Who is the Shadow Culture Secretary? As Michael Caine might have said, not a lot of people know that. But they should: in a future Tory Government, the holder of this cabinet portfolio will oversee the BBC’s next licence fee settlement in 2012. The name in the frame right now is Jeremy Hunt.
And Jezza is in remarkably coincident harmony with James Murdoch, who has been Beeb bashing recently, as I observed. In a Guardian interview (the full version, including the hint that the Beeb could become a "threat to democracy", is in the printed edition), he talks of the number of Beeb executives earning more than the Prime Minister, and infers that the next licence fee settlement, if the Tories are in power, may be a time to enforce pay cuts on the Corporation. Just how much that kind of action might save, versus the damage done as those who can move elsewhere, is not discussed.
But what Hunt does quote are the numbers: the combined advertising revenue, we are told, of all commercial broadcasters in the UK is less than the BBC’s income. It sounds like an open and shut case. Until, that is, you realise that there are other sources of income available to those players in the commercial market: Sky, mainly through subscriptions, has a total income greater than the BBC.
And that makes the scene rather different: as I said before, Murdoch Junior was effectively urging that his most significant competitor be hobbled (not forgetting that Sky already has a significant stake in ITV), while playing the poor underdog.
So who is driving the policy? What is the quid pro quo with the Murdochs? It can’t all be down to telepathy.