BBC defends consumer titles in 'unfair trading' dispute

Olive : serves sophisticated market

BC Magazines has defended itself against rival publishers who are outraged that it will keep many of its consumer titles despite Mark Thompson’s shake-up of the corporation.

Publishing companies have accused the BBC of breaching its own fair trading guidelines by holding on to titles such as food magazine Olive , which is not directly connected to any programme.

The only magazines to be sold off as a result of the shake-up are flagship women’s title Eve and magazines from the BBC’s Origin subsidiary, such as World of Cross-Stitching and Koi, Ponds and Gardens .

An industry insider told Press Gazette he believed Eve was a “sacrificial lamb” intended to allow BBC Magazines to continue running other magazines outside its direct programming remit.

And IPC chief executive Sylvia Auton last week claimed the BBC was breaching fair trade guidelines by cross-subsidising its commercial activities from licence fee-funded programmes.

An IPC spokesman said: “Mark Thompson referred to BBC magazines being allowed to focus on brands and subjects connected to BBC programmes.

“That’s an astonishingly woolly definition. After all, what subjects does the BBC not cover in its programming? “This could actually mean that the BBC is seeking to extend the breadth of its portfolio.

“If it is deemed appropriate that the BBC’s public service remit is best served by its continuing to publish magazines, then these magazines should have a demonstrably clear and objective link to the BBC’s programming content.

“For example, what characterises Olive as being directly attached to a BBC brand or even generic theme?” But Jennie Allen, director of communications at BBC Worldwide, which includes BBC Magazines, said the claims were “nonsense”.

She said: “Other publishers say they aren’t happy that we’re competing in the commercial sector, but all of our businesses compete in the commercial sector, whether channels, books, audio books or magazines. To say that we are only allowed to compete in a failing area of the market is nonsense.

“This doesn’t contravene any fair trading guidelines that we know of, not in the UK or Europe.

“We believe that a magazine like Olive is justified because if you accept that food is a key area of the BBC’s output then it’s perfectly appropriate to publish several titles according to what different consumers want.

“We’ve got Easy Cook for people who do not want to do too much, Good Food for a competent cook and Olive, which is more specialist and sophisticated.”

Allen added that the BBC was carefully regulated to ensure that licence fee money did not subsidise the corporation’s commercial arm

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By Alyson Fixter

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