Government Probes Online Growth as BBC Boss Hits Back at Murdoch

26 August 2003

Culture, Media and Sport Secretary Tessa Jowell has appointed former Trinity Mirror ceo Philip Graf to review the BBC’s online activities – currently the target of criticism by commercial internet publishers. He is charged with assessing the impact on the private sector of the corporation’s internet unit BBC Online.

Addressing the Edinburgh Television Festival over the weekend, Jowell said: "Reviews are vital to ensure that promises are kept and that accountability is visible. There will be ample opportunity for everyone to put their case.”

Heading the queue to do just that will be the British Internet Publishers' Alliance, which claims that the BBC has spent more than the £25 million cap imposed on it when the government gave the green light to its internet service. BIPA also claims that the corporation unfairly promotes its websites via its TV and radio channels.

At the government’s ‘request’, the BBC has already filed its defence, which cites the muscle and magnitude of the commercial internet sector. Meantime, many BBC executives and supporters are alarmed at Graf’s appointment as judge and jury, pointing to his time at Trinity Mirror where he approved the spending of some £90m on internet sites, later selling-off its ISP unit ic24 for a mere £4.5m.

• Meantime, the battle of ventriloquists between the BBC and Rupert Murdoch continues. Just as his master’s voice emanated from the lips of BSkyB chief executive Tony Ball in an attack last week on the BBC’s “expansionary ambitions” and use of the licence fee to further that end [WAMN: 25-Aug-03], in like vein did the BBC counter-attack.

BBC director general Greg Dyke did not himself stoop to mix it with a Murdoch minion. Instead he nominated Lorraine Heggessey, controller of the nation’s top-rated TV channel BBC1.

In an interview Monday with UK daily newspaper The Independent, Heggessey was a doughty champion, slamming the global media tycoon as a righ-wing extremist who wants to destabilise the corporation because he “is against everything the BBC stands for”.

“He is a capital imperialist, isn’t he?” she asked rhetorically. “That’s what he does. And all people of his political persuasion in the [United] States are against the public sector.”

Murdoch, said the BBC Boudicca, was driven by a dislike of the public sector. He failed to understand that the British people “have a National Health Service, a public education system” and trust organisations that are there for the benefit of society and not driven by profit.

The BBC is clearly rattled by the unholy alliance between Murdoch’s UK media empire (which accounts for some 35% of all British newspaper readership plus the seven million-home reach of BSkyB) and the Blair administration, whose survival could depend on the tycoon’s support.

The broadcaster has good reason for concern: the BBC’s own relationship with the government is the iciest ever in its 81-year history – due to the dispute over the veracity of the WMD intelligence dossier used to justify Britain’s involvement in the war on Iraq.

Heggessey’s public counter-attack clearly has the support not only of Greg Dyke but also BBC chairman Gavyn Davies. It follows an intensification of anti-BBC rhetoric from the Murdoch camp - music to the ears of a media-savvy government under siege.

Data sourced from: and; additional content by WARC staff