James Murdoch attacks ‘state-sponsored’ BBC

London, Aug 29 (Inditop.com) News Corporation Chairman James Murdoch has hit out at the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), describing it as a “state-sponsored” media house that is out to throttle the free market in news from licence fees.

“There is a land grab going on – and it should be sternly resisted. The land grab is spearheaded by the BBC. The scope of its activities and ambitions is chilling,” Murdoch said at a lecture in Edinburgh Friday.

“We seem to have decided to let independence and plurality wither – to let the BBC throttle the news market, and get bigger to compensate.”

Murdoch’s views echoed long-standing commercial media criticism of the BBC, which is funded by a compulsory annual licence fee of 142.50 pounds for colour television and 48 pounds for black-and-white that all British households with a TV set have to pay.

The BBC is accused of squandering the licence fees to try and compete with private sector rivals instead of focusing on the duties of a public sector broadcaster.

“We have a system in which state-sponsored media – the BBC in particular – grow ever more dominant. If we are to have that state sponsorship at all, then it is fundamental to the health of the creative industries, independent production and professional journalism that it exists on a far, far smaller scale,” Murdoch said.

According the BBC’s 2008-2009 annual report, the corporation earned a massive 3.3 billion pounds from licence fees, with another 719 million pounds coming from its commercial business, 283 million pounds from government bonds and 42 million pounds from other activities such as content provision to overseas broadcasters.

BBC Chairman Michael Lyon said that the licence fee system meant that it “has no choice but to serve all audiences, but that doesn’t mean that it can or should seek to squeeze out other providers”.

“We have to be careful not to reduce the whole of broadcasting to some simple economic transactions. The BBC’s public purposes stress the importance of the well-tested principles of educating and informing and an impartial contribution to debate.”

Murdoch contrasted the “unhappy” British media industry with “Germany’s regulatory professionalism, India’s growth opportunities, France’s robust defence of intellectual property”.