Have you seen BBC World News lately? If you’re a Foxtel subscriber, you may have noticed that it has  gone walkabout. While BBC World News is still offered on Foxtel, regular viewers may have noticed that since November 15, when Foxtel added 12 new channels, BBC World News has been demoted from its prominent place on the first screen of the news and  documentaries channel listings, to the third screen.

In order to get to the respected news channel, viewers now have to scroll through three screens of channel listings where they can find their UK Aunty slumming it in among Australian Public Affairs Channel, CNBC and Bloomberg.

Strangely, though, the introduction of the new channels hasn’t affected the positions of other news channels. SKY News, CNN and FOX News have all retained their spots on the first screen of the onscreen TV guide.

What makes the shift of the BBC World News intriguing is Murdoch and Son’s recent criticisms of public broadcasting — and the BBC in particular. If Murdoch junior is to be believed, public broadcasting poses an unambiguous threat to free and democratic regimes everywhere (See James Murdoch’s comments here).

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What particularly incensed James Murdoch is the free availability of online news from public broadcasters, which threatens to derail his dad’s plans to put News’ offerings behind a paywall. After all, who’s going to pay for online access to news that can be freely accessed from a public broadcaster? The only way this strategy has a chance of succeeding is if the capacity of public broadcasters to publish freely online is radically curtailed.

While the current stoush between the Beeb and the Murdochs is primarily about online content rather than subscription television, News has never been shy about using one part of its media empire to further the interests its interests overall — even if it means short-term pain.

In the late 1990s when Murdoch senior was trying to break into the Chinese market, for example, he made his feelings known about HarperCollin’s decision to publish the memoirs of Hong Kong’s last governor, Chris Patten. Despite glowing reviews by HarpersCollins’ editors, Patten’s book was spiked. Patten’s treatment by HarperCollins attracted howls of protests from commentators and other HarperCollins authors while Patten’s East and West went on to be named one of the New York Times’ notable books of 1998.

Of course, Foxtel will say that there’s nothing at all sinister about any of this. After all, those extra channels had to go somewhere, and Foxtel has every right to push as much of its new content to the top of the onscreen listing where, presumably, it will attract more viewers.

Moreover, while the change has hurt BBC World News, it has benefited the BBC’s non-news offerings on Foxtel. With the demotion of the BBC World News, the BBC Knowledge channel now appears as the last entry on the first screen of the news and documentaries screen listings.

However, given the recent outbursts at the UK public broadcaster — and the BBC’s news content in particular — the change in the onscreen TV guide listing raises suspicions that BBC World News has been deliberately downgraded as part of a longer strategy to marginalise — if not banish entirely — BBC news content on Foxtel.

Both BBC Worldwide and Foxtel were repeatedly approached to comment on the changes to the onscreen TV listings but neither returned calls.

Christopher Scanlon teaches journalism at La Trobe University and is a co-founder of http://www.upstart.net.au

I subscribe to Crikey because I believe in a free, open and independent media where news and opinions can be published that I can both agree with and be challenged by.

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