for diverse, democratic and accountable media
Families should be together at Christmas. That’s the simple message we should take from the merry noises emanating from Rupert Murdoch’s London apartment where, on Monday night, David Cameron, George Osborne, Rebekah Brooks and a slew of top News Corp personnel joined the mogul in capping off what has been a pretty decent year for him. After all, this was the year in which authorities in both the UK and the US dropped all remaining charges against News Corp and in which Sky, effectively controlled by Murdoch, posted record profits of nearly £1.2 billion. Four years after his annus horriblis of 2011, Murdoch has felt confident enough to restore Brooks, the former Sun editor, to the centre of his UK newspaper operations, has seen his family’s wealth double and has seen his titles contribute to the return of David Cameron and the Tories to Downing Street. Phone hacking, it appears, is simply old news.
Who would have expected that one of the central debates about the future of the BBC would not be about its pro-business news coverage, its financial mismanagement or its alleged cover-up of the Jimmy Savile scandal but about whether it should show Strictly on a Saturday night?
This week’s Green Paper on BBC Charter Review signals the latest stage of a scuffle between the government and the Corporation (and perhaps even between the government and BBC audiences) about how big, independent and accountable the Corporation should be in the forthcoming period. Dressed up as a sober debate about the purposes, scale and scope of the BBC, the Green Paper consists of a series of proposals that, while drafted in Whitehall, could easily have been conceived in Dacre Towers, the home of the Daily Mail. It is effectively payback for the support given to the Tories by press barons during the recent general election.
Culture secretary John Whittingdale insists that he is ‘committed both to the future of the BBC and to its underlying Reithian mission’ (p3) except that in the very next paragraph he goes on to question the relevance in a digital age of the principle of ‘universality’, one of the foundational principles of Reithian public service broadcasting. Instead of encouraging the BBC to reach out across all platforms and to serve all audiences, the starting point of the Green Paper is that the BBC’s very success is now its problem.
Heading into the 1992 election, polls pointed towards a hung parliament. The Sun turned up the heat on election day with a front page asking that: ‘If Kinnock [the then Labour leader] wins today will the last person to leave Britain please turn out the lights.’ The Tories duly won the election with 42% of the popular vote leading Britain’s best-selling title to boast ‘It’s the Sun Wot Won It’.
New research shows that a vast majority of people think media moguls are far too powerful.