Since the beginning of April this year, Ofcom has had regulatory responsibility for the BBC, superseding the BBC Trust. This followed a series of what were classified failings by those shouting loudly enough, which usually means the Tories and their pals in the right-leaning part of the Fourth Estate, all of whom dislike any organisation which declines to serve the news up in a way that meets with their approval.
Sadly for The Blue Team, merely subjecting the hated Beeb regulation by Ofcom was not enough. There had to be more, although what exactly that means was not at first told. But then came the bid by the Murdoch mafiosi for the 61% of Sky that they do not yet own, and thus a superb opportunity for culture secretary Karen Bradley to be proactive - and get Ofcom to look over there at the BBC, instead of noticing all the Murdoch misbehaviour.
And so it came to pass that Ms Bradley issued a stern missive to Ofcom. She was concerned! “While a number of existing BBC Trust quotas for radio have been retained in the draft operating licence, there are some significant omissions … In my view some of the most critical aspects of our Charter reforms seem to have been left to retrospective review … The government reached very clear policy conclusions and the Charter sets out a new vision for the BBC which requires them to be more distinctive, more collaborative and more diverse”. Her conclusion was short but to the point.
“I would be grateful for a response which clarifies your position and the rationale for these decisions in the operating framework, and confirms Ofcom’s continued commitment to hold the BBC to account and deliver the government’s ambitions and expectations for the BBC”. The letter, though, had to be made public. And others immediately smelt a rat.
For Labour, Tom Watson also smelt interference, and observed “For a secretary of state to try to influence Ofcom in such a heavy-handed way is a serious mistake. I hope Karen Bradley will realise, on reflection, that she should let Ofcom get on with its job and get on with her own”. An unstated Murdoch Sky bid hint there.
And as the Guardian has noted, “The minister’s letter drew a firm response from the chair of Ofcom, Dame Patricia Hodgson, who said in a reply to Bradley that it was important that the regulator was ‘transparently independent’”. After all, there was plenty to occupy Ofcom on the Sky front, much of which was happening Stateside.
The source of the disquiet, to no surprise at all, is Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse), which has generated such recent headlines as “A former guest who appeared regularly on the Fox News channel says a senior producer solicited sex in exchange for a paid job at the network” and “Per Fox News Spokesperson, Eric Bolling has been suspended. An investigation will be conducted by law firm Paul Weiss”.
Bolling was accused of sending “lewd messages” to women colleagues. The channel is also accused of being behind illegal eavesdropping. Also, Karen Bradley doesn’t seem to want to ask the Murdochs whether it’s son James’ more enlightened approach that will rule over a 100% Murdoch Sky, or Rupert’s two-fingers-up-to-critics one.
But she does want to stick her nose in on the BBC. Priorities, priorities.