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Publisher: Community titles will go out of business unless BBC reduces market share

The publisher of titles including the Yorkshire Post is warning that more community papers will go out business unless the BBC “substantially curtails its local news websites.”

National World made the comments in its response to Ofcom’s consultation on modernising the BBC’s operating licence.

It said, in its submission, that there was no longer a level playing field and that the BBC must reduce its market share in online news to below 25% “which is the usual measure of a monopoly.”

“There is a need to level up the media – otherwise local publishers will increasingly go out of business because of the calculated and predatory behaviour of this publicly funded competitor. The BBC speaks with one voice, directed from the centre, whereas local people and local editors independently drive products that genuinely reflect the differences in communities,” stated Deputy Editor In Chief Gary Shipton.

“It would be considered unthinkable for the BBC to launch local newspapers that contained no advertising, had no cover price, were of limitless pagination and consequently offered a premium user experience, in markets served by traditional, commercial publishers. But this is what they are effectively doing by continuing to invest in local news websites in direct competition to commercial news organisations which cannot offer the same UX and upload speeds because of the advertising they carry to sustain their journalism.”

He added that “refocusing” the BBC’s creative efforts on “broadcasting and finding a new non-licence funding model also made sense for the BBC.”

“More than a year ago, a National Audit Office report found that the BBC faces ‘significant’ uncertainty over its financial future due to changes in viewing habits,” he continued.

“Frankly, the BBC is spreading itself far too thinly while audiences – especially younger ones -shrink and fewer and fewer people legitimately no longer need to buy a TV licence.”

The publisher has told Ofcom that in oder to support long-term sustainability of local, regional and national news:

  • The BBC should withdraw the proposals set out in its ‘Across the UK’ plan. At the same time, it must go much further and reduce its market share in online news to below 25 per cent which is the usual measure of a monopoly. This can be achieved by restricting BBC online content to that which supports its broadcast output.
  • Provide a level playing field which is impossible all the time the BBC continues to seek to dominate the local news online arena.
  • Limit soft news, comment and analysis (e.g., human interest and entertainment stories, long reads, etc.).
  • Improve communication of BBC plans inside and outside of the BBC’s Annual Plan.
  • Withdraw BBC News Daily email which directly competes with commercial alternatives.

Ofcom’s consultation closed for responses yesterday.

It’s not the first time that publishers have called for the BBC to cutback its digital news operations. It has been a regular criticism ahead of charter and licence fee reviews.

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