Robert Peston, who during the financial crisis somehow managed to make a legend out of himself by acting like a mad aunt dosed on Ritalin, has been arguing and swearing with James Murdoch in Edinburgh. They’re rowing about the BBC’s expansion and stranglehold on the provision of British news and media. Murdoch wants to deregulate the market and, obviously, the BBC don't like it. Peston, Jana Bennett and other BBC bigwigs are convinced the public trusts only them. If they got out from Primrose Hill and started talking to ordinary people I think they’d get a bit of a surprise. Years ago, when I started pointing out to people the BBC’s bias towards the attitudes and beliefs of young urban liberals* I was met with dismissal. Now, ten years later, the same people point it out to me.
Peston will believe the BBC is a white knight of truth in a world of dingy right-wing American cable TV news values. And he’d be almost right if the beeb hadn’t lost its objectivity and begun, long ago, to rig its media presentation to suit the political and social agendas of its management and its political allies. When the BBC finally meets its political nemesis (who that may be is unclear. It is unlikely to be Cameron) and its obituary is written, this collapse in standards and rigour plus the rise in Birt-ian management-itis will be identified as the corporation’s fatal illness.
Peston and co would argue that even if you think the news is biased the BBC must be valued as a buttress against the crassness of commercial television. That would be a good argument if BBC television hadn’t become so crassly commercial itself. Murdoch's product will be brash and crass, but I'll take that over brash and crass plus pay-us-or-we-prosecute political and social bias. Ultimately, I find all this talk of television as some sort of vital component of civilisation rather ridiculous. I look forward to the day that television is regarded as a bona fide health hazard to society and the individual, like heroin and cocaine.
Another aspect of the argument to consider is Murdoch senior’s beliefs. He is now displaying signs of full-blown senility, by which I mean he believes he can start charging the public for is papers’ online news content. This will never work for two simple reasons that have, as per, completely eluded monster-salaried corporate geniuses: one, the majority will simply not pay for online news under any circumstances, because, and this is point two, new, free sites will emerge to scrape by on advertising and news gathered from the wire services and by pirating paid-for content (newspapers are filled like this now, so what would be different?). These sites will trump any paid-for service. Someone on Facebook will link to some site called freenews.com or something, all her friends will bookmark it and use it and that will be that. What the marketing men call 'viral'. Wailing about high-quality journalism will fall on deaf ears, unfortunately. That’s what happens when you dumb everything down: valuable things are not always recognized.
* Not exactly hard-core socialism but that utterly selfish consumerism mixed with empty platitudes, ‘don’t-know-if-I-really-believe-it-all-but-it-makes-me-look-good’ Guardian comment page views and vague internationalist posturing that constitutes the ‘leftism’ of today’s ‘educated’ youth.