29
Aug
09

A very Murdoch conspiracy

Have you ever encountered an argument that you found deeply profound, but only because it was so utterly removed from reality. Such was my reaction to an opinion piece by James Murdoch (he of News Corp and Rupert’s penis) in today’s Guardian, an excerpt a lecture he gave yesterday at a Guardian Media event in Edinburgh. The subject of Master James’ ire is once again the BBC and Ofcom (PDF of the full text is here).

He begins with reference to Darwin’s Origin of the Species and the theory on evolution, claiming: “These views were an enormous challenge to Victorian religious orthodoxy and remain a provocation to many today. The number who cling to creationism is substantial – and the crop up in surprising places.” True, and they’re largely consumers of the Murdoch News Corp Empire.

The Darwin analogy needs further explaining, because Murdoch makes a piss-poor job of explaining what he’s on about (I had to read the paragraph three times to understand what he meant). Basically, supporters of the BBC are creationists, because they believe in a monolithic media deity created by the state (unlike the media evolutionists who apparantly believe that news outlets are the product of natural genetic mutations).

He writes: “Creationism penalises the poorest with regressive taxes – such as the licence fee.” This is a non-argument as he later extols the benefits of being able to choose to pay for news services. By arguing that we should be able to pay for the news we want, isn’t he effectively saying the poor shouldn’t have access to news they can’t afford.

Master James’ argument can be summed up by “state-sponsered news bad, private enterprise news good”. The trouble is that, in the case of the BBC, he can’t offer any evidence to support this. Instead he gives us silly insults. “The problem with the UK is that it is the Addams family of world media.” Bullshit. If there is an Addams family of world media, then it’s surely the one that has Glenn Beck as a member. Nonetheless, Master James attempts to defend the claim with comparisons elsewhere.

Tolstoy said that all happy families resemble one another, while each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. True, nowhere is completely happy, but there are things to welcome – Germany’s regularity professionalism, India’s growth opportunities, France’s robust defence of intellectual property.

France, now there’s an example. Shortly after coming to power, Sarkozy announced several reforms for France’s national broadcaster, including scrapping revenues received from advertising. One might suspect James would support this. However, Sarkozy’s reasoning is problematic, wanting to recreate the BBC model for France. Of course his true motivation is more likely financial interests in private media organisations, as well as apparent attitude within French political circles that they should be able to control public discourse. I could cite similar unhappiness with the German and Indian media families, but I’m distracting myself.

As for Master James’ difficulties with Ofcom, he sees this as government control over what his TV stations “can and cannot say”. “A recent Ofcom broadcasting bulletin weighed in at 119 pages. Every year, roughly half a million words are devoted to telling broadcasters what they can and cannot say.” Nonsense, of course. Ofcom works only to ensure standards in broadcasting are met, standards with which few reasonable people would disagree. Who wants to hear “nigger” or “paki” when watching Eastenders? Who wants football match to be interrupted by ads every twenty minutes (has happens stateside)? Who want a broadcaster, interested only ratings, exploiting instances of racial bullying on reality television? This is why Ofcom is there I for one am glad of this. James’ problem is purely the restriction place on amount of money he rakes in. “The latest EU-inspired rules on scheduling of advertising numbers of ad breaks permitted in news programming. Television news is already a tough enough business.” Tough shit! All advertising is essentially lying, convincing us that our lives will somehow be improved by product we really don’t need. A body that minimises this as much as possible is welcome in my view.

The BCC has been inexistence for almost a century, and this has hardly prevented quality journalism in Britain from flourishing. Indeed, British television is generally regarded as the best in the world, so you might wonder why James has gotten into such a tizzy lately. It’s not hard to figure out. He wants to continue News Corp’s inability to understand the internet and images the BBC to be a threat to this.

Dumping free, state-sponsored news on the market makes it incredibly difficult for journalism to flourish on the internet. Yet it is essential for the future of independent journalism that a fair price can be charge for news to people who value it.

This is the crux of Murdoch complaint. It’s no secret that News Corp’s newspapers are considering introducing a fee for their online content, which isn’t exactly feasible with the BBC’s website providing first rate news for free. This is nothing more than Rupert’s invisible believe that the internet “must change”. They still think they can place barriers on their website without diverting traffic elsewhere. This is simply hubris. There are plenty of quality news sites other than the BBC. For instance, the Guardian has positioned itself as the primary left-leaning online news source. The point is that newspapers need to adapt to the internet. It’s not going to work the other way round.

Anyway, this has been a long rant. The final thing I want to say is about Master James’ repeated references to “state-sponsored media”, and apparent love for independent news. Can News Corp’s outlets really consider themselves independent? BBC may be a state body, but its editorial independence is beyond question, which is more than can be said for Fox News or The Sun. The independence of News Corp itself can’t be said to be pure, given James’ recent courting of David Cameron. His only concern is profits, which he is not ashamed of because “the only reliable, durable, and perpetual guarantor of independence is profit”. In this age who could actually believe this.

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