James Murdoch, Son of Rupert, Aims and Fires at the BBC

10/18/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

According to a report in London's Guardian newspaper, picked up by MediaBistro's daily news feed, James Murdoch, 36 year-old son of Rupert Murdoch and Chairman and Non- Executive Director of the U.K. cable concern, Sky, used his invitation to give the MacTaggert Lecture at the 2009 Edinburgh International Television Festival to blast away at the state-controlled (and subsidized) BBC.

Here is a link to the speech. There's not a lot of news in it. The sorts of arguments one would make about the virtues of free-market information vs. state-controlled information are predictable, and we already know the two points of view are never going to get along.

On the other hand, The Guardian's editorial regarding Mr. Murdoch's speech does make some news, of a sort. It says this:

He [James Murdoch] would like British TV to be more like the press -- opinionated, lightly regulated (if at all) and totally independent. In other words, he would like Britain to be more like America. The problem is that the American newspaper sector -- untroubled by either the BBC or very much regulation -- is on its knees. The free market can no longer support the work of keeping communities informed. (Emphasis added.)

That last sentence is news to me. What it could and should say, perhaps, is that the free market can no longer support the work of newspapers and other traditional media companies in the manner to which they became accustomed. But it should be obvious to anyone in today's media society that communities are awash in information.

Perhaps not the sort of information for which The Guardian is willing to show much respect. It may be making a distinction between the "credible" analogue versions and what it considers the digital drivel served up by blogs and news aggregators and out-of-work reporters still covering events from the world's hot-spots on the laptops.

But that seems unlike The Guardian, which has one of the finest news web sites in the world and is also deeply invested in reporting on the media business (it is the title sponsor of the Edinburgh Television Festival).

All the more reason, therefore, to call out their comments.

In closing his speech Mr. Murdoch says, "I have argued tonight that this success is based on a very simple principal: trust people." And he says:

"People are very good at making choices: choices about what media to consume; whether to pay for it and how much; what they think is acceptable to watch, read and hear; and the result of their billions of choices is that good companies survive, prosper, and proliferate."

And The Guardian acknowledges:

"He is right to talk about the need to trust consumers, even if the underlying purpose of his speech will be seen as one of self-interest."

The BBC has always struck me as credible and trustworthy. I am in the U.K. regularly and have winced more than once at the penetrating interview style of its reporters as they bore into public servants and officials. In respects, BBC-type journalism is insulated from the status culture of journalism in the U.S., where media watchdogs are prone to sail out of the same yacht clubs as their government and corporate charges.

You can trust the people to know the difference, however, and they do. James Murdoch may have his competitive issues with state-sponsored media and the arguments back and forth may hinge on whom you trust. In the end, people trust themselves, which is why the Internet has been such a resounding success with them.