Murdoch in attack on `whingeing, elitist' BBC

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AFTER two months of negative publicity, Rupert Murdoch came out fighting yesterday with a scorching attack on the British media establishment, the BBC and its director general John Birt.

Mr Murdoch, who as he left the European Tele-Visual Conference in Birmingham yesterday described himself as a Tony Blair supporter, attacked the BBC for "whingeing" and distorting television competition.

Attacking the BBC he said: "It is sometimes hard to hear yourself think over the noise of grinding axes as our competitors cloak their pleas for protection and special privilege in the language of public interest."

"Where are the UK media companies?" he asked "Too many of them have spent too much time and money sitting on their assets, or spending vast sums on armies of policy advisers and lobbyists - over 100 in the BBC alone - bent on manipulating the political process rather than competing in the market place."

He also rounded on regulators who have stymied his efforts to join the digital TV revolution but have allowed the BBC to compete with his Sky News service.

After denying that his company, News International, dominated UK media he claimed that the real media cartel in Britain is the BBC.

"The BBC is far and away the biggest media owner in the UK. With the combination of its pounds 2bn annual guaranteed income from a compulsory poll tax and vast commercial freedom there is absolutely no chance of it being driven out of business."

He contrasted this with his own world-wide media empire: "We are a relatively small part of an ever-widening rainbow of outlets for the dissemination of diverse views.

"No one challenges the power of the BBC, nor other countries state broadcasters. Even worse, the EBU [European Broadcasting Union] represent an agglomeration of powerful, entrenched broadcasting interests that in itself distorts competition.

"This cartel has for many years used its extraordinary buying power to acquire exclusive sporting rights," claimed the owner of Sky Sports.

"It is not true," he claimed, "that Sky has taken away all sport from terrestrial television. Only two per cent of the hours of sport originally on terrestrial television has migrated to satellite."

The media mogul dismissed as "shaky" a speech, also given at the conference, by John Birt - who was conspicuous by his absence at the lunch when Mr Murdoch spoke.

Mr Birt had warned that pay and digital TV services threatened to create a "knowledge underclass" and would undermine Britain's culture. Instead Mr Murdoch said only "elitists" worry about the potential for culture imperialism that comes from America's domination of the film and television industries.

The Australian-American tycoon also attacked television regulators for allowing the BBC and ITV first bite at digital terrestrial television when it launches later this year. Last year the Independent Television Commission made his BSkyB satellite channel withdraw from a consortium bidding for a DTT licence.

The BBC's new 24-hour news channel was also targeted for using licence fee payers' money to allow it to be given free to cable companies. This meant that cable companies were now dumping Mr Murdoch's own Sky News service: "This is an obvious distortion of competition happening here and now. So much for concerns about predatory behaviour."

Mr Murdoch's Times is currently the target of a House of Lords amendment which would stop it cutting its cover price to out other newspapers out of business.

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