of debate in recent years, and reasonably so, about the expansion of the BBC into digital media, but the incumbent Labour government have been every bit as critical of the BBC as the conservatives. In fact, IMHO, the Labour government's Hutton Inquiry stitch-up of the BBC has directly led to a significant decrease in the editorial quality of BBC news reporting, in favour of he-said-she-said talking head idiocy, which is a far more damaging attack on the BBC than threatening to remove a digital channel full of low quality sit-coms.
posted by Jakey at 9:36 AM on September 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


There is a very nice new CBC app for the iPhone/iTouch just released that gives you live streams and on demand content from all three of the CBC's radio services. I'm dying for the BBC version to be released.
posted by salishsea at 10:18 AM on September 1, 2009


i used to smoke pot with him in college. he was fun back then. i guess people change.

wait--what? do you have any photos? isn't there some way we could use this information to bring down the entire news corp empire?
posted by saulgoodman at 11:45 AM on September 1, 2009


On the subject of foreign (in my case, that means non-USian) newspapers, I've been reading the online edition of Le Monde on a nearly daily basis, and it is consistently better than any other U.S. daily newspaper, save for perhaps the NYT. Same with Le Figaro. There are iPhone apps for both, too.
posted by the painkiller at 11:51 AM on September 1, 2009


there is a, less pronounced, tendency of the right wingers thinking that the BBC has a 'liberal bias'

By the same token, there is a definte feeling that the BBC has a right-wing bias by most people left of the Labour party - the fact that they kept talking about "police allegedly beating protestors" while showing footage that proved it after the G20 kerfuffle, indicates that they're quicker to move some news from the 'allegation' to 'fact' stage of reporting...
posted by Dysk at 12:11 PM on September 1, 2009


"There's been a lot of debate in recent years, and reasonably so, about the expansion of the BBC into digital media, but the incumbent Labour government have been every bit as critical of the BBC as the conservatives."

I think it should be in the BBC Charter that, if it isn't annoying the party in power, it's on the wrong track.

"Speaking of which: can any UKian tell me whether this is a common sentiment in your nation?"

I'd say the most common complaint is that the complainant is charged a heavy tax from which the BBC fails to make anything worth them watching.

The other equally common complaint is that the BBC makes too-popular programmes (or, in this case, news) that compete with and reduce the opportunity for profit-based alternatives.
posted by Auz at 12:35 PM on September 1, 2009


Oh - Fuck the Murdochs & Fuck Sky / Fox.

You want to talk about inhibiting the market. Why not go and have a look at Sky Sports. A sports channel that has managed to inhibit soccer to such a degree that the lower leagues are going broke.

And Fuck Sky One with their attitude of letting the BBC try out new series before buying the second series of the more popular shows for outlandish amounts of money. Wooo! The thing I liked watching is now only available on premier cable/satellite. You cynical bastards.

And fuck The Sun for being a crappy paper that continues to teach this country how to be small minded and vindictive.

And Fuck Fox News for being Fox News.

The BBC can have my £95.00 a year, and I hope they continue to get it. In fact - If there was some kind of way I could persuade the government to double that amount and make the BBC spend the extra on simply punishing News International for being News International, then I'd gladly pay that.

And what the other people in this thread have said.
posted by seanyboy at 3:28 PM on September 1, 2009 [4 favorites]


By the way -

Unless you count the newspapers, and other non-BBC media outlets in the UK, There's NO debate about the amount of power the BBC has. NO debate. NONE. And nobody gives a shit really about paying for the licence fee.
posted by seanyboy at 3:32 PM on September 1, 2009


I'm always astonished at how whiny exponents of the free market get about anything subsidised by any form of public money. Oh boo fucking hoo, you can't compete with the BBC? How about trying to create something better that will sell? Oh, I see, 'level playing field' actually means 'no competition'?

Fuck off, James Murdoch. And your dad too.
posted by Happy Dave at 4:08 PM on September 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


One of the people I have been interacting with on-and-off since 2005 is Richard Sambrook, Director of the BBC's Global News division, responsible for leading the BBC's international news services across radio, television and new media.

He's a good guy. I most certainly trust him with the world's news, even though I *STILL* complain that part of what hurts today's news is a lack of research, a lack of followup, and far too much emphasis on being accurate, to the point where it robs stories of their deserved emotional impact and clarity.

Ask any reporter who works out in the field... sometimes, there is no such thing as balance on a story. There are those largely in the right, and those overwhelmingly in the wrong. I can only assume that the level of frustration about having to witness harsh realities, only to find them reduced to little more than names and statistics in the journalistic process.

Someone has to be authoritative. Unfortunately, that oftentimes requires a certain degree of consensus on what the reality actually is. Journalism oftentimes functions similarly to a game of telephone, with multiple layers, both within journalism and, oftentimes, where the story originates, such as government or the corporate world.

The government and corporate world spins and selectively reports up the chain from their soldiers and workers, up through the ranks of bureaucracy, each level spinning the truth and playing CYA all along the way... and somehow, the press has to use their own filters to try coming up with the reality of what they were told... or at least a consensus on what can be agreed upon.

Unfortunately, most of the time, the only thing they can reliably report that can be agreed upon is what they were told by the government or by corporations... oftentimes by anonymous sources, for self-serving reasons.

This "reality" clashes, of course, with what reporters inevitably see on the scene. No wonder reporters tend to be bitter / drink so much.

