In the wake of the phone hacking scandal, the right's hatred of the BBC has loosened their grip on a core consevartive principle - upholding the rule of law.
Last night, in the emergency parliamentary debate on phone hacking, the prime minister drew a moral equivalence between News International and the BBC.
“We should be frank: sometimes in this country, the left overestimates the power of Murdoch, and the right overdoes the left-leanings of the BBC. But both have got a point, and never again should we let a media group get too powerful.”
Let’s put aside the questionable assumption that the the BBC has a left-wing bias. Left Foot Forward has already documented much of the right’s attitude to the hacking scandal: ‘The left is after our boy Rupert – so let’s get the Beeb.’
But beyond vindictiveness, there are two main arguments against a lack of plurality in the media market – one economic and the other legal. On the economic side, dominance of the media market by a single player could squeeze out other players, or, in the case of a state provider, crowd out private competitors.
However, as has been argued on right-wing blogs, in the age of the internet the entry costs for new players in the media market is very low, and so it is questionable whether it is possible to stop new players entering the market. The more serious accusation is legal: that if a media conglomeration grows too large, it may, through a mixing of schmoozing and bribing the police, bullying and flirting with politicians, and a revolving door between all three, evade the law.
That is the accusation laid at the door of News International.
The BBC could not do this even if it wanted to do so, as it is subject to Freedom of Information requirements of which its right-wing critics already take advantage. Unless the government intends to pass a Freedom of Information bill on private companies, there is no equivalence between the Corporation and Murdoch’s empire.
We are talking here about upholding the rule of law. According to traditional Tory philosophy that, in conjuction with national defence, are the twin priorities of government that matter before all else. Yet government backbenchers in yesterday’s emergency debate repeatedly asked if we could all move on and talk about something else. The most disappointing thing about conservatives is when they aren’t really conservative.
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