Mark Littlewood

Plurality or not?

Plurality or not?
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With all the provisos attached to News Corp’s takeover of BSkyB, opposition to the deal has surely now been diluted. But there are, perhaps, two groups who can still legitimately complain about the outcome.


Firstly, those of us who believe that unrestricted freedom of speech is vital in the TV broadcasting arena. The Murdoch empire has had to surrender its news channel in order to, essentially, buy a profitable platform for broadcasting sport and movies. This is seriously disturbing for anyone who feels that the BBC’s output of ‘neutral news’ needs to be challenged. The only major independent broadcaster – ITV – gave up long ago with their own news channel. Only Murdoch ran an alternative news platform, and at a massive loss.


But this brutal financial reality downplays the massive change in broadcast news that SKY brought about. The BBC swiftly moved to match its operations in terms of 24/7 coverage. Never as well as SKY - and rarely as fast - but at least it made the BBC try to use its colossal resources to compete with a new broadcasting entrant. A certain amount of the money you pay to the BBC for its news coverage was deployed in combating and matching the entrepreneurial genius of SKY. Your BBC viewing experience was directly enhanced as a result.


The second group of people who have reason to be disappointed are those who work for News Corp. Their best efforts to make the United Kingdom a hub of serious broadcasting were not thwarted, but they have been compromised.

Supposedly, the most powerful argument against the takeover was the need for plurality. This is, on the face of it, a fair point. The combined might of the state broadcaster and the Murdoch empire makes news coverage a “non-benign environment”. Understandably, smaller news organisations feel squeezed. However, Rupert Murdoch will now not run SKY News in the long run. Someone else is going to have to buy it.

Whether it be via Twitter or a Google search, our ability to find out what’s happening in the world will develop immeasurably over the next decade. But if you still care about immediately accessing television coverage of key events, then raise a glass to what SKY News has done to date. And think a little about how that might continue. Having been forced by our state apparatus to exit the news TV arena, someone else needs to step up to the plate. If they don’t and plurality suffers as a result, don’t blame Mr Murdoch, blame our politicians.

Mark Littlewood is Director of the Institute for Economic Affairs