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Ian Burrell: A bold attempt to win some friends in influential places


Giving last year's MacTaggart lecture, James Murdoch's barely hidden agenda was to highlight the threat posed by the BBC to News Corporation's interests, most pressingly its plans to charge for online content from its newspapers, endangered by the strength of the BBC's free online news service.

The attack was well received by other commercial media organisations.

While Mr Murdoch sought to give the impression that BSkyB was a small player in the British broadcasting ecology, it is anything but.

In contrast, Mark Thompson's lecture yesterday was intended to take pressure off the BBC – which is facing calls from politicians and commercial rivals to reduce the scale of its ambitions – by highlighting the growth of BSkyB.

Although the BBC was anxious to portray the speech as one that was intended to protect the creative future of the British television industry, it will be seen as an attack on BSkyB and the power of News Corporation.

In cheekily challenging BSkyB to make a financial commitment to the commercially funded British public service broadcasters (ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5), Mr Thompson was suggesting that his concerns were for British television in general, not just the BBC, which would not receive money under this scenario.

The director-general's strategy here was to win the BBC some friends in commercial media, portraying the satellite giant, and not the corporation, as the cash-rich behemoth that the industry should be wary of.