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BBC to face annual review of its local news market share

Lucy Frazer

The government is calling on media watchdog Ofcom to carry out an annual review of the BBC’s share of the local news market amid fears it could ‘crush’ commercial publishers.

Ministers have today published a Mid-Term Review of the current BBC Charter which calls for more “meaningful engagement” between the corporation and the independent local news sector.

It says the BBC should be “more transparent” when it makes changes to its services and to “support other businesses operating in the same markets.”

The review comes amid the ongoing row over the BBC’s proposed expansion of its online news services which commercial news publishers fear could drive them out of business.

The expansion will see the BBC create 11 investigative reporting teams across the country, increase its daily online news provision for 43 local areas, and launch dedicated websites covering Bradford, Wolverhampton, Sunderland and Peterborough.

In a statement, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said: “The Mid-Term Review stresses the need for the BBC to meaningfully engage with its competitors, such as radio stations and local newspapers, when it is considering a change to its services.”

In a paragraph headed ‘The BBC’s impact on the wider market, it states: “The BBC must clearly demonstrate how it effectively balances delivering for licence fee payers and supporting the UK’s wider creative industries when making decisions about how its services and output are distinctive.

“This is increasingly important given broader structural trends in some of the markets in which the BBC operates, such as online local news, and will be an important question for the Charter Review.

“Meaningful engagement with competitors should be strengthened and the BBC must be more transparent when it seeks to make changes to its services. This higher standard of engagement and transparency should support other businesses operating in the same markets as the BBC, including commercial radio stations and local news publishers.

“The government has recommended that Ofcom publish an annual high-level view on the BBC’s position in the local news sector, as it does for other sectors, to provide further clarity.”

Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer, pictured, said: “The Government wants to see a strong, independent BBC that can thrive in the years to come as a major contributor to the nation’s successful creative industries.

“Following constructive conservations with the BBC and Ofcom, we have recommended reforms that I believe will improve accountability while boosting public confidence in the BBC’s ability to be impartial and respond to concerns raised by licence fee payers.

New publishing industry body the News Media Association has welcomed the proposed changes but again called on the ministers and Ofcom to force the corporation to scrap its digital expansion plans.

Ofcom originally gave the green light to the proposals in December 2022, saying they would have a likely impact of less than 1pc on the total revenues of online local news providers.

NMA chief executive Owen Meredith said: “The government’s recommendation that the BBC strengthen its transparency and engagement with commercial media providers is welcome and makes clear the BBC needs to change its current approach, particularly in the local news marketplace, to support rather than compete with commercial providers.

“We look forward to working with the Government and Parliament as we approach the 2027 Charter Review to ensure the BBC delivers its mission in a way that does not continue to undermine and harm commercial news publishers, with whom it now directly competes on the digital newsstand in an unprecedented way.

“By needlessly boosting its digital local news offering, at the expense of much-loved local radio services, the BBC threatens to crush commercial local news publishers who cannot be expected compete with the might of the licence fee. Ultimately, this could result in the BBC becoming the only source of local news in many communities.

“MPs and Ofcom need to wake up to this threat and press the BBC to change course on these misguided plans.”