The Digital Gates to TV Hell

Andrew_Hill@3mail.3Com.COM
Wed, 18 Dec 1996 12:12:34 +0100


N.B. A-Infos - I have not seen anything arrive in my mail box over the
last few days, am I still a subscriber? My e-mail is on a corporate
network so I often worry if someone has tampered with it to check I'm not
'wasting' bandwidth - you've probably heard what they're like !
Anyway here is an article I've put together with a little help from
another article I saw in a non-Murdoch newspaper recently. It is my first
contribution - I hope it is suitable for your news service.

The Digital Gates to TV Hell

Rupert Murdoch, born in Australia and currently residing in the USA,
currently has a monopoly on satellite distribution in the UK as well as
controlling 31% of the British newspaper market. He is about to increase
his control British TV viewing by way of a little black box which will sit
on top of our TV sets and control access to what we see on television.
The decoder box will compress transmission signals so that your TV can
receive over 200 channels as well as interactive services that will be
available in the future. Very few will be able to afford more than one so
the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 will pay Murdoch for the privilege of putting
their programmes through the digital gateway. Therefore he will not only
control satellite TV but also the technology which will allow access via
the digital gateway; he alone could afford the research and only he will
be able to offer discounts to purchasers.
The response from Westminster has been a deafening silence. If anyone else
had tried to create a monopoly which would restrict access to terrestrial
television and force us to pay for films and televised sport which, up to
now, have been free, would have had Major and Blair falling over
themselves to be seen as the protector of public interest. The Department
of Trade and Industry has a duty to regulate access to the digital gateway
to ensure that other broadcasters are not excluded by extortionate fees or
marginalisation on a remote channel thats hard to locate. But the DTI has
deferred to Oftel and European law.
Mr Murdoch is clearly a fearsome opponent and is prepared to take risks
where others would never have seen the opportunity, like taking on the
print workers (and winning) at Wapping and his introduction of satellite
TV to the UK. But due to the lack of action taken on the part of the
British Government, Murdoch now has advantages that could lead, if
unchecked, to uncontrollable power.
He must take much of the credit for the non-deferential environment that
now prevails in British journalism - the Royal Family, particularly the
Queen, were once considered above criticism until Murdoch, a foreigner and
a republican to boot, changed all that. The level of debate is,
admittedly, not that high - 'The Sun' would rather discuss extra marital
affairs and toe-sucking than actually enter into a debate about the
relevancy of that outdated institution. But at least the nauseating
deference no longer prevails. Yet it is deference that is now accorded to
Murdoch. No-one will confront him in print or on TV, and there is not one
MP who would dare criticise him (remember the front page of the Sun on the
morning of the 1992 election ?)
Take, for example, News Internationals accounts. In 1995 they paid just ?
8.3 million in tax out of reported profits of ?779 million and still has
at least ?250 million in unused tax losses to offset future liabilities.
In 1993 and 1994 News International paid no tax at all on profits of ?522
million. When it comes to exploiting tax loopholes they have no equal.
It is well within the power of MPs to ensure that British terrestrial
channels are not discriminated against. Yet none have chosen to exercise
this power. Only terrestrial channels pay tax - BSkyB (40% of which is
owned by News International) is exempt. A cross party agreement could
easily rectify this situation. But as they, Murdoch and everyone involved
or affected by the media knows, one never bites the hand that feeds.