NMA Calls For Ofcom To Take Another Look At BBC Expansion Into Local News

The News Media Association has called for Ofcom to take another look at the BBC’s expansion into local news, warning the licence fee funded plans will crowd out commercial providers, as the BBC announced a rise in local audiences.

Responding to a BBC press release announcing a rise in audiences for BBC Local services, NMA chief executive Owen Meredith warned that the long term effect of the BBC’s aggressive expansion would be to “eradicate plurality in the local news market.”

Owen said: “The rise in online audiences for BBC Local cynically trumpeted by the BBC this week is very worrying evidence of the effect of the BBC’s wrong-headed strategy of moving into an area already well served by commercial local providers.

“This shows audiences continue to be hungry for local news online, but the BBC is using the might of the licence fee to draw audiences away from commercial local news providers, depriving them of readers and the revenue to continue investment in trusted, professional, plural journalism, all at the expense of much-loved local radio services. The BBC Royal Charter is supposed to stop the BBC from impacting the commercial market in this way, Ofcom must take another look at this and put the brakes on the BBC’s expansionism.

“The long-term effect of this aggressive expansion into local news will be to eradicate plurality in the local news market, leaving us with the BBC as the only source of local news. We cannot allow that to happen.”

Iliffe Media editorial director Ian Carter said: “There’s something quite nauseating seeing the BBC boast about the fairly modest increase in its regional digital audience, knowing it’s been achieved by ripping the guts out of its distinctive local radio output.

“Diverting money to compete in a market well-served by commercial publishers will simply, in the long term, reduce choice. How can the rest of us experiment with monetisation models when a cash-rich BBC can simply follow up our stories and provide them on a free-to-access site?

“The outcome will be some publishers still desperately chasing clicks for ad revenue to at least try to compete on a desperately uneven playing field.

“All the evidence suggests unique, high-quality, exclusive content is what our audiences want. It’s what we want too and what we strive to provide. We need to pay for it somehow though.

“I don’t really fancy a world where the only source of local news comes from the BBC, alongside the occasional plucky hyperlocal, but that’s where we will finish up if its aggressive expansion is allowed to continue unchecked.”