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Just what do we mean by ‘media plurality’?

July 11th, 2011 Posted in BBC, Culture by

LV has already posted on the quite unbelievable News of the World (1843-2011) closure. It goes without saying that I also found the paper’s phone hacking activities to be abhorrent and beneath contempt. I won’t mourn its passing.

Notwithstanding what has already been said here and elsewhere, I feel that most of the wall-to-wall coverage has been motivated as much out of moral revulsion over the latest allegations as just another opportunity to berate the evil omnipotent figure of Rupert Murdoch for what he is and what he stands for. To borrow a phrase from the Labour frontbench on the nature of government cuts, it’s ideologically driven.

Take for instance Lord Puttnam’s article yesterday in The Observer. The Labour peer believes that Murdoch has become too powerful to the extent our harming our democracy and should be prevented from creating a “licensed monopoly” through completion of the BSkyB deal. Is Murdoch’s empire really that much of a colossus compared to its rivals?

In one respect, it is. Puttnam draws attention to the disparity of income between Sky and the BBC: “In 1997, BSkyB had revenues of £1.72bn, or 63% of the then BBC licence fee income. In the most recent year for which accurate figures are available, Sky’s turnover was £5.9bn or 163% that of the BBC.”

It should be remembered that the total income of the BBC is of course much more than that raised by the license fee alone, standing at £4.79bn according to recent figures.

However, what Puttnam neglected to mention is that the BBC’s income is assured vis-à-vis the license fee (translation: a de-facto universal and inegalitarian tax) whereas Sky’s income is not (subscriptions will doubtless be affected by squeezes on household income or any future reduction in TV advertising by firms).

Please don’t read this as some Mailygraph style rant against the Beeb. Unlike Charles Moore who dedicated his weekly Spectator Diary column as a crusade against the BBC, this will be the last time I post about it. That’s a promise. I value a great deal of the BBC’s output but it is the element of compulsion I’m uneasy with: if you want a telly, you’ve got to pay your TV license or face prosecution. Conversely, nobody is compelled into buying a Sky subscription package.

Moreover, if one compares another set of figures relating to total news consumption, the BBC is dominant by a country mile – 39.3% compared to the 22% combined figure for News Corp and Sky.

So who’s the most powerful and influential now, eh? Is the BBC not a threat to plurality?

If Lord Puttnam is so concerned with licensed monopolies and plurality, why is he not calling for the break-up of the BBC? If he’s so concerned about the “Stasi activities” on behalf of the NOTW, then he should also attack Google (so far, he’s only whinged about them not paying tax). I find it hard to believe that News International have been afforded the same level of government contact as Google has had in recent times.

Or, is this just another case of a politician obsessing about Murdoch’s apparent supernatural powers of political puppetry, influencing the masses to vote accordingly? Labour still can’t be smarting from The Sun’s infamous 1992 front page (not to mention their most recent political defection away from their party), surely? Murdoch backs winners. It is that simple. The only party that hasn’t demeaned themselves by Murdoch derriére-licking has been the Liberal Democrats. Hello self-righteous moral highground, we’ve missed you!

For many like Lord Puttnam, ‘media plurality’ simply means the retention, if not extension, of the BBC monopoly coupled with the ostracism and marginalisation of any news medium that does not conform to their worldview.

2 Responses to “Just what do we mean by ‘media plurality’?”

  1. Jack Hughes Says:

    Puttnam is wrong: it’s the BBC that is a threat to democracy.

    Nobody can disagree that it has a relentlessly left-wing slant to almost every subject. Some claim that this leftist bias is “needed” to balance the more right-wing outlook of much of the press.

    If call-me-Dave had any conservative views and had any balls then he would split the BBC up and sell it off. Instead he is frightened of them and seems to design his policies to appeal to the BBC canteen.

  2. Richard Davidson Says:

    No. The BBC is a public service. You can attack its (percieved) bias because it shouldn’t have any (and no evidence can really be found for this). What Banking Crisis and NI fall out proves is that this bullying market logic of pure markets is a fiction and we should stand up for public owned institutions.