BBC Boss Slams Sky and Other Rival News Services

12 July 2007

LONDON: Addressing the Westminster Media Forum in response to the UK government's Green Paper on broadcasting, BBC director general Mark Thompson slammed the quality of rival broadcasters' news coverage.

Market failure in the supply of quality news and current affairs is growing," said Thompson, citing BSkyB's recent removal of Sky News from Virgin Media's cable network.

And those in his audience who enjoy acid analogies will have relished Thompson's reference to a recent episode of the BBC's cult scifi series Doctor Who in which all the television in the galaxy is controlled by a single gigantic slug in a space station.

While conceding that "the Green Paper gets a lot more right than wrong", Thompson evangelized for continuation of the BBC's public funding beyond the next five years.

He pointed to "yawning gaps" in commercial broadcasters' programming, asserting: "It is through those gaps that much of our talent and nearly all of our production base would fall."

Every UK independent comedy producer "would go bust" without the patronage of BBC and Channel 4, Thompson claimed.

He also pointed to a "crisis" in newsgathering, as the world's broadcasters and newspapers axed foreign staff and investigative journalism budgets. "Take away the BBC and you will take away much of the coverage - it's as simple as that."

He rejected rivals' demands that the BBC close many of its existing services, although conceding that it "needs to become smaller [with] fewer, better hours of TV and radio and fewer, better web pages".

Concluded Thompson: "The public ... tell us that they don't want a BBC which is set in aspic. They want it to focus on its classic values but they also want it to adapt and change in the light of the new digital opportunities.

"The Green Paper is very good at capturing this combination of continuity and change. It foresees a BBC which is more focused and more effectively governed, but which remains a creative agenda-setter, a leader.

"I believe that that is the BBC which the British public want to see over the next ten years. It's the BBC we want to create."

Data sourced from multiple origins; additional content by WARC staff