When James Murdoch accepted the invitation to deliver the MacTaggart lecture at this year's Edinburgh International Television Festival, one thing was certain: like his father before him, he would have the BBC in his sights. And so he did. Twenty years after Rupert Murdoch used the same platform to depict, with uncanny accuracy, the broadcasting landscape of the future, James Murdoch attacked the BBC's continuing domination in, if anything, even more forthright terms. He spoke of a "chilling" advance, which "threatens the provision of news in Britain".
The Murdochs, father and son, of course, have an agenda and interests of their own, summed up in the words News Corporation. The BBC might have been forced over the past two decades to share the airwaves with an ever-increasing range of paid-for channels, but – the founding family of Sky TV would maintain – so long as the BBC has income from the licence fee and continues its progress into the digital and online media, the broadcasting playing field is nothing like level.
James Murdoch's challenge to the BBC last night had two strands, one more justified than the other. The first lambasted the BBC as a "state broadcaster" and conjured up Orwellian images of state control. As of now, the greater threat in this respect, we would argue, is not any enthusiasm for putting out state propaganda but, rather, timidity in addressing the state's failings.
As a newspaper, however, we have much sympathy with Mr Murdoch's second strand: his cri de coeur about the lack of restraints on the BBC's growth, in particular on the internet. "Dumping free, state-sponsored news on the market," he said, "makes it incredibly difficult for journalism to flourish on the internet." And not just on the internet.
So long as the BBC provides what amounts to an all-encompassing news service on the internet within the price of the licence fee, it will be nigh-impossible for anyone else – on the internet or in print – to charge. Yet unless other news providers can sell what they produce or find other sources of revenue, they will find it impossible to compete. In highlighting how the BBC's dominance distorts the news market, James Murdoch has done all the British media a favour.