Sunday, August 30, 2009

James Murdoch: laughable hypocrisy

Murdoch Junior has declared war on the BBC. Shocker.

There is a fine old tactic in politics (and the Murdochs are politicians as much as businessmen): when planning something controversial, accuse your opponents of doing exactly that. Thus:

There is a land grab, pure and simple, going on - and in the interests of a free society it should be sternly resisted. The land grab is spear-headed by the BBC. The scale and scope of its current activities and future ambitions is chilling.
…operating alongside the BBC, without access to its content or cross-promotional power, is not a task for the faint hearted. You need deep pockets, sheer bloody-mindedness and an army of lawyers…
Dumping free, state-sponsored news on the market makes it incredibly difficult for journalism to flourish…
We seem to have decided as a society to let independence and plurality wither. To let the BBC throttle the news market and then get bigger to compensate.

Apart from the “state-sponsored” bit (with its comical insinuation that Gordon Brown is scripting the evening news), this is not far off a description of how News International operates.

Year after year, there is cross-subsidy from the profit-making Sun and News of the World to the loss-making Times and Sunday Times. Market forces would have killed the Times titles long ago, and/or forced their prices up much higher. The deep Murdoch pockets allow the dumping of the Times at an unnaturally low price, in a campaign to throttle the rest of the quality newspaper market.

Then Murdoch gives us this brief comedy routine:

Sixty years ago George Orwell published 1984. Its message is more relevant now than ever. As Orwell foretold, to let the state enjoy a near-monopoly of information is to guarantee manipulation and distortion.

The ZaNuLab Ministry of Truth has clearly been all too effective, for it has tricked the proles into trusting the BBC – and much more than commercial media.

A poll last year asked people which organisations they trusted the most out of the BBC, the NHS, the Church of England, the military, the media in general, the government and big companies. The BBC was ranked in the top two by 50% of people; the media in general by just 14%. And on which were trusted the least, the BBC was ranked in the top two by only 7%, while the media in general got 44%.

News International needs to do down the BBC not because it thinks a purer market would be good for Britain but because the Beeb shows it up – not so much commercially as morally.

Murdoch concludes:

Above all we must have genuine independence in news media. …independence is characterised by the absence of the apparatus of supervision and dependency. Independence of faction, industrial or political. Independence of subsidy, gift and patronage.

The only reliable, durable, and perpetual guarantor of independence is profit.

Laughable hypocrisy. The Murdoch media empire is intensely political, and the editorial lines of its news outlets across the world, along with its business and lobbying practices generally, seek to promote imperial expansion. It is an article of faith on the right that private enterprise is more efficient than publicly funded bodies. When it comes to eroding media diversity and independence, that is spot on.

13 comments:

william said...

"throttle the rest of the quality newspaper market"

um, what quality newspaper market? I'd love it if there was one. The only contenders, guardian and independent, are pathetic echoes of their former selves. And if you don't like cross subsidies, how is the loss-making guardian going to survive?

Yes, Murdoch's comment is worse than tripe, but try and counter it with something approaching an argument.

Tom Freeman said...

Well, I use 'quality' as the common(and of course very debatable) term for what used to be called broadsheets, before the Times, Indy and Graun started shrinking themselves.

I have no objection to subsidisies; as you may have guessed, I'm a BBC fan, and the Beeb doesn't exactly function wholly off its own profits. What I'm objecting to is the disparagement of subsidies by someone whose flagship papers survive on them.

Tom Freeman said...

And I'd add that, while its political and cultural assumptions are often not my cup of tea, I'm glad the Times does survive.

jams o donnell said...

When I heard Murdoch's speech the one thing that sprung to mind was "Mr Pot and Mr Kettle"....

Liam Murray said...

Planning a lengthier response at my place tomorrow but...

"Year after year, there is cross-subsidy from the profit-making Sun and News of the World to the loss-making Times and Sunday Times.."

That's like damning Tesco for subsidising milk with bananas - the simple fact that every punter in their store is there by choice rather than legal mandate (you get my inference) fundamentally changes - i.e. legitimises - the activity.

When the BBC does it it's ethically entirely different...

Tom Freeman said...

"That's like damning Tesco for subsidising milk with bananas"

No, see my first comment above. And the post title.

Liam Murray said...

Dictionary definition:

Sub-si-dy (noun)

1. a direct pecuniary aid furnished by a government to a private industrial undertaking, a charity organization, or the like


The suggestion that a private organisation using funds from a profitable part of their business to support an unprofitable part is the same is, to be kind, bizarre.

Tom Freeman said...

I always think that there should be an equivalent to Godwin's law (the first person to use a Nazi analogy loses the argument) applying to the phrase "dictionary definition". It often signals a techically correct statement that sails majestically past the point.

That said, let me leap into the same trap and quote back at you: 3. a grant or contribution of money.

The fact is that the Times is, in and of itself, not commercially viable. It is propped up by non-Times-related sources of money.

There's nothing wrong with that.

But it shreds Murdoch's argument that private-sector news outlets are so much better because they are responsive to the demands of the market and that they live or die at the hands of their customers. On that count, the Times is a zombie that News International keeps as a prestigious pet.

Liam Murray said...

Fair enough on the dictionary tactic - it's late on a Sunday...

I still think the comparison is unfair. Put simply News International does "live or die at the hands of their customers" - that's a fact, not an opinion. If people stopped spending their own money on it it would cease to exist. Pointing out that certain products or services it offers don't 'live or die' in the same way is a nonsense - it exists as a whole as does any business of scale.

The BBC has guaranteed income and that completely changes the nature of any cross-funding they do - they don't have that front-end, over-arching requirement to deliver for the customer because the funding is there regardless.

At the risk of getting out the dictionary again hypocrisy means doing one thing and saying another, crticising something and doing it yourself. With a bit of tortured semantics & loose definitions you've kind of pointed out a kind of similar thing that Murdoch & Co. do which they're also having a pop at. That's not enough to sustain a hypocrisy charge for me....

Tom Freeman said...

I'll get back to you...

Liam Murray said...

:) - I've been there...

Longer response at my place now...

Tom Freeman said...

OK, I'll comment over on yours once as I've had the time to go over it. Am a bit sluggish today...

Tom Freeman said...

Change of plan. My reply got a bit too long, so I've posted it here.