For BBC chief Mark Thompson, revenge is a dish best served cold

A year after James Murdoch's attack on the Corporation, its director-general hits back

The BBC's director-general Mark Thompson last night warned that BSkyB would soon be "dwarfing" the corporation and lambasted the satellite broadcaster for failing to "pull its weight" by investing in British programming.

In a passionate attack, he challenged BSkyB to prove its commitment to British television by paying a levy of £75m a year to ITV, Channel 4 and Channel Five for the right to broadcast those channels on its satellite platform.

"It's time that Sky pulled its weight by investing much, much more in British talent and British content," said Mr Thompson, delivering the annual MacTaggart Lecture at the Edinburgh International Television Festival.

A year ago James Murdoch, heir to his father Rupert's News Corporation empire, which is the largest shareholder in BSkyB, made a scathing criticism of the scale of the BBC, saying its ambition was having a "chilling" effect.

Mr Thompson responded last night by warning of the power of BSkyB, where James Murdoch was until recently the chief executive. "Analysts believe that Sky is going to get a lot bigger still and will end up dwarfing not just the BBC, but all the other commercial broadcasters put together," said Mr Thompson. "Sky is already a far more powerful commercial counterweight to the BBC than ITV ever was. It is well on the way to being the most dominant force in broadcast media."

He demanded that BSkyB pay £75m a year for "retransmission rights" for broadcasting British commercial public service channels, arguing that News Corporation supports such a principle in America where it charges distribution fees from cable companies for the rights to show Fox channels.

Thompson spoke of the shortfall in funding that had arisen in commercial broadcasting from the downturn in advertising and said "on its own Sky could close the entire investment gap". But he said that although BSkyB enjoyed 15 times greater revenues than Channel Five, it made only a similar investment in original British programmes.

Outlining the future of the British television sector in terms of a "battle", the director-general declared, "if you think the battle for quality and creativity is worth winning, now is the time to stand up and be counted". Underscoring his own commitment, he said: "I for one am up for the fight." Mr Thompson was speaking at a time when the BBC is under intense pressure from politicians and rival media organisations who wish to see it reduce its spending. The director-general has himself faced criticism, particularly over the size of his annual remuneration of £838,000, which he recently agreed to reduce by 20 per cent.

Mr Thompson also drew attention to News Corporation's press interests and complained of what he depicted as an unprecedented level of hostility in coverage of the BBC. "The scale and intensity of the current assaults does feel different," he said. "Some newspapers appear to print something hostile about the BBC every week, even though the reporters often freely admit to us that they know the story is ramped up, distorted or just plain nonsense."

Mr Thompson claimed that such criticism did not damage the BBC's public reputation and cited research which showed that readers of the Murdoch-owned titles The Times and The Sunday Times had far higher appreciation levels of the BBC than the national average. "Not only do these newspapers fail to reflect the view of the majority of the British public about the BBC. They don't even reflect the view of the majority of their own readers."

The director-general acknowledged concerns over the BBC's position in the industry but claimed that it had in recent years undergone "painful" and "gut-wrenching" change. "Over the past six years, many thousands of jobs have gone at the BBC and overheads have been squeezed to their lowest level ever."

In a response to criticisms over how much the BBC pays its presenters, Mr Thompson said: "Expect us to ... reduce top talent pay a good deal further as well. Sometimes we will lose established on-air stars as a result. When we do, we will replace them with new talent." He also promised "significant movement" in reducing the amount the BBC pays its senior executives, which is a source of great contention not least among BBC staff who are threatening strike action next month.

And in a warning to the Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who is considering a cut in the BBC licence fee, Mr Thompson argued that any reduction would be damaging to the whole industry. "A pound out of the commissioning budget of the BBC is a pound out of the UK creative economy."

The War of Words

James Murdoch

Murdoch: The BBC is dominant. Other organisations might rise and fall but the BBC’s income is guaranteed and growing. In stark contrast, the other terrestrial networks are struggling....

Murdoch: There is a land-grab, pure and simple, going on – and in the interests of a free society it should be sternly resisted. The land-grab is spearheaded by the BBC. The scale and scope of its current activities and future ambitions is chilling.

Murdoch: Operating alongside the BBC, without access to its content or cross-promotional power, is not a task for the faint hearted. You need deep pockets, sheer bloody-mindedness and an army of lawyers just to make the BBC Trust sit up and pay attention.

Mark Thompson

Thompson: James Murdoch fretted aloud about the lamentable dominance of the BBC. He was able to do that only by leaving Sky out of the equation altogether.... It is well on its way to being the most dominant force in broadcast media in this country.

Thompson: All the analysts believe that Sky is going to get a lot bigger and will end up dwarfing not just the BBC, but all the other commercial broadcasters put together.

Thompson: It’s time that Sky pulled its weight by investing much, much more in British talent and British content. Sky doesn’t declare its annual investment in original UK non-news, non-sport content, but the latest estimate puts it at around £100m, not much more than Channel 5 – despite the fact that Sky’s total turnover is more than 15 times that of Channel 5.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
musicOfficial chart could be moved to accommodate Friday international release day
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
News
i100
Sport
Italy celebrate scoring their second try
six nations
Sport
Glenn Murray celebrates scoring against West Ham
footballWest Ham 1 Crystal Palace 3
Arts and Entertainment
Drake continues to tease ahead of the release of his new album
music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Junior Business Systems Analyst - High Wycombe - £30,000

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Junior Business Systems Analyst role...

Guru Careers: Talent Manager

£30-35k (P/T - Pro Rata) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienc...

Sauce Recruitment: New Media Marketing Manager - EMEA - Digital Distribution

£35000 - £45000 per annum + up to £45,000: Sauce Recruitment: The Internation...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing / PR / Social Media Executive

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A thriving online media busines...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower