Newspapers and BBC ‘must cooperate’

Ashley Highfield.
Ashley Highfield.
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A clear framework of targets and controls to govern the BBC’s news services and put cooperation at the heart of its guiding principles must be implemented to ensure a durable, vibrant and plural UK news market, according to a new report from Oliver & Ohlbaum published today.

Entitled UK News Provision at the Crossroads: The News Market in the 21st Century and the Likely Implications for the BBC’s Role, the 69-page report looks at the changing market for local, national and international news services and the BBC’s role as part of the BBC Charter Review process.

It points out that news brands - newspapers in print and digital - followed by the BBC, are the two largest news providers in the UK and both are vital to the overall news ecology and to democracy.

How these two players develop and relate to each other will determine the future of the UK’s plural and diverse news provision sector.

“The execution of partnership strategies is never easy and will require cultural change, management will and strong oversight,” the report says. “However the potential benefits to the sustainability of the UK news sector overall… are worth the effort.

“ The alternative vision of the future is much less desirable - a UK news media landscape dominated by social media, global news providers and with the BBC trying to fight in all corners.”

News Media Association chairman Mike Darcey, News UK chief executive, said: “Collectively, local, regional and national news brands spend £1.2 billion a year on news provision, making our sector the powerhouse for investment in UK journalism and the originators of content relied upon by broadcast, online and social media outlets every day.

“News brands are successfully making the transition to a sustainable digital world despite undoubted challenges and risks along the way.

“The BBC must not be given free rein to jeopardise that transition by expanding its local or international news services under the guise of providing a universal solution for a market failure which doesn’t exist.”

NMA vice chairman Ashley Highfield, Johnston Press chief executive, said: “The UK’s newsmedia landscape will be best served by a BBC which genuinely collaborates with news media publishers rather than competing with them. This would make far better use of the BBC’s stretched resources while allowing space for commercial news media to innovate and thrive.

“The BBC repeatedly seeks to portray itself as a willing partner but all too often fails to deliver. The O&O report outlines a framework for cooperation through content-sharing targets and effective governance to enable the BBC to focus on what it is good at and make a positive contribution to a diverse UK media industry.”

Oliver & Ohlbaum founder and chief executive Mark Oliver said: “Without a clear, externally-regulated co-operation framework for the expansion of its news services, the BBC’s drive to ‘do more’ risks becoming a contributory factor in the erosion of the wider UK news provision market.

“By playing a complementary role, the BBC can help to support the commercially funded news market and leave room for commercial models to evolve and grow, maintaining and ultimately enhancing the strength of the UK news ecosystem.”

Drawing from the O&O report’s recommendations, the NMA is calling on the government to implement 10 changes to the BBC objectives and governance designed to establish an effective system of accountability that enshrines collaboration between the BBC and the UK’s commercial news providers.

The BBC’s mission, purpose and values

● Guiding principles setting out how the BBC should work with the wider commercial UK news sector.

● Objectives and remit of the BBC’s news operations with an emphasis on news partnerships, collaborative working and content sharing, sourcing and attribution.

● Clear targets, timetables and accountability measures for delivering on cross-sector working.

What the BBC does in terms of its scale and scope:

● Specific controls around the scope of BBC news online.

● A commitment to source news content from existing news providers rather than replicating their coverage, with annual monitoring.

● Significantly tightened definitions of the scope for the BBC’s online news services.

● A clearer process by which a market impact assessment can be triggered to review pre-existing and future initiatives.

● An extended BBC commitment to third-party content sourcing to include news content generated by other UK news providers

BBC funding:

● Much greater transparency around the BBC’s use of its licence fee funded network of overseas journalists to underpin the BBC’s commercial international services, and whether this practice is consistent with the principles of fair competition.

BBC governance and regulation:

● A fit for purpose system of accountability that enshrines within the BBC’s governance arrangements specific roles and responsibilities for meaningful, commercially impactful collaboration between the BBC and UK news providers.