Man Without Qualities

Monday, August 25, 2003

Rollicking Good News From Merry Old England

Rupert Murdoch seems to have driven Lorraine Heggessey, the head of the BBC, completely bonkers - judging by her comments to The Independent, including her assertion that the media billionaire is a "capital imperialist" who wants to destabilise the BBC because he "is against everything the BBC stands for." That seems to be Ms. Heggessey's way of criticizing Mr. Murdoch for believing in the virtue and social benefits of private enterprise and that a public corporation that says it is entitled to public financing because it has a special duty to present the news truthfully and objectively actually attempt to present the news truthfully and objectively or lose its public financing. She goes on to explain that he does not understand that the British people "have a National Health Service, a public education system" and trust organizations that are there for the benefit of society and not driven by profit. It appears that Ms. Heggessey is an antidisestablishmentarian.

But the best news is that the BBC head and others are really concerned that the Labour government may actually soon end the television tax that subsidizes the BBC.

Of particular charm are the goading suggestions from others in her industry that seem designed to help her around the bend:

Her comments come in the wake of a speech to the country's senior broadcasting executives by Tony Ball, chief executive of British Sky Broadcasting, in which Mr Murdoch's News Corporation is the major shareholder.

Mr Ball told the Edinburgh International Television Festival last week that the BBC ought to be forced to sell its most successful programmes, such as EastEnders, Casualty and Have I Got News For You to its commercial rivals, who would screen all future episodes instead. The money raised by such sales should then be ploughed into experimental programming, he said.

Executives at the BBC and elsewhere see the plan as a Murdoch-inspired attempt to cripple the corporation by depriving it of its most popular shows - and the large audiences that go with them.

Mr Ball told a questioner at the festival that it "would not be such a disaster" if the BBC were eventually to become a marginal broadcaster.

But Ms Heggessey retorted: "It wouldn't be such a disaster for Sky because he hopes that the less successful we become, the more people will subscribe to Sky. It would be a disaster for the BBC." .... I would suspect that everybody who works for Rupert Murdoch knows what he expects of them and they know that if they don't deliver they will be booted out," said Ms Heggessey. Newspaper readers "know when they are being peddled a line," she added.

In his speech, Mr Ball proposed two further restrictions to be placed on the BBC, which he argued would prevent the corporation it from straying too far into territory he regards as the sole domain of commercial broadcasters such as his own.

The BBC should be banned from buying any foreign-made material, he said. This would prevent the BBC from pushing up the price of American sitcoms, Hollywood movies and Australian soap operas, the staples of many commercial channels. "I really cannot see why public money is being diverted to those poor struggling Hollywood studios," he said.

MORE: The Wall Street Jounal notes:

In e-mails that surfaced last week (and which had been withheld by the BBC), Mr. Gilligan provided two members of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee investigating the dossier with background information on Mr. Kelly, and gave leading questions for them to ask the scientist. Hardly appropriate behavior for a supposedly objective reporter.

Mr. Gilligan, of course, is the BBC reporter who produced the now-discredited reports that the Blair government had "sexed up" Iraq intelligence dossier by now-deceased analyst David Kelly, who was not a senior intelligence officer, as claimed by the BBC; nor was he involved in drafting the dossier, as implied by the BBC.

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