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07 October 2021

Meredith: Local Media Needs Protection From Predatory BBC

BBC plans to increase its local news footprint constitute an “unprecedented assault” on independent local media which would create a democratic deficit by putting publishers out of business, News Media Association chief executive Owen Meredith has said.

In an article for The Times today, Mr Meredith said that Nadine Dorries’ appointment as Culture Secretary was the “clearest sign yet” that Boris Johnson plans to reshape the BBC, but those demanding change should be “careful what they wish for.”

“The BBC can and must do more to reflect diverse viewpoints but, in doing so, it must not crowd out a cornerstone of our democracy — the nation’s press — that is forced to compete with the might of the licence fee.

“The corporation has shifted from being our national broadcaster to being its largest online publisher, ploughing huge resources into its websites and digital services. It now publishes daily a vast number of articles, human interest stories, celebrity gossip, recipes and more, all cross-promoted by its broadcast channels, drawing away audiences and revenues from commercial news providers in the process.

“Now, in its BBC Across the UK plans, the Beeb reveals ambitions to use its privileged position to encroach further into local news in an unprecedented assault on the space already well-served by commercial news media.

“Despite challenges, 900 local media titles bring quality journalism to 40.6 million people every month via print and digital channels. It’s the local newspaper journalists who spend time scrutinising councils, courts and businesses on behalf of their readers, not the BBC, which is often accused of taking stories from the local press without proper attribution.

“It’s difficult to see how the BBC’s planned assault on the local press squares with its charter requirements to avoid adverse impacts on competition and plurality. The argument that it needs to step into local news to fill a democratic deficit simply doesn’t hold water.

“By increasing its local news footprint, the BBC would create a democratic deficit by putting local publishers out of business. That does nothing to enhance the voice of the overlooked, hold the powerful to account, or sustain media plurality and access to high-quality journalism.”