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Newspaper ad revenues 'hit by BBC', says industry body

The BBC’s online activities are threatening the profitability of regional newspapers, says the Newspaper Society.

The society has told a review of BBC Online that it is concerned that public money is being used by the BBC to create “electronic newspapers” offering free advertising to customers who normally use newspapers.

The comments came in a letter to former Trinity Mirror chief executive Philip Graf, who is conducting the Government review, from society director David Newell.

In it he pointed out that the BBC had previously given assurances that licence fee money would not be used to publish newspapers, and said that the Newspaper Society assumed this also covered electronic newspapers covering local news, advertising, and events information.

The society previously made a submission to the review in December, and the letter said that since then evidence had come to light from Johnston Press which said that free entertainment listings on sites such as www.bbc.co.uk/leeds is making it harder for other media to make money from this area.

It said: “Johnston Press plc would charge online editorial content if there was a willingness to pay from the consumer.

“However, there is not a significant willingness to pay and part of the reason is because the consumer can obtain free local online news content from the BBC.”

It also said that Northcliffe had raised examples of BBC Online’s entertainment listings leading to the withdrawal of advertising in newspaper titles.

And the society director said that although individual companies may have different views on how best to deal with the situation, all its members felt the BBC should not replicate the print and online content of regional newspapers as this was an unjustified use of licence fee money and unfairly distorted local media markets to the public detriment.

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