Andrew Miller, chief executive of the Guardian Media Group, delivered the annual Polis lecture today at the London School of Economics in which he slammed the BBC’s dominance over the UK media sector and its failure to help support commercial media outlets in the region.
But he did have a remedy: The creation of a public pool of news streams that the BBC has access to — cameras in court rooms, royal wedding coverage, government select committee hearings and so on — which other outlets like the Guardian can tap into.
In the UK, the BBC is publicly-funded. Each household in the region must pay an annual TV licence fee of £145.50 to watch or record TV as it’s being broadcast on their TV sets, laptops and phones. The BBC also has a commercial arm, BBC Worldwide, where it sells BBC programming and associated products abroad. But it’s the huge annual funding from the public which means it maintains its dominant status, while some other news outlets — particularly newspapers — are struggling to stay afloat
Miller said now the time has come to “address and remedy” the implication’s of the BBC’s dominance.
He mentioned a recent example where the Guardian has been hit by the BBC’s dominance in the region. The BBC recently announced plans to expand to Australia, a country in which the Guardian has already invested heavily in building a business.
“Australia is already a diverse and highly-competitive market. As such, the BBC’s expansion into Australia goes beyond its public service remit. More than that, it does not benefit UK licence fee payers or meet the requirement of the BBC to provide news in parts of the world where there are limited alternatives.
“It threatens a distortion that is not in the interests of audiences or other news providers.”
Miller went on to suggest that there could be a way that the BBC could give back to other media brands: through its vast repositories of live and archive video.
He wants the BBC to give the Guardian, Mail Online, The Telegraph and The Times access to its unrivalled back catalogue to create new content “that the BBC doesn’t have the time, inclination or expertise to create.” This “digital public space” would be available to all UK commercial content providers for free where there is no commercial value to allow for “more detailed storytelling” and to “reinforce” the BBC’s place as an authoritative news source.
Where there is a clear commercial value, such as territories where media companies compete with the BBC for advertising revenues, the content would come at a cost.
He added: “My suggestion strengthens and develops the relationship between the BBC and the UK’s commercial publishers. It promotes the BBC’s content abroad. It gives the BBC additional exposure and dollars. It creates a level playing field between us and the BBC’s commercial news arm. And it allows other publishers — all of whom would clearly have to sign commercial terms — additional content and collateral.”
Miller did caveat his criticisms and suggestions by saying that The Guardian sees the BBC “as a friend.” He thinks his suggestion would help “build and grow on the strength and value of the BBC” and that it’s also an argument for keeping media plurality “at the heart of the democratic life of this country.”
Earlier on in his speech, Miller also attacked the size and influence of digital media companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter. He questioned whether they were being “disingenuous,” referencing recent Twitter trolls, Facebook making changes to its gender selection option and BuzzFeed recently having to apologise for plagiarism.
“One the one hand they want to be open and agnostic platforms for the distribution of content, with the cost infrastructure of being digital. On the other hand, they make the majority of their revenues from media-related advertising.
“I think they need to be more candid about what they want to be. Platforms without responsibility? Or media companies with the organizational framework in place to make big editorial decisions?
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