Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Cable vs. Murdoch - a political vendetta?

Vince Cable, the Business Secretary of the new Lib/Con coalition, has "declared war on Rupert Murdoch."

Regarding the media mogul's plans to become a majority shareholder in BSkyB, Cable has announced that he personally intends to use whatever means necessary – including his pull in parliament – to block the takeover.

He intends to prevent Murdoch from becoming an "unrivalled power in the UK media market, with a dominant position in newspapers and full ownership of a pay TV company set for annual pre-tax profits of over £1bn next year."

And he is, quite frankly, talking out of his backside.

I mean, it's all very well for Cable to complain that "the proposed takeover of BSkyB increases the dominance of News Corporation and reduces the plurality of news sources" - yet that ignores the fact that there's already a media monopoly in the United Kingdom that does exactly that – it's called the BBC.

Every television owner in the United Kingdom is currently legally required to pay a license fee that funds the good old British Broadcasting Corporation – which delivers abundantly funded television, radio and DAB services that put any commercial competition at a serious disadvantage (I know this, because I worked in UK commercial radio for a number of years.)

When Cable argues that "allowing such a dominant force to be created increases the likelihood of the market being distorted" he blithely ignores the fact that the UK media market is already distorted.

One can't honestly buy his claim that Murdoch's media empire will damage the competition when the primary competition is a nationalized media empire that racked up 916 million pounds in sales last year (that's almost a billion quid – similar to the profits of BSkyB) – above and beyond the 3.5 billion pounds the BBC already 'earns' through license fees.

Don't get me wrong – I'm not knocking the BBC. I love programs like Top Gear and Doctor Who and one of the reasons I cancelled my cable subscription in America is because we didn't get BBC America.

However, when it comes to the business of a 'free market' in the British media, we need to admit that it's not figures like Rupert Murdoch who are creating problems. The reason so many UK media groups are disappearing off the map is because the BBC is driving them out of business.

Just look at local radio – how can a commercial station compete with a local BBC station, which doesn't need to worry about raising money through selling advertising? The fact is – it can't. That's why more and more stations are being swallowed up by regional networks – run on a shoestring with networked content in an effort to remain profitable.

As long as the BBC exists, we'll never have a truly 'free market' media system in the UK – so arguments that Rupert Murdoch's plans will 'distort it' are transparently hypocritical. In fact, News Corporation may even bring some balance – a different voice and a different point of view that finally has the clout to stand up against the increasingly politicized BBC.

But what really gets me about Cable's crusade is just how cynical it is. He's made no secret of the fact that he's pursuing a personal vendetta against Murdoch, which somewhat rankles with his assertions that terminating the takeover would be for the 'public good.'

Oh, I'll admit that if Ofcom and Cable do scupper Murdoch's plans, it might be good news for the media minnows who swim in the BBC's wake: but let's not pretend for a moment that those commercial enterprises – staffed by some of the most dedicated, talented and committed people I've ever worked with – are toiling in a 'free market.'

They exist as nothing more than a political indulgence – and Cable's undemocratic actions make their position even more precarious than it was already.

I'm not complaining because I support Rupert Murdoch. I'm complaining because I think Cable's words and actions are a massive abuse of power by a politician with an axe to grind.

If you disagree with me - fine - but just remember this:

It's all very well to cheer when a 'bad guy' like Murdoch gets his wings clipped by a monomaniacal Member of Parliament – but what happens when the next media company that he 'puts in its place' is the one that speaks for you?


Lloydie said...

Oooh Roland, you've got me agreeing and then disagreeing on alternate paragraphs. I can't post all I think here for a variety of dull reasons, but aside from Vince's vanity and desire to impress a young lady, the issue for me isn't the competition between broadcasters. The biggie is the competition between newspapers. Murdoch will be able to bundle his Sun and Times titles with Sky and sell them together, thus helping to strangle the other newspaper groups who are unable to do the same. That's a real threat to press plurality of ownership. Ironically, the Telegraph were guilty of the entrapment of Cable, and it's their inability to brief their journalist properly about what to ask that has enabled them to shoot their business in the foot so dramatically.

Count said...

Apparantly in Ted Turner's will there is a clause that runs along the lines of 'Whatever you do, don't let that bastard Murdoch get hold of it'


Jason said...

You hit on a lot of great points Roland.
TV license, that is just plain funny to me for some reason. Then I think about all the taxes I pay and some would be funny to my brothers in the UK.
Your thoughts could/should be applied to the thirty year cycle of strong consolidation of the US media. Who does this benefit? The few rather than the many. Who are the few? Not you and I that's for sure.
Still trying to figure out Murdoch. I will always have an infinity for anything Australian but still the jury is out.
Local blogs like this will be the media of the future. This is my hope anyway as many people now seem to be paying attention a bit more.
Stay Jersey Strong.
Wishing you and the family all the best Roland!
Enjoy the holidays and Merry Christmas.