‘Anti-imperialist’ attacks on BBC from the Tory press ring hollow

The press are not against monopolies, they're just looking to crush a weak rival


Another day, another avalanche of stories bashing the BBC in the Tory press.

They take their line from the dear leader, chancellor George Osborne, who yesterday told the BBC he’d like to trim the corporation’s website, and perhaps charge for use of the iPlayer catch-up service, accusing the BBC of ‘imperial ambitions’.

But just how ‘anti-imperialist’ are the Tory press when it comes to media ownership?

First, here are some of the headlines:

Osborne: BBC must curb online ambitions (Times)

‘Imperial’ BBC is threat to free press warns Osborne (Mail)

Oz hits BBC ’empire’ (Sun)

BBC must help shoulder cuts burden, says Osborne (Telegraph)

The editorial pages of the papers pick up this ’empire’ idea with zeal. The Mail’s leader column, titled ‘BBC imperialism‘, tells us:

“The BBC is supposed to be a public service broadcaster but is acting more like a rapacious commercial giant, trying to corner the market in news delivery.

Why on earth should the taxpayer have to fund this naked empire-building?”

As the Sun puts it:

“When George Osborne talks about its [the BBC’s] ‘imperial’ ambition, he’s spot on. Whether it’s the BBC’s local news sites putting local papers out of business, or its main website behaving as if it should be a monopoly provider of news, the BBC uses the cushion of the licence fee to protect itself from competition that exists in the real world – and to distort the market for everyone else.

It’s time there was a level playing field – and the BBC was brought back to reality.”

Since when, you might wonder, were Viscount Rothermere or Rupert Murdoch so concerned about monopolies?

– Rothermere owns the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, MailOnline (one of the most read websites in the world), and Metro. 

– Murdoch owns the Sun, the Times, a chunk of Sky TV20th Century Fox, the New York Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Australian, and until 2011 the News of the World. Plus, as it happens, lots of local newspapers in Australia and the US.

These unlikely anti-imperialists and champions of the little guy are right to say the BBC is treated differently to other market competitors.

Murdoch and Rothermere would never have their papers attack a business rival in these tones – they don’t want the same abuse back, and anyway, such talk can be awkward during any future merger or buyout negotiations.

The BBC is treated by these publications as a vulnerable deer on the edge of the pack, a weak but real obstacle to their own mastery of the market. After all, you can’t buy a public service broadcaster.

The next best thing is to have your friends in government ‘cut it down to size’, (as another Sun editorial put it), that’s to say, small enough not to threaten their own ‘imperial ambitions’.

Adam Barnett is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow MediaWatch on Twitter

Read more: 

Top 10 BBC bashing stories from the Tory press

Murdoch-owned Times attacks BBC for ‘media empire’ monopoly

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