Simon Shaps: The question is, what he would do with all this freedom?


James Murdoch last night out-gunned his father, Rupert, in a speech significant not for its core credo – the clan has previous form in arguing for super-light regulation – but in its boldness and its language.

His father, 20 years ago in his own MacTaggart lecture, couched his assault on the broadcasting establishment in relatively gentle terms, seeking to persuade a sceptical audience, rather than to bludgeon it.

James Murdoch, in his dismissal of much public policy on media as a version of "Creationism", suggests that we are entering a new era, where there no longer appears to be any need to meet the prevailing political consensus half way.

His implicit argument that the impartiality rules which have governed TV news for more than half a century should be swept away, takes the fight right to the heart of the enemy camp. In his analysis, ITN could be replaced by the rightist Fox News without any democratic deficit. He went further still: "The only reliable, durable and perpetual guarantor of independence is profit," a sentiment that might have come out of Gordon Gekko's mouth in Wall Street.

When James Murdoch claimed that the "defining characteristic" of UK broadcasting was the "absence of trust" he wasn't – mercifully –talking about rigged game-shows and premium-rate phone lines. This time round, the trust issue was the regulatory and political myopia that failed to allow consumers free reign to determine what appears on screen, and in print.

So, while James Murdoch had some sport in weighing the sheer quantity of regulatory intervention, his uncompromising message was that the media, and television in particular, could only survive in a radically different environment, with consumers in the driving seat.

The question James Murdoch doesn't answer is what he would do with the freedoms this world would offer. For that, we are clearly going to need to stay tuned.

Simon Shaps is a former Director of Television at ITV