The simple fact is, there is probably no other media source in the UK who is so open to harnessing the power of online journalism as the BBC. Richard Sambrook knows the technology, is on every major social software app out there, he blogs, he lectures on this stuff, he has contributed to college texts on it, etc.

This is hardly an acknowledgement of BBC News being perfect... hardly. But if I had to believe in Sambrook's version of reality or Murdoch's, I would choose Sambrook, with absolutely no reservations, even though he knows very well that I think the Beeb still lets its country down far too often.
posted by markkraft at 7:27 PM on September 1, 2009


If you really want great news that won't mislead you, Britain... the only thing I could advise you is that the BBC -- for all its faults and despite its large budget -- still doesn't do a good job of pursuing leads on stories until they are shown to be true or false. Not only investigative journalism, but also the rather bookish job of centralized organization of evidence, and pursuit of those leads until they hopefully have some degree of fact determined.

Believe it or not, they simply do not have the staff / budget for it, as they do a hell of a lot of other things. Contrary to what Murdoch suggests, the answer to this problem isn't to scrap the imperfect good that you do have.

Truthtelling in journalism is an expensive process. Ultimately, Murdoch's businesses make more money by not telling you the whole truth.
posted by markkraft at 7:36 PM on September 1, 2009


markkraft: I cannot claim to know much about Mr. Sambrook, but I do watch the BBA World News America broadcast most nights, and listen frequently to an hour of BBC World News on on the local public radio station. I do know, that I really hate when news stories are produced in such a way that they tell me what to think and feel about the information being presented. I'm not sure exactly what you meant about stories being robbed of their deserved emotional impact, but what passes for "journalism" in most US sources these days would typically have never passed muster with any news organization worth its salt 30 years ago. It's tabloid, yellow journalism which spends more time dwelling on words such as "shocking", "horrifying", "outrageous" and the like, rather than presenting facts and allowing the viewer to have his or her own feelings about the issue at hand.
posted by hippybear at 8:50 PM on September 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


the painkiller: I've been reading the online edition of Le Monde on a nearly daily basis, and it is consistently better than any other U.S. daily newspaper, save for perhaps the NYT. Same with Le Figaro. There are iPhone apps for both, too.

I can't really believe you're serious here. Have you read the LA Times? They produce some fantastic reportage, and they lack the wacky bias that almost every other newspaper I know of has. And all that aside, I have a hard time seeing any way in which the time, money, effort, and ethical caution which Le Monde puts into their work is at all even approaches what The New York Times does. There have been times when it seemed to me to be one of the most biased newspapers in the world. Most news outlets at least try to hide it; Le Monde likes to have trumpety headlines that are more than slightly questionable.

I'd have to spend time culling through clippings to back that up, but I've been looking at Le Monde as long as I've been spending time in libraries, which is to say for most of my adult life, and it's one of the news outlets that I've been consistently disappointed with. Le Figaro is certainly not as bad, but it's still not exactly the best in the world—aren't they Sarkozy's cheering section? Maybe my impression of French journalism is just completely incorrect, but... hrm.
posted by koeselitz at 3:30 AM on September 2, 2009


Sorry, I see you mentioned the NYT. But I have to say that the LA Times very often has better reporting than the NYT on some things; they're only ignored because they're not the lauded NYT, and because they're (heaven forbid) on the west side of the country.
posted by koeselitz at 3:33 AM on September 2, 2009


If anything, it always seemed to me that news sources on the continent boiled down to one main contender: Deutsche-Welle. Of course, they don't publish a newspaper, so they're right out of comparisons with newspapers.
posted by koeselitz at 3:35 AM on September 2, 2009


Accountability, NewsCorp style: "No worries, Mr Chairman!"
posted by WPW at 6:29 AM on September 2, 2009


"It's tabloid, yellow journalism which spends more time dwelling on words such as "shocking", "horrifying", "outrageous" and the like, rather than presenting facts and allowing the viewer to have his or her own feelings about the issue at hand."

My point is that usually, reporters out in the field and first hand interviews capture the reality much more than a simple presentation of facts.

Reality of war, for instance:

A wartime correspondent shoots video of a crying, screaming mother, whose family has just been killed by a US airstrike. Dead bodies of women and children are seen. This coverage gets downplayed, greatly edited if shown, and rarely translated into English.

News' "reality":
"A Pentagon airstrike targeted a reported insurgent cell today. Eight people were reported killed."

Basically, the facts as presented do not present the facts. The facts are what you can clearly tell happened on the ground level.

Government spokesmen are not facts. As we have seen time and time again, some truely brutal things can happen at the ground level, with each level in the chain-of-command playing CYA, all the way up to the top. This explains why there were many, many incidents where the government initially reported that such-and-such didn't happen, only for convincing evidence to emurge showing that it did.

The fact is, our own leaders don't always know the reality of what they are reporting on, as they are reliant on others telling them the truth. Even if they knew an inconvenient truth, they would still feel compelled to spin it in the best possible manner.
posted by markkraft at 2:43 PM on September 2, 2009


"Public rejects Murdoch view of BBC, says ICM poll:"
An overwhelming majority, 77%, think the BBC is an institution people should be proud of – up from 68% in an equivalent ICM poll carried out five years ago. Most, 63%, also think it provides good value for money – up from 59% in 2004.
posted by grouse at 9:06 AM on September 5, 2009


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