BBC capitulation paves way for Murdoch web charge

Emboldened by the BBC’s capitulation to Murdoch with its commitment to slash the number of journalists on its website, he will now charge for online content.

Emboldened by the BBC’s capitulation to Rupert Murdoch with its commitment to slash the number of journalists employed providing content for its terrific website, he has done it: from June this year, The Times and The Sunday Times will no longer be free online. The BBC had acted as a barrier to Murdoch’s ambitions to charge for the web. With the barrier breached others are waiting with baited breath to see if it will work.

Let’s get one thing straight: the decline of newspaper sales is a structural problem – the internet is merely a component. As John Nichols has written in The Nation:

“Blame has been laid first and foremost on the Internet, for luring away advertisers and readers, and on the economic meltdown, which has demolished revenues and hammered debt-laden media firms. But for all the ink spilled addressing the dire circumstance of the ink-stained wretch, the understanding of what we can do about the crisis has been woefully inadequate.

Charging for content is not the answer. While, unlike America, we have more of a spread of newspapers. The Guardian, albeit protected as it is from its Trust status, provides quality alternative coverage. Nevertheless as consumers of news we can ask why did our journalists, with some honourable exceptions, fail so miserably in forecasting the global economic crisis? Could it be that it was in the media bosses’ interests to go along with the orthodoxy of an unfettered free market?

Likewise the line on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was bought hook line and sinker with Murdoch’s titles in particular all supporting the war.

There has been an economic decline in newspapers, there has also been a decline in content exacerbated by cost cutting in the number of journalists employed. Critical inquiry on the two of the defining issues of our times went absent without leave. Arguably, while newspapers become views papers, then people may want to pay for comment. The specialist information of, say the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal, would be worth paying for.

But who under 30 is going to pay for general news? As the House of Lord select committee on communications reported:

“Younger people are less likely to read a newspaper than any other age group. The figures we [the select committee] commissioned from the National Readership Survey showed that overall the number of people reading any one or more of the top ten national newspapers on an average day has declined by 19% (between 1992-2006), but this decline is much more marked in the younger age brackets.

The number of 15-24 year olds reading any one or more of the top ten national newspapers on an average day has declined by 37% and the number of 25-34 years olds doing the same has declined by 40%.”

And young people, used as they are to free content online, won’t start paying now.

This week has also seen another twist in media ownership with Andrei Lebdev buying the Independent. With perfect timing on the day Murdoch announces he is going to charge for website content it is being asked whether Mr Lebedev’s Independent may follow the Evening Standard, and become a free-sheet. The Independent, despite Murdoch’s predatory pricing that once was used to try and strangle competitors, survived.

And while at times it has had to cling on for dear life, it has survived through journalistic content that provides alternative opinions. Reform of media ownership is back on the agenda. Trying to get people to pay for content and access to information on the Internet is not the model we should be following.

12 Responses to “BBC capitulation paves way for Murdoch web charge”

  1. Ali Esbati

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  2. Steve Rooney

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  4. Anne Marte

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  5. Billy Blofeld

    The BBC is a state owned monopoly – good luck to Murdoch in trying to compete with them.

  6. Mr. Sensible

    The BBC fear a Tory government. The Tories, as we all know seem to have done a deal with Newscorp.

    This is disgraceful underhand politics.

  7. Mr. Sensible

    Billy, what is Newscorp if not a monopoly, then?

    And that monopoly will be aided by Cameron if he ever gets in to government.

    Look at their policies, including reducing the power of Ofcom, and thus cutting protection for viewers.

    That has got Murdock written all over it.

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  9. evidence based really?

    Mr Sensible; what a lot of rubbish! The Tories have done an underhand deal with Murdoch?!? The Murdoch empire has just spent the last 13 years supporting Labour, although i suppose that was compelety different (mostly because you didn’t find it convieniant to make up the idea of a deal).

    Also Murdoch is not a monopoly, there are plenty of tv channels (itv, channel four BBC and Five) and newspapers (The mirror, guardian, independant etc etc) that provide competition.

    There is a serious point about the size of the bbc’s news production, if we have a massive, free bbc news corp then its going to have a serious impact on private news corps; which, to the general public provide differing sources of information on which basis people can make there minds up.

    Incidently i think the BBC website is fantastic, although on needs to be careful it doesn’t shut out other news outlets, which positvely contribute to a plurality of views.

    Please have more sense than to characterise this as Private (or murdoch)= bad, state (bbc) = good. It is far more complex.

  10. Mr. Sensible

    ‘Evidence-based? Really?’ I’m afraid the argument that there is competition to the Murdock empire is a smokescreen; look how Sky are protesting at the ruling by I think the OFT relating to sports rights?

    And you say there’s no deal? Is that why Cameron wants to strip the regulator of a lot of its powers?

    And if we want other news websites to flurrish, then surely the last thing to do is turn readers away. I will be interested to see how much of its readership the times website loses.

    The Guardian is the paper I tend to read, along with the BBC website.

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