NMA: Update Of BBC Operating Licence Is ‘Missed Opportunity’

The update of the BBC operating licence announced by Ofcom today will give the BBC a free pass to expand its offering, using the licence fee to compete directly with commercial providers, the News Media Association said.

Responding to the publication by Ofcom of an updated BBC operating licence today, NMA chief executive Owen Meredith said: “The update of the BBC operating licence is a missed opportunity for Ofcom to place clear guardrails around the BBC’s impact upon commercial providers, particularly local news media providers.

“Instead, the BBC has been given a free pass to expand its offering, using the licence fee to compete directly with commercial providers, to the detriment of our wider media ecosystem and contrary to the recommendations of the Cairncross review.

“The government must now act via the mid term review to protect local news providers from the harmful effects of the BBC’s planned encroachment into local news.”

In an announcement, Ofcom said the updated licence “requires the BBC to make important content available for online audiences, including for the nations and regions and at-risk programming, and make it easy to discover.” Ofcom added: “We also require the BBC to provide a wide range of content across all of its services – including music, arts, religion, ethics, other specialist factual content, comedy and children’s programmes.”

Published in 2019, the Cairncross Review said: “The review recommends that Ofcom should review to what extent BBC online content acts as a substitute for, rather than a complement to, the offerings of commercial news providers, and what measures might reasonably be required of the BBC to reduce substitution.

“Ofcom should ask whether, in its pursuit of younger audiences, BBC News Online goes beyond the BBC’s core public purposes, and inappropriately steps into areas better served by commercial partners. In the light of its conclusions, it should clarify and confirm appropriate boundaries for the future direction of BBC online content. This should address the arguments put forward to this Review that, if the BBC moves too far into ‘softer’ news, it jeopardises the wider market’s ability to make money from news.”