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24 October 2019

Ofcom: BBC to Improve External Links and Assess Impact Upon Competitors.

In a Review of BBC news and current affairs, released today, Ofcom noted that the BBC could do more to support the wider news industry and link to more external news websites.

The Review said: “Our work indicates that the BBC could provide more links to external, third-party content. External links support the wider industry and benefit audiences by providing access to a wider range of material. Following the publication of this report we will gather evidence, including formally requesting information from the BBC, to establish if it should do more to link to outside sources. As part of this, we will look at the BBC’s performance in this area, as well as the wording of the current licence condition, to determine whether it remains appropriate, given changes in news consumption.”

The report found that the external links the BBC provided to news media organisations was just 12.5 per cent of all links, compared with 41.1 per cent of links directing users to Tweets. Whereas, it noted that over 80 per cent of the external hyperlinks on the Daily Mail Online and The Mirror went to sites offered by broadcasters, newspapers and other online publishers.

It continued: “Commercial news providers argued that the quality of the BBC’s online news coverage fell short when it came to sourcing or attributing stories. They felt the BBC could do more to drive traffic to their websites.

“Under its Operating Licence, the BBC must ensure that it provides adequate links to third-party online material, particularly within news. The aim is not solely to provide support to the wider news industry; provision of these links also contributes to the BBC’s delivery of Public Purpose by helping users access a wealth of information in addition to its own content. In doing so, the Operating Licence notes that the BBC should exercise careful judgment about the links that it offers.”

The review also noted that: “During the course of our review, we spoke to a number of industry stakeholders who felt that the BBC had expanded its editorial scope online into areas that were traditionally the domain of newspapers. They expressed particular concern about what they saw as a prevalence of stories about lifestyle, celebrity or entertainment topics on the BBC News website, questioning the extent to which it was appropriate for the BBC to offer such material.”

In an accompanying letter and press release to The BBC’s Director General, Ofcom CEO Sharon White, noted the importance of ‘supporting other news sites’ and that the BBC needed to “embed transparency into its working practices” and it currently was “not taking sufficient account of the need for external engagement to assess fully the implications of its proposals.”

Also released today, Ofcom' Annual Report on the BBC stressed the BBC must improve its competition assessment."The BBC is required by the Charter to have particular regard to the impact of its activities on competition and seek to avoid adverse impacts on competition which are not necessary for the effective fulfilment of the Mission and the promotion of the Public Purposes. The BBC’s most recent annual plan signalled at a high-level service and schedule changes that it wants to make. To understand fully the impact of these and other changes and their potential impacts on competition, it needs to engage openly and constructively with interested parties taking account of their concerns about possible market impacts."

The report warned: "The consequence of a lack of engagement is likely to be a more intrusive role for Ofcom."