NMA Letter To BBC Board Demands Limitations To Online News Activities

The News Media Association has called on the BBC to withdraw plans to expand its provision of local news set out in ‘Across the UK’ in an open letter to the BBC Board sent on behalf of the NMA Board and members. 

In the letter, NMA chief executive Owen Meredith said: “The provision of news, especially local news, is of vital interest and importance to all of us. Local news is crucial for sharing information across our communities – as has been seen throughout the pandemic – and is fundamental to our democratic society.

“As a group of publishers, collectively we represent the largest investors in independent journalism, reaching communities up and down the UK – read by more than 46 million adults every month, in print and digital. Yet the BBC is directly threatening the sustainability of independent local journalism with plans to be ever more local – as first set out in ‘Across the UK’ and since developed.”

“The recent beta launch of the BBC’s News App demonstrates this unprecedented move into local news and represents a direct threat to the strength and plurality of news in the UK.

“In ‘Across the UK’ the BBC suggest the pandemic has “accelerated the decline in local media business models.” While the economic pressures on local media are well documented, this conclusion is plain wrong – as evidenced by the sector’s rapidly-growing audiences and investment in recruitment of journalists. The BBC’s uninformed prediction of the demise of commercially viable local news media in fact risks precipitating decline.

“While the BBC has an understandable desire to fulfil its purpose, set out in its Charter, to ‘provide impartial news and information to help people understand and engage with the world around them,” this provision should include “content not widely available from other United Kingdom news providers.’ The BBC must consider how its services affect other media organisations and minimise any negative impact on the wider market.

“The plans set out by the BBC as part of the Licence Fee negotiations with government fail that test.

“It is increasingly evident the BBC’s proposals, funded by taxpayers through the Licence Fee, represent a direct threat to the economic sustainability of independent local news media, in turn undermining media plurality, diversity and consumer choice.”

Mr Meredith added: “In the BBC’s centenary year, as it searches for relevance in a digital world, it is unthinkable that it should seek – intentionally or otherwise – to undermine the viability of commercial news providers and the many diverse community voices these publishers represent, leaving the BBC a monolithic provider of news in the UK.

“We therefore ask the BBC Board to withdraw the local news plans set out in ‘Across the UK’ and commit to working in a meaningful way with the independent commercial news sector, setting boundaries to the BBC’s online news remit, to ensure access to quality journalism, from a range of sources, remains a cornerstone of UK democratic society.”