AddThis SmartLayers

Ofcom gives green light to BBC expansion despite regional press hostility

Owen Meredith 2022The BBC’s plans to increase its online local news provision will not have a “significant adverse impact” on regional publishers, the broadcast watchdog has ruled.

In a ruling that has dismayed regional publishers, Ofcom gave the green light to the BBC’s expansion saying it will have a likely impact of less than 1pc on the total revenues of online local news providers.

The regulator also concluded that while the expanded BBC service may attract a larger audience, this would not be at the expense of commercial online local news content that already exists.

The corporation announced proposals in October to create 131 new jobs as a result of planned investment in local news services across the country while at the same time axeing 179 jobs in local radio and TV services.

The announcement was criticised by regional and national press trade body the News Media Association, which has also shared its disappointment at Ofcom’s ruling on the issue.

In reaching its conclusion, Ofcom said it had “carefully scrutinised” the BBC’s “materiality assessment” alongside other available evidence – including information provided by the NNMA and the published financial statements of local news publishers.

In a statement published today, the regulator said: “In summary, our assessment is that the impact on the total revenues of online local news providers is likely to be less than 1pc.

“We also consider that, while the proposals will mean that the volume of BBC online local news content may grow and attract more audience, it will not necessarily replace the interest in and consumption of commercial online local news content that already exists.

“This leads us to conclude that the change is not one that may have a significant adverse impact on fair and effective competition – and so we do not, therefore, consider the change to be ‘material’.

“We recognise, however, the importance of protecting competition in the provision of local news and will closely monitor the progress of the BBC’s proposals.

“This will involve gathering detailed information from the BBC and commercial news publishers to assess the actual impact of the BBC’s proposals on audiences, to be shared in our next BBC Annual Report.

“If evidence emerges of harm to competition from the BBC’s ongoing activities in this area, we will not hesitate to step in using our BBC competition powers.”

The expansion will see the BBC create 11 investigative reporting teams across the country while, in a separate move, increasing its daily online news provision for 43 local areas and launching dedicated websites covering Bradford, Wolverhampton, Sunderland and Peterborough.

The scheme is part of a series of changes which will see 139 other roles being made redundant due to the introduction of increased programme-sharing across its network of 39 local radio stations in England, along with 40 jobs lost in regional TV services.

The NMA had previously accused the BBC of trying to “directly compete” with the regional press after the proposals were revealed.

NMA chief executive Owen Meredith, pictured, said today: “We are extremely disappointed that Ofcom have reached this conclusion and chosen not to halt these damaging plans from the BBC to cut funding to respected local radio production and instead invest further in online local news, which is already well served by commercial local news providers.

“We believe this expansion from the BBC will directly threaten the sustainability of local news titles and risks leading to the loss of jobs for local journalists.

“We strongly urge the BBC to think again, and instead to build meaningful partnerships with commercial publishers to ensure a healthy and plural local news ecosystem – working with us, and not against.”

A BBC spokesman said: “The BBC’s regulation needs to evolve for the digital age with built-in flexibility so we can serve audiences with impartial news and distinctive UK content in a fast-changing global market.

“These proposals will also provide greater transparency and accountability for audiences.

“Our small number of proposals for change focus on the need to better serve audiences and increase value for money.”