Conservative leader David Cameron has warned that the BBC is in danger of “crushing with their great big foot” the “enterprise, risk and entrepreneurship” of commercial competitors on the internet and in education, video-on-demand and regional news.
Cameron was speaking at a lunch organised by the Newspaper Society for regional newspaper Lobby correspondents today.
On Friday, the BBC Trust is due to reveal the provisional findings of its public value test on the corporation’s controversial plans to create a network of 65 local video news websites.
Cameron said he favoured a stronger public interest test when the BBC enters new markets adding: “I would also like to see them regulated more in the way that other TV companies are”.
He added: “Independent regulation has to be independent. I still don’t really understand how you can be partly regulated by the BBC Trust and partly regulated by Ofcom.”
Cameron said of the BBC: “They should be judged on reach and the service they produce reaching a wide range of people rather than being so nakedly commercial at key points in the schedule.”
Newspaper Society president and Northcliffe boss Michael Pelosi warned Cameron: “Some businesses in the local media are currently in a battle for survival” and he said that the BBC’s local video plans could undermine advertising revenues for regional newspapers’ nascent video news websites.
In another positive sign for the local press, Cameron pledged that a Conservative government would redistribute wealth and power to Britain’s regions.
He said: “Tony Benn once spoke about wanting a fundamental shift of power and wealth to working people. I want a fundamental shift of power and wealth to local people and local politicians.
“Growth has been too centred on London and the urban centres of the South East.”
Cameron joked with journalists that he saw