Murdoch Junior Slams BBC

01 December 2006

LONDON: Nostalgic greybeards at Ofcom's Communications and Convergence conference on Thursday were reminded of legendary US ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his puppet Charlie McCarthy - memories evoked by James Murdoch, younger son of Rupert and ceo of UK satellite monopoly BSkyB, as he enthusiastically tongue-lashed Pop's hate-figure, the BBC.

Among many swipes at the BBC, Murdoch minor homed-in on its internet business model, which he described as "verging on megalomania". He also delivered a rah-rah for reduced regulation and a free market. Neither, he opined, currently extant in the UK media industry.

"The triumph of the free market surely indicates that broadcasting should be more like other industries. In recent years, the direction has been absolutely clear: the private sector does more and the state does less.

"Not in the case of broadcasting, at least in the UK. Indeed, the UK's main state broadcasting agency, the BBC, famously fantasizes about creating a 'British Google' - and wants the taxpayer to fund it. This is not public service; it's megalomania"

And as one attendee commented sotto voce, who better qualified to recognise the symptoms of megalomania than a member of the Murdoch family?

Meantime, Murdoch's anti-BBC tirade continued. "From the very start UK broadcasting regulation was skewed. Not to protect people against real harm, but to ensure that broadcasting was a sort of moral and educative crusade."

James then redirected his fire at UK regulation in general, telling delegates that too much regulation results in a reduction in human freedom, a corrosion of enterprise - and all at a huge cost, estimated in the UK at around 10% to 12% of GDP.

Statistically minded listeners were not enlightened as to the source of this estimate.

Then in best Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy tradition, Murdoch ended his act with a carefully crafted gag at his host's expense.

He recalled how he once visited Ofcom's offices and seen all the desks to be empty. "[My host] apologetically explained that the staff were all on an away day, and he could see my disappointment when I realised that it wasn't permanent.

"A regulator with empty desks and silent computers - now there's a thought."

And we all thought Charlie was joking!

Data sourced from Financial Times Online; additional content by WARC staff