Time to take on Rupert Murdoch!
Mark Seddon is the former United Nations Correspondent and New York Bureau Chief for Al-Jazeera English TV. He reported from eighteen countries during that time, including North Korea, China, Haiti, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. He has interviewed, amongst others, Ban Ki-Moon, Lech Walesa, Tony Blair, Hans Blix, Michael Foot, Mia Farrow, and George Clooney. In a journalistic career spanning over twenty years, he has been Editor of Tribune and an elected member of the UK Labour Party's National Executive Committee. He has written for most British newspapers and many magazines, including The Guardian, The Independent, The Daily Mail, The Times, The Spectator, New Statesman, Private Eye, British Journalism Review and Country Life Magazine. For a number of years he was a Diarist at the London Evening Standard, and has also reported for, amongst others, the BBC and Sky TV. He lives in Buckingham, England.
The BBC, Britain’s State broadcaster, finds itself under attack on a broad number of fronts. Over the weekend, it emerged that the Corporation is to make cuts even before it has been asked to make cuts. As such the BBC’s renowned, international website is to be cut by half, and two radio stations are to face the axe. The cynic in me believes that the BBC leaked the information in order to ascertain reaction, particularly from the Conservative Party, and its fiercesome enemies in Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation.
In recent months, the Conservative Party has become a bedfellow of Rupert Murdoch, and in return for the support of his tabloid, The Sun, is also piling on the pressure on the BBC. This more or less mirrors the Faustian pact struck by Tony Blair with Murdoch, when prior to the 1997 General Election, he flew half way around the World to Australia, to promise that Labour would abandon its policy on restricting cross media ownership in return for the support of The Sun and other Murdoch organs.
Should the BBC be uniquely spared from any public expenditure cuts during a recession? No. Should the BBC be allowed to muscle into areas with public money that are the natural preserve of the private sector? On the whole, no. Should BBC Managers and "talent" be paid ludicrous amounts of public money? Absolutely not. The corporation has made a bloody poor fist of itself in recent years, paying silly money to less than average management and lacklustre talent.
The BBC is financed by what is known as the "licence fee". Every person who owns a television must pay it. For that they do get some of the finest programming on the planet, from costume drama to comedy, news to sport, gardening to natural history. The BBC television and radio channels are advertisement free, quite unlike for instance National Public Radio in the USA, which has to break into news reports with a begging bowl.
The BBC World Service is funded directly by the Government through the Foreign Office and this is one of the jewels in the Corporation’s crown. Britain may be a middling country with a fast shrinking economy on the edge of Europe, but the BBC helps the country punch well above its weight. If Murdoch and his pals, or should I say his sons, had their way, the BBC would be reduced to a rump and we really would have a choice of a hundred channels showing crap. Murdoch Junior likes to complain about “market distortions” and carps on about the BBC’s subsidies, but conveniently forgets that since Tony Blair lifted restrictions, News Corporation in Britain not only owns two newspapers, The Times and The Sun but also Sky TV. In common parlance, that’s verging on a monopoly.
The trouble is that all too many BBC Executives are so flabby with their pay outs; they have come over all defensive, and seem to be in the process of hoisting a white flag even before a British General Election.
For the record, the vast majority of people in Britain are happy to pay a licence fee and delighted for the most part at what they get in return. This is always reinforced when Brits go on holiday and see what everyone else is served up. They may not be impressed with the bloated management atop the Corporation, but they would rather have the BBC any day than Rupert Murdoch’s various and infinitely forgettable channels.
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