October 24, 2003

Rupert vs. the BBC -- The 'Foxification' of Britain

It's the Media, Stupid.

Dame Anita Roddick: "The attacks on the BBC by Tony Blair and his government, joinging forces with Rupert Murdoch and his executives at BSkyB, must be viewed in the context of what's already become a fait accompli in the United States -- the diminution of public space, especially public broadcasting space, by the ever more powerful forces of privatization. "


Published on Thursday, October 23, 2003 by
Rupert vs. the BBC -- The 'Foxification' of Britain
by Dame Anita Roddick

LONDON, October 23, 2003 -- If you live any decent
amount of time in the USA, as I do, broadcast media
will drive you nuts. So it's been fascinating watching
what has been going on in our media over the past few
months. The attacks on the BBC by Tony Blair and his
government, joinging forces with Rupert Murdoch and
his executives at BSkyB, must be viewed in the context
of what's already become a fait accompli in the United
States -- the diminution of public space, especially
public broadcasting space, by the ever more powerful
forces of privatization.

The effort in America dates back more than a decade,
with attacks on the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS)
as a 'left-wing' network; with US$300 million in
appropriations from Congress being held up by
then-Senator Robert Dole; and with carefully
co-ordinated conservative ad hominem blasts against
such supposedly 'left-wing presences' on public
television as Bill Moyers, David Fanning (who produces
the pre-eminent documentary strand "Frontline,") and
Rory O'Connor and Danny Schechter of Globalvision, and
their purportedly 'hard-line Marxist' human rights
series "South Africa Now" and "Rights and Wrongs."

Eventually the Republican-controlled House of
Representatives, led by then-Speaker Newt Gingrich,
went so far as to attempt to get rid of PBS entirely.
Although the Gingrich effort failed to destroy public
broadcasting, it was left weakened and more vulnerable
than ever -- dependent on an increasingly polarized
Congress for funding, and prone to staving off
extinction and striving for more 'balance' by funding
explicitly conservative programmes, producers and

Here in Britain, of course, the BBC has one great
advantage over PBS in America -- the freedom from such
political pressure that is afforded by the annual
license fee that TV owners pay to fund BBC
programming. This ensures that the Beeb is far less
vulnerable to political pressures than PBS, which must
get its appropriations approved every year from

The BBC is supported instead by an annual tax of 116
(US$195) paid by every British household that owns one
or more televisions. The tax raises as much as $4.2
billion for the BBC every year and nobody in
government can reapportion it or redistribute it. Thus
the BBC, unlike every other public-broadcasting system
in the world, is not only well funded but also well
protected from politicians.


Every ten years, though, there's a charter review in
which the budget and performance of the BBC is
re-assessed. The next one is in 2006 and as the BBC is
one of the most influential institutions in British
life, the upcoming review will be one of the nation's
most profound political battles. As media maven
Michael Wolff puts it, it's all "about getting a piece
of the pie. Or at least it's a fight about Murdoch's
piece of the pie."

Not surprisingly, then, Rupert Murdoch and his
political cronies have begun to lay the groundwork for
an all-out assault on the BBC and the annual fee.
While they will probably not be able to eliminate it,
their endless attacks, slanted polls, and political
pressuring may well result in a lessening of the
amount the BBC gets annually, thus weakening the BEEB
as a 'public' competitor to all private interests, but
especially to the multi-channel Murdochian news and
entertainment network BSkyB.

All this must be viewed through the prism of what
otherwise appears the oddest of couplings: Rupert and
Tony Blair. Blair first became Prime Minister owing in
large measure to the endorsements of the traditionally
right wing Murdoch press. It now seems apparent that
Blair made a devilish pact years ago to garner
Murdoch's support, despite their obvious political
differences, and Murdoch is now collecting his payback
on the instalment plan.

Couple this scenario with the BBC's controversial Iraq
War reporting, the drama over reporter Andrew
Gilligan's accusation that the Blair government "sexed
up" the WMD dossier, (which led, in turn, to the
suicide of weapons expert and BBC source David Kelly,)
and the Blair government's resultant assault on the
BBC -- and the interests of Blair, Murdoch and the
American right-wing can be seen to merge.

Part of the Blair animosity toward the BBC is that he
is in partnership with Murdoch, and this is in part
Murdoch's war with the BBC.

Thus Blair and his then-mouthpiece Alastair Campbell
went to war against the BBC with two aims: one, to
distract attention from whether the nation and the
world was deceived on the road to war against Saddam;
the other to soften up the BBC for Rupert down the
line, and reduce British broadcasting to what one
Labour Party renegade, Claire Short, has termed "the
sort of commercially dominated, biased news reporting
that controls the US airwaves."


Announcing the formation of a charter advisory panel,
Tessa Jowell, Labour's culture secretary, recently
announced that everything was up for grabs, including
how the BBC "should be funded and regulated and
whether it delivers good value for money."

And Gerald Kaufman, the Labour member of Parliament
who, as chairman of the Commons committee on culture
and the media, has emerged as one of the BBC's most
vocal opponents, was even more blunt. "The BBC is no
longer relied on in the way it was," claimed Kaufman.
"It's placed itself in a situation where its word
isn't accepted automatically anymore. It's gone from
being an institution to just another broadcaster, and
a shoddy one at that."

Add to all this the next salvo -- Murdoch crony Tony
Ball's recent claims that growing public antagonism is
the real threat to the BBC's future. Citing his own
poll, Ball claimed that more than half of all Brits
don't think they are getting their money's worth from
the license fee (or 'unfair tax' as Ball terms it,)
that money spent by the BBC is 'money coerced,' and so

Ball posits that "today, television is much more
democratic," and that "anyone can launch a TV
channel." And he adds that the forthcoming BBC charter
review provides an opportunity to start "from first
principles." In other words, let's throw out the past
and re-examine from scratch, a highly dangerous
proposition of course when dealing with "compulsory
taxes" like the license fee.

In the ideal world then, from Murdoch's vantage point,
the BBC would become something much more like public
television in the U.S. -- there, but hardly there.
Now, with charter review coming up, if he can grab a
little more leverage and power at the expense of the
BBC, he will certainly do it -- and his lapdog Tony
Blair will be yipping along with him every step along
the "fair-and-balanced" way to the Foxification of

-- Dame Anita Roddick is a board member of
Mediachannel.org, the global media watchdog.

MediaChannel.org, 2003.


Posted by richard at October 24, 2003 11:10 PM