Previously, I’d wondered whether Rupe’s decision to charge for online content was a bluff, or the first sign of desperation. The answer has not been long coming: last night’s MacTaggart Lecture at the MediaGuardian Edinburgh International Television Festival, given by Rupe’s son and apparent heir James Murdoch twenty years after Dad gave it, was described as “hard hitting”, but in reality was mean spirited name calling, delivered in the name of “competition” and against “regulation”.
And the target of much of the name calling was, as ever, the BBC. Little Jimmy says that the Beeb is “state sponsored”, which is meant to infer that it is a Government mouthpiece, when, as Alastair Campbell will be all too ready to confirm, it is an independent corporation – that status having the force of law behind it. Young Murdoch is spouting pejorative drivel, and anyone doubting that need go no further than his assessment of the Beeb’s ambition: “chilling”.
Well, to entertain, educate and inform is certainly “chilling” to a major multinational media organisation used to inflicting screamingly reactionary tat such as Fox News (fair and balanced my arse) on its target audience. But otherwise, this is straightforward playground behaviour: take a term that accurately describes your own organisation and ambition, and attempt to dump it on an opponent: “No, that’s you”.
Little Jimmy is also peeved about the amount of regulation faced by Rupe’s empire in the UK. No doubt he’d like that scaled back, just as he wants to see the BBC treated, but even those prepared to either cheerlead for News International (or, equally bad, keep quiet) know that deregulation of the broadcast media will allow the Murdochs to inflict the values of Fox News – or the lack of them – on the UK public. After all, Rupe’s gone on record as saying that the Fox style of presentation would be much more commercially rewarding than that of Sky News.
And if that dumbs everything down into right-wing bigotry, misinformation and direct use of dishonesty, Rupe and Junior won’t be too fussed. They’ll have their money.
In the meantime, expect politicians and editors to think long and hard about whether they really want to go down the Murdoch road, or whether this reaction to the current financial climate might be misplaced.