Conflicting views of the armchair battle

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The Independent Online
Good old down to earth terrestrial TV or the nasty new satellite; avuncular Auntie BBC or Big Brotherly Sky? That was the great debate dominating the nation last week in the light of the historic House of Lords vote to deny Rupert Murdoch exclusive rights to the country's eight sporting mints, namely the Dunkeswell Kart Racing Club annual trials, the Everest Double Glazing show jumping event, the cycling Grand Prix D'Ouverture, the Women's short-track 3,000m speed skating, the World Biathlon championships, the Army v the Territorial Army (RU) at Aldershot, the Beazer Homes League Dr Martens Cup, and the Welland Selling Stakes (Class E) from Southwell.

From a bulging postbag we have selected two letters encapsulating the argument that threatens to tear at the very fabric of the nation's living room.

"Dear Sir, I cannot believe that in a true democracy, the House of Lords, an antiquated and privileged body, should be allowed to determine the future of the so-called 'crown jewels' of sport. When was the last time they fell asleep in front of a Test match? The Government is committed to free market enterprise and privatisation and yet is accused by some old duffers of defending the commercial interests of Mr Murdoch.

For the record, Rupert, who started with a small sheep station called 'No Turning Back', is the embodiment of the free world entrepreneur. Monopoly my foot. Ask the sporting community whether they want the old BBC-ITV stranglehold or real competition. Their Lordships have forgotten how much Sky has already done for football in providing superior technology, more cameras, more hours, more commentators, louder commentators, more goals, more foreigners and more money for the owners.

What the Lords are indulging in is protectionism and they are as anachronistic as the legislation they are attempting to introduce. The BBC says it does not have the money to compete yet it spends millions on Eastenders and all those pathetic regional breakfast programmes which pretend to bring you news when nobody's got out of bed. It will happily send a camera crew round to the High Street in Chipping Norton to cover a burst water pipe but cries foul when a radical and exciting competitor comes along to offer the viewer a whole new ball game. The BBC has to face up the fact that there will be more competition, more change. If I was Mr Murdoch I'd challenge the BBC to its coverage of Westminster and then bring the House down by pulling the plug. Yours in sport, G Chisholm, Warringah, Australia."

"Dear Sir, Praise be to the Lords. At last somebody has the vision to protect our sporting gems from the thieving hands of a naturalised American who owes no allegiance to this country. Rupert Murdoch is looting and pillaging this country, draining us of our very lifeblood. He embodies the worst characteristics of the cuckoo, moving into the nests that others had built. Tell me one good thing he has created himself? He was allowed to take over half our newspapers for a song and by going for the easy option of the lowest common denominator has irreparably damaged standards.

Sky is nothing but a mish-mash of quasi-American trash: old films, cheap US imports and, of course, sport without which he would not be able to shift any of his wretched dishes. He is not interested in sport, simply its pulling power. Here is a man who doesn't know a rugby ball from an Easter egg, a golf ball from a boiled egg and yet has the arrogance to deprive us of our heritage unless we cough up more to feed his insatiable megalomania. He understands only one thing - the power of money.

The Lords should have gone further and instituted a Monopoly Commission to inquire into why Murdoch never loses at Monopoly. It is because he has nearly all the squares covered: newspapers, films, publishing, television. Is it a coincidence that he owns things called Sky, Sun, Star? The earth is not enough for him. He has such a stranglehold on public opinion that political leaders are terrified of upsetting him.

How else can you explain the action of Tony Blair, on the day Murdoch pulled the plug on the Today newspaper, in urging bewildered readers to switch to the Sun? Old Labour would have been manning the picket lines not licking the boots of a dictator. He even seems to have the Inland Revenue in his pocket as I read somewhere the other day that he pays only a few quid in tax on a turnover of a billion because of some offshore deal in the Netherlands Antibes.

Murdoch is playing games with Monopoly money. I empathise with the late playwright Denis Potter when he said that if he had a gun he'd shoot the bugger. Yours in sport, S Shrewsbury, Chipping Sodbury."