The Right's reaction to the News International, Rupert Murdoch phone hacking scandal has been, bizarrely, to rail against the BBC, reports Daniel Elton.
If current allegations turn out to be correct, it appears as if News International in the UK was, in effect, a state within a state. Politicians feared it. The police were chums with it.
Free marketeers could once argue that parties cowered before it because of its sheer popularity. It may turn out that News International’s real ace up the sleeve was an ability to get a story any way possible, legal or illegal, and be confident that it would never be held to account. As the Conservative prime minster Stanley Baldwin put it, it enjoyed “power without responsibility – the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages”.
However, on planet Tory, this whole scandal firmly points the finger at the real problem with the media in the UK: The BBC.
As the right-wing The Commentator blog put it last week:
It is vital to see what lies behind all this, and to understand that if it wasn’t Murdoch it would be (and one day will be) someone else… What exactly do the Guardian and the Labour Party fear so much from this proposed [BSkyB] deal? It can’t be media plurality, as they claim, since they’re die hard supporters of the BBC, the state-funded media monolith that dominates international, national, regional and even local broadcasting…
What they fear, of course, is that that left-leaning monolith might get some serious competition. Not right now: Britain’s incredibly rigid broadcasting regulations prevent proprietors from mounting an ideological challenge to BBC bias…Make no mistake about it. The Left’s agenda is about censorship and control. Nothing more, nothing less.
Meanwhile, Allistair Heath in today’s City AM, bizarrely mislaying the faith that popularity in numbers shows that an organisation has every right to be dominant, writes:
“News International is the biggest newspaper firm (though its market share is exaggerated by the exclusion of free papers) but those who believe it needs to be broken up forget that the BBC is bigger in radio, TV and the internet than Murdoch is in papers and the web (and in many cases the BBC has extremely high market shares and has crushed private competitors). Why then aren’t they [NI’s critics] also calling for the break-up of the BBC to ensure competition?
In this morning’s Times (£), ConHome editor Tim Montgomerie argues:
“We have been hearing so much about the dominance of Murdoch, but I think it is essential that we look at the dominance of the BBC.”
This all rather ignores the reality of where we are. If one line of argument sums up the allegations at News International, it is that it used its dominant place in the market, and financial clout, to sweeten police officers and bully politicians, ensuring that the law of the land was only applied to it on an intermittent basis.
As a public corporation, the BBC could not do that even if it wanted to. Right-wingers are already crawling all over it with Freedom of Information requests. The BBC is, in essence, the most accountable media operation in the country. Until the Right stops allowing its hatred of the BBC to cloud a true assessment of the situation, it will continue to be on the wrong side of this story.
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