Sunday, 4 July 2010

On-line news - the BBC is the problem not Murdoch


There has been some debate about News International’s decision to put the new content of The Times behind a pay wall – to make us pay for “quality journalism” as dear old Rupert put it. Most of the views have tended to go something like this:

“It’s not going to work because we’ll get our news on-line from somewhere else. Doesn’t Murdoch realise that times have moved on. Duh!”

Or like this…

“We hate Rupert Murdoch and hope that his initiative fails so we finally get the chance to point our fingers at him, laugh and chant, ‘fail, fail, loser, loser’.”

I don’t know whether or not Murdoch’s decision will work but I’ve a suspicion that those clever online ‘experts’ will be shown up in the fullness of time. After all, journalism – quality or otherwise – has to be paid for somehow. It really is a simple as that and we should be asking how long The Guardian can be bailed out by the Scott Trust, whether the Telegraph’s ‘reader offer’ strategy will bring in the income and how many other newspapers will put their copy behind a pay wall over the next few years.

And then there’s the BBC. At present the BBC’s news is available free on-line (or rather ‘paid by the license fee’ online) and this undoubtedly acts as a malign drag on the development of an effective, sustainable on-line supply of information. So long as the BBC’s journalism is paid for by a poll tax on the populace, making us pay for news content on-line will present a challenge.

Murdoch’s criticisms of the BBC’s market-making activities and cross-subsidising of news on-line through are valid and we should pay more attention to them if we are interested in sustaining a free press. It’s hard not to agree with this from James Murdoch:

“The corporation is incapable of distinguishing between what is good for it, and what is good for the country. Funded by a hypothecated tax, the BBC feels empowered to offer something for everyone, even in areas well served by the market.”

It is the last part of Murdoch’s observation that should exercise us when thinking about on-line news. At present the BBC’s actions are preventing the development of a market by, in effect, forcing competing news providers to continue distributing their on-line content free. Again young Jimmy nailed it:

“Dumping free, state-sponsored news on the market makes it incredibly difficult for journalism to flourish on the Internet. Yet it is essential for the future of independent journalism that a fair price can be charged for news to people who value it. We seem to have decided to let independence and plurality wither. To let the BBC throttle the news market, and get bigger to compensate."

I hope The Times succeeds behind its paywall – it certainly deserves to for have the bravery to say that the emperor has no clothes and that if we want good journalism we have to pay for it.



Kelvin said...

"market-making activities and cross-subsidising" - hmm, I wonder if Murdoch's companies ever offer each other free publicity, or subsidize each other in any way, or campaign for change in market regulation to benefit each other.

It is important that there are many different media voices and channels, and I can see how the current arrangements for BBC and C4 could be seen as limiting the possibilities here, but make no mistake, Murdoch is after the largest possible share for his own companies. He is after what is good for those companies, not what is "good for the country".

Anonymous said...

Ever notice how much sky news quotes the Sun, and interviews Journos from the times - they are the worst at trying to feather their own nest.
The BBC and the measily £10 a month TV license means that all the for profit (and tory) news medias have to be better.
Mucdoch can feck off - long live the BBC - and the BBC should stop caving in to rightwing fascists who try to stop it providing services. Everything on the iplayer - forever. Local news to kill Johnson. No paywall to kill murdoch - and a dominant worlwide trusted brand - for Britain. The global media brands that matter - BBC, CNN Al Jazeera. Murdoch wants the whole world to be Fox news - no no no

Anonymous said...

If £10 a month is so "measily" [sic] perhaps you wouldn't mind paying mine as well? Throwing away all the TV licensing letters week after week is a bit of a pain...

Anonymous said...

Actually, back when the licence 'fee' was £120 a month, there was at least a slight chance of some objectivity still being maintained by the last vestiges of voluntary professionalism at least, until the full desire of events to be interpreted at every turn kicked in, apparently to enhance a narrative to a population clearly not responding in ways to issues 'some' feel necessary. No connection with empathy for the aims and desires of the governing entity over the last 13 years to control all thought and deed via the state, one is sure.

I simply wonder why I have zero right to opt out of the enforced imposition of a service fee merely to enjoy receipt of a broadcast signal, with the opportunity to effect change via democratic means denied me on how my 'news' has been presented since its inception, and when even the person representing me in Parliament has to seek my endorsement every few years.

This is not, as Aunty and her groupies portray it, 'unique'; it's hypocritical, anachronistic, totalitarian and regressive.

I do care about the monetary imposition, but more about the effect of a select group having access to an audience of 60m, seemingly without adequate checks, in the name and minds of some, it seems, of 'countering Rupert Murdoch'.

That is not 'balance'; nor should it be the BBC's remit. Though it would appear that is what it has become, with some happy it serves that role. Without seeing the irony of placing it as already there when it comes to Charter obligations.

Many thriving democracies, enjoying full freedom of speech, do not seem to feel the need for such a buffer.

In this day and age, I fail to see why the UK remains so in need of being thus 'guided'. Especially by a bevvy of civil service market rate talents paid multiples of hundreds of thousands over and above the PM.

Anonymous said...

Anon @9 July 2010 13:59

The BBC licence fee is "measly" only because so many are forced to subsidize the BBC, regardless of whether they want it or use it or like it.

I enjoy a bit of Sky Movies occasionally, so perhaps you wouldn't mind chipping in as well old bean? What's that? Thought not...

What is really depressing is the plethora of so many stupid people making comments like the BBC being 'envy of the world', 'very good value for money', ad bloody nauseum.