DCMS: BBC Must Tread ‘As Lightly As it Can’ to Minimise Impact on Commercial Sector  

A senior DCMS civil servant has said that the BBC must tread “as lightly as it can” to minimise the impact it has on the commercial sector through its activities. 

At a Westminster Media Forum seminar entitled ‘The future of the BBC and priorities for Charter renewal’ today, DCMS director of media, international, gambling and creative economy Hugh Harris, outlined priorities for the Government during the Charter renewal.  

Mr Harris gave an overview of the green paper published by the DCMS which said had received 190,000 responses. A white paper would be published in the spring of next year, he added.

Talking about the BBC’s scale and scope, Mr Harris said: “Clearly you cannot intervene in a market with £3.7 billion pounds worth of public money without having a market impact and there a range of examples commonly given of how the BBC does impact on its competitors.”

He listed examples from radio and TV sectors before adding : “And clearly online, there’s a debate around the extent to which the BBC provision of large volumes of free information and news and soft news has an impact on its online competitors.”

He added that the BBC’s international commercial activities also had an impact on competitors.

“This is difficult and contested territory but is important that we try to get as best grip as we can on this as we try to work out whether, given there is going to be a market impact, is the BBC treading as lightly as it can to minimise any undue, unintended negative consequences, and if not what can we do to further encourage it to do so,” Mr Harris said.

Speakers at the session included Laura Mansfield Pact chair, Adam Minns, Commercial Broadcasters Association executive director, and Scott Taunton, and UTV chief operating officer, who spoke about the relationship of the BBC with their sectors. 

Adam Minns said: “Our primary concern is that decisions that impact on the wider market must be made by an external body that is beyond question independent of management. The public value test for example should provide a robust and transparent proves for external stakeholders, ie the public and industry.

Scott Taunton called for competitive safeguards for sports rights acquisitions. He added: “With the BBC’s services accounting for such a large share of the market, Charter Review offers a once in  a decade chance to shape our speech radio sector.”