Now it's Murdoch vs. the World as He Threatens to Sue the BBC

Last Updated Nov 10, 2009 11:50 AM EST

Media mogul Rupert Murdoch continues to amuse even as he perplexes those of us hoping to divine where he is headed with his current round of threats against those he perceives as his enemies.

As the Guardian (U.K.) is reporting today, one such threat that was initially overlooked in yesterday's brouhaha over Murdoch's pledge to block Google from searching his newspaper sites, is that the New Corp. titan also attacked the BBC's usage of newspaper content and said he plans to sue Britain's publicly-funded network.

"If you look at them, most of their stuff is stolen from the newspapers now, and we'll be suing them for copyright," Murdoch told a reporter from Sky News Australia. "They will have to spend a lot more money on a lot more reporters to cover the world when they can't steal from newspapers."

The BBC receives the bulk of its funding in the form of "license fees," paid by everyone in Britain who buys a television.

As to what may behind Murdoch's increasingly shrill outbursts lately, there is a growing impression that he is finding it extremely difficult to move his newspaper sites behind a paywall, though he long and loudly proclaimed that that is exactly what he intends to do.

In his most recent earnings call with reporters last week, Murdoch had this exchange with James Quinn of the Daily Telegraph:

  • Quinn: Rupert, last time, at the end of the last quarter you talked about charging news and paper websites by the end of the current financial year, by the end of June. Could you give us an update on how that work is going?
  • Murdoch: No. We are working all very, very hard, but I wouldn't promise that we're going to meet that date.
  • Quinn: What's the delay?
  • Murdoch: With everything.
  • Quinn: Say again?
  • Murdoch: I'm not prepared to comment on that at all.
  • Quinn: OK.
  • Murdoch: It's a work in progress and there's a huge amount of work going on. Not just with our sites, but with other people.
So, it appears there will continue to be delays in implementing the paid content strategy, which continues to strike me as a non-starter for newspaper content. Murdoch seems unwilling to concede that news is a commodity in today's world, and placing it behind a paywall would simply help his competitors grad audience share.

Then again, Murdoch is a man used to getting what he wants, so the delays and other problems (including possible anti-trust issues) plaguing his paid content plan must be frustrating him beyond belief. Thus the angry threats, but it remains to be seen whether he actually carries any of them out in the end.

  • David Weir

    David Weir is a veteran journalist who has worked at Rolling Stone, California, Mother Jones, Business 2.0, SunDance, the Stanford Social Innovation Review, MyWire, 7x7, and the Center for Investigative Reporting, which he cofounded in 1977. He’s also been a content executive at KQED, Wired Digital,, and Excite@Home. David has published hundreds of articles and three books,including "Raising Hell: How the Center for Investigative Reporting Gets Its Story," and has been teaching journalism for more than 20 years at U.C. Berkeley, San Francisco State University, and Stanford.