Public Sector Competition

Why is it important?

News media publishers are by far the biggest investors in news and information. They compete fiercely with one another for stories, audiences and advertisers. This competition is a key driver of quality and helps to ensure that a plurality of voices exists within the industry. Competition on a level playing field fuels better services and contributes to a diverse and vibrant news media landscape. But when independent publishers are forced to compete with state-funded news providers the balance of the market can become fundamentally disrupted, with far reaching consequences for publishers.

The BBC News website has had a profound impact upon the digital strategies of UK news media publishers

Current situation

Taxpayers’ funds should not be used for anything which directly harms independent businesses. The BBC News website has had a profound impact on the digital strategies of UK news media publishers who are forced to compete with a state-funded provider of news and information which is free to consumers at the point of delivery.

At a local level, BBC local websites have all too often piggybacked on the work of independent news providers without properly attributing their source.

The industry successfully campaigned for new rules preventing local authorities from publishing council newspapers

The local news media sector has also had to contend with the unwelcome rise of aggressive council newspapers which are published by local authorities but are designed to look like independent newspapers. These publications, described by Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles as “town hall Pravdas”, can inflict serious damage on independent newspapers by competing with them for readers and advertising.

These threats have added to the economic challenges faced by the local media industry.

What is the NMA doing about it?

The NMA believes that news media publishers should be allowed to compete in a fair marketplace which does not include taxpayer-funded state competitors.  The industry successfully campaigned for new rules preventing local authorities from publishing council newspapers more often than quarterly. This has seen most councils rein in their publications. In August 2019, the High Court dismissed a challenge by two London councils to the Government’s crackdown on council papers, with the judge stating that restricting council papers promotes freedom of expression.

The NMA is also active in promoting to Government and other public bodies the efficacy of news media as an advertising medium for campaigns and public messages. For example, the NMA has for many years highlighted the importance of local authorities using local newspapers for public notices in order to ensure they are seen by the public as possible and not hidden away on little-used council websites.

The NMA contributed to the BBC Charter renewal process, articulating the concerns of member publishers throughout, and winning assurances that the BBC will not overextend its local services into the territory of local media publishers. As part of that work, the BBC and NMA announced the ground-breaking Local News Partnership with the BBC investing up to £8 million a year over 11 years. The initiative has created 150 new Local Democracy Reporter journalism jobs, a shared data journalism unit, and a facility allowing local news providers access to local BBC material. Since its inception, the model has been widely praised and emulated overseas. In her review of the UK of the news media sector, Dame Frances Cairncross called for the scheme to be extended.