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23 June 2022

Meredith: BBC Digital Presence Presents ‘Serious Challenge’ To Commercial Sector

The BBC’s massive digital presence presents a “serious challenge” to the ability of commercial publishers to commercialise their content in the online environment, News Media Association chief executive Owen Meredith has said.

Speaking on The Media Show yesterday, Owen restated the industry’s concerns around the BBC’s impact on the commercial sector which include the plans within Across the UK to beef up its own local news provision.  

The government has said it will examine the BBC’s market impact on the UK media landscape “in particular in areas such as the commercial radio and local news sectors” as part of its mid-term review of the BBC Charter.

Speaking on Radio 4 alongside guests including Kevin Bakhurst, Ofcom group director, Owen said: “We primarily have concerns around the BBC’s digital approach to news and the way that it publishes in written format news on the BBC website and how that interacts with the commercial sector.

“Clearly there have been many reviews, government-commissioned reviews - the Cairncross review primarily, the Furman review and others since – that have looked at the sustainability of the press, the independent press and a plural press in this country which is vitally important for all of us.

He added: “Having the BBC as a taxpayer funded organisation competing in the digital space with commercial publishers is presenting a serious challenge to the ability of commercial publishers to monetise, commercialise and therefore sustain their business models in that environment.

The NMA had responded to an Ofcom review, published yesterday, into how it regulates the BBC by setting out a range of concerns with BBC activities, including the Across the UK plans, and its website which is the largest digital news destination in the UK.

Owen added: “What we presented to Ofcom as part of this review was a number of issues around that and how we think the BBC could be a better to help sustain the commercial news sector which I think is in all of our interests in the long run.”

Owen said the parameters around the scope and scale of the BBC’s online activities needed to be discussed and negotiated between the BBC and the commercial sector, but it should not be allowed to crowd out commercial players.

Speaking on the Media Show, Mr Bakhurst said Ofcom’s role included making sure “anything the BBC does is carefully considered in terms of its impact on competitors and that there’s fair and effective competition.”

Separately, in the House of Lords, the government has restated its commitment to look at the impact of the BBC on local news media.

In a Parliamentary question, Lord Black of Brentwood asked government; “what assessment they have made of whether the BBC's use of licence fee revenue to produce online news services, which compete with commercial publishers, is compatible with (1) the BBC Charter, and (2) legal constraints on the use of public funds.”

The Minister Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay said: “The Charter mid-term review will look at the BBC's market impact, evaluating how the BBC and Ofcom assess the market impact and public value of the BBC in an evolving marketplace and how that relates to the wider UK media ecology, including with regard to commercial radio and local news sectors and other content makers and distributors.”