Media: THE MEDIA COLUMN

Article excerpt

It does not always come naturally to senior BBC executives to say what they think. Most have, in the past, chosen to offer up meaningless politician-speak when asked anything more contentious than: "What's on telly tonight?" If you don't say anything interesting, your enemies in the press can't get you for it.

But there are risks in keeping silent as well as in speaking out - and it is very good news that the BBC seems to have weighed them up and decided to protest publicly against Rupert Murdoch's long- running and increasingly damaging campaign against the corporation. He and his people have been making the running for too long.

Silence from the BBC suggests that it cannot defend its corner in the face of sustained attacks on its "poll tax" licence fee, the standards of its reporting and the view that it ought to provide programmes for the whole nation.

So Lorraine Heggessey, a woman who has done so much to transform BBC1 in her three years in charge of the channel, is brave and wise not just to point out how Mr Murdoch's arguments are wrong - but to explain to the wider world his motives behind them.

In her interview with me in this paper yesterday, she said: "He is against everything the BBC stands for. He is a capital imperialist, isn't he? ... All people of his political persuasion are against the public sector."

As Ms Heggessey pointed out, there are more than merely commercial reasons behind his attempts to destabilise the BBC - though those are important. Certainly, the insane proposal by Tony Ball, chief executive of BSkyB, to ban BBC1 from broadcasting its most popular programmes would result in viewers deserting the BBC (and abandoning support for its licence fee) and signing up for expensive Sky packages. His suggested ban on the BBC showing Hollywood movies and American sitcoms would have the same effect.

But Mr Murdoch (and Conrad Black, owner of The Daily Telegraph, for that matter) is also driven by ideology - a narrow-minded, neo- conservative worldview that any organisation in the public sector is by definition inefficient, second rate and peopled by pinkoes. The BBC - like the NHS and state schools - is thus suspect before it does anything at all. The fact that its business is competing for viewers with Murdoch's companies makes it borderline criminal. …