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Mission creep?

Is the BBC stepping on the toes of independent publishers?

By James Evelegh

Mission creep?

Having your 20-something “kids” still living at home provides a useful sounding board.

What, I asked them yesterday, did they think of the TV license fee?

“Not good”, “there’s no choice” and “we don’t use the BBC”.

Leaving aside the fact that they’d clearly forgotten that they enjoy watching The Apprentice on catch-up and occasionally listen to Radio 1, it was a genuine response and not one that was out of kilter with the wider public. The average age of BBC viewers is 60+.

Last week, BBC Director General Tim Davie gave a speech to the Royal Television Society on creating a ‘BBC for the future’.

In a wide-ranging speech, Davie talked of “strengthening our local news offer digitally … placing local and national news at the heart of the BBC News app”.

He talked about his ambition to “build our position as the number one English online news brand online, globally”.

On being able to compete on the global stage, something a number of UK news brands also aspire to do, Davie talked about using “appropriate commercialisation”.

How can other UK news brands hope to compete with what is a commercial competitor piggybacking off the license fee?

News Media Association Chief Executive Owen Meredith was not impressed with the speech: “Tim Davie has set out a vision for the BBC that overreaches its remit and its commitments under the Royal Charter and Agreement to not adversely impact competition. The public should be in no doubt that this appears to be an aggressive strategy, designed to strengthen the BBC’s hand at the expense of others.”

By others, Meredith means us – other UK publishers. He continued: “The BBC must be pulled back from its assault on the commercial journalism sector, otherwise the consequences for news provision in this country and further afield will be devastating.”

Fresh thinking about the future direction of the BBC is needed. The challenge is to preserve what’s unique about the BBC and what only it can provide, while leaving ample room for an independent British publishing sector to flourish.

You can catch James Evelegh’s regular column in the InPubWeekly newsletter, which you can register to receive here.