BBC and Tech platforms in firing line during DCMS inquiry
The BBC, Google and Facebook all found themselves in the firing line in the opening session of the inquiry into the sustainability of local journalism.
The Department of Culture, Media and Sport-led inquiry, which opened on Tuesday, heard there lacked a level playing field between commercial publishers and the BBC as well as the big tech platforms that was putting their future viability at risk.
Owen Meredith, chief executive of the News Media Association, representing 900 titles, called for more urgency in introducing legislation that would bring the tech platforms to the negotiating table to apportion a fairer share of revenue generated on the back of local journalism.
But it was the BBC that was in the cross hairs as the inquiry opened.
Mr Meredith said he believed the BBC could be “a force for good”, but he questioned its remit and how it competes with the commercial sector in its online news offering.
“If the BBC had to print its volume of online news then this committee would call it in and ask questions. It isn’t doing that in the digital space. The BBC should negotiate with commercial providers on what news they cover.
“My members say stories are taken by the BBC without reference.”
He went on to say that trying to negotiate with the BBC was problematic. “We can come up with a much better model. We are asking them to come to the table but they are not forthcoming in terms of genuine negotiation.”
Mr Meredith went on to criticise the BBC’s intention to recruit more journalists in local regions.
“What the BBC has proposed is to recruit local digital journalists directly competing with what my members are doing. The BBC is coming into a space and by having a presence in the digital space, they stifle the passive demand for news.”
He says that by publishing one or two stories it is enough to satisfy a digital audience which prevents commercial publishers from attracting those readers and monetising their stories.
His views were shared with the two other witnesses to the inquiry in the first session, Martin Steers, from the UK Community Radio Network and David Powell, chair of the Local TV Network.
Mr Steers said: “In some areas the BBC do see community radio as a competitor and others have a better relationship.”
The inquiry was keen to find out more about the impact Facebook and Google were having on news provision and whether the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Bill announced in the Queen’s speech will help to protect local journalism.
Mr Meredith said: “The bill is vitally important. The balance of power favours the platforms.”
He said an NMA study published last week reported that £1bn of value is diverted by Google and Facebook from UK news publisher content with “very little” being returned to commercial newsrooms.
He called for lessons to be learned from what happened in Australia and for collective bargaining to take place with the platforms for a better deal.
“I would very much like to see the bill published as soon as possible. We have had seemingly endless consultation. The consequences of delay and not seeing a level playing field will be the closure of more smaller titles.”
He said in his opinion Google and Facebook are supportive of the concept of regulation but he did not understand why there was a hold up in progressing the legislation further.