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Editor’s blog: May off-beam with attack on Beeb

The arrival of Home Secretary Theresa May as the keynote speaker at yesterday morning’s opening session of the Society of Editors conference certainly added a bit of sparkle to the event.

But Ms May’s call for the BBC to scale down its local websites in order to help the regional press has not gone down well with delegates in London.

The Home Secretary claimed that the corporation’s dominance of the local online news market has made it difficult for others to gain a foothold.

However the consensus among regional editors at the London gathering was that most BBC local websites are so poor and so full of old news lifted from their own titles that they scarcely represent such a threat.

Maybe Ms May picked up a briefing note from three or four years ago, when the big issue at conference was not press regulation but the future of the BBC’s online presence.

Back then, there were widespread fears within the industry over BBC plans to beef up its local websites in a way which might have meant genuine competition.

But the BBC Trust eventually halted the plan following a fierce lobbying campaign by the Newspaper Society and others.

Three years on, Ms May appears to be stuck in something of a timewarp.


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  • November 12, 2013 at 10:22 am

    It’s an obvious attempt by the government to undermine the BBC again and bring in more commercial pressure. Frankly, they need to keep their hands off the Beeb. It isn’t perfect, but compare it to pretty much any commercial broadcaster on the planet (Fox News etc), and it’s obvious the licence fee is preferable to commercial advertising as a source of funding.

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  • November 12, 2013 at 12:12 pm

    I don’t think it’s as simple as saying most BBC local websites are rubbish (which they certainly are) or that other publishers struggle to gain a foothold in the marketplace. Most publishers find it pretty easy to grow a big online audience.
    It’s more the fact that, with the BBC providing a state-subsidised local online news service, it makes it all but impossible for other publishers to charge for content.
    The BBC local offering may not be great, but it’s probably still enough to stop the vast majority of readers paying for additional, better coverage.
    Theresa May clearly thought she was playing to the crowd, not realising there were probably more BBC executives than regional editors there. It would have been better for her to have given her views on how the BBC can help drive audiences to other publishers’ sites in a more effective way than the current, very random Moreover aggregator.

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