BBC director general, Mark Thompson, today rejected claims made by James Murdoch that the BBC distorts the media market and responded to criticisms levelled at the corporation by Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw..
Thompson told the RTS convention in Cambridge today it couldn’t be a “complete coincidence” that every proposal Murdoch advanced aligned with the economic interests of News Corporation, owner of the Times, Sunday Times, Sun and News of the World newspapers and a major stakeholder in BSkyB.
In a controversial address to the Edinburgh TV Festival last month Murdoch described the British media landscape as “Orwellian” saying that only an unregulated free market could guarantee editorial independence.
He said the British media didn’t reflect Murdoch’s interpretation, mocking his “bipolar” universe of market and state, instead insisting that the BBC represented a third, public space.
Thompson said: “How can that be, James Murdoch asks, when you’re state-sponsored and state-controlled? In James’ universe the Hutton crisis could never have happened – no scandal, no crisis, no inquiry, no resignations. Indeed, in public you’d never be bale to slip a cigarette paper between the BBC and the secretary of state. Yeah, right.”
Thompson drew a distinction between the public service remit of the BBC and the paid-for services supplied by commercial media.
He said: “You can’t buy a better service from the BBC no matter how wealthy you are. And you can’t stop people who are less well off than you enjoying just as good a serviceâ€¦that’s why we will never erect a pay zone around our news.”
Thompson said public support for the licence fee and public service broadcasting was strong and getting stronger as he went on to describe criticisms of the BBC made by the culture secretary, Ben Bradshaw, as “frankly puzzling”.
Bradshaw used his address to the RTS yesterday to say the BBC Trust was not “sustainable in the long term”, that the BBC had “probably has reached the limits of reasonable expansion’ and that its mixture of channels was in danger of creating a “serious imbalance” in the industry.
Thompson admitted the corporation has “faults and failings, and of course there are plenty of them”. but said there was “no evidence” that thel BBC was making commercial broadcasters’ problems worse.
Thompson told the RTS the government has asked the BBC to launch a range of new services to help transition to digital technology, adding: “Ben’s [Bradshaw] surprise at these services is itself surprising.”
Thompson said Bradshaw should address colleagues in the present Cabinet with his criticisms of the Trust as it was invented and enshrined into the BBC charter by them.
He also reiterated the BBC line that top-slicing the licence fee was not the way to fund public service broadcasting outside the corporation and suggested the government think “more imaginatively” about what kind of local and regional public service news it wanted to support.
He said: “Is a replication of the current ITV provision – close to a mirror-image of the BBC service – really what this country needs in a post-switchover world?”