A senior regional editor has backed calls for the BBC to scale down its online activities in order to help local newspapers.
Home secretary Theresa May has called on the corporation to “think carefully” about whether its online presence is harming the industry, and veteran broadcaster David Dimbleby has since also questioned whether it has grown too big.
Now Northern Echo boss Peter Barron, one of the longest-serving daily editors has echoed the calls for a debate on the size of the BBC, claiming it currently represents “unfair competition” for local newspapers.
In a blog post, he said former local newspaper owner Mr Dimbleby was right to question whether the Beeb should scale down its online activity.
Wrote Peter: “It is my sincere belief that local newspapers, which have been entrenched in communities for generations, are fundamental to democracy. It is vital that as many as possible survive the severe economic challenges that they are facing.
“So the growth of a free local news service on BBC websites, subsidised by the compulsory licence fee, is unfair competition. Room needs to be left in the marketplace for trusted local papers, operating as businesses, and employing local people.
“The truth is that the BBC doesn’t cover local news in the depth that local newspapers do. The corporation doesn’t have the resources at the grass roots, but it’s right to establish some parameters on how far the tentacles of the BBC monster should be allowed to stretch.
“There are definite opportunities for the BBC and local papers to work together and David Dimbleby’s stimulation of the debate is to be welcomed.”
Ms May told this month’s Society of Editors conference: “Local newspapers are having a particularly hard time. That has partly been the result of the BBC’s dominant position on the internet, and its ability to subsidise the provision of internet news using the licence fee.
“I believe that the BBC has to think carefully about its presence locally and the impact that has on local democracy.”
Interviewed on 5Live last week, Mr Dimbleby said there was “some truth” in her comments.
He said the corporation needed “to answer questions about whether the BBC has got too big. Whether it is too powerful for its own good. Whether it’s crushing newspapers, local newspapers particularly.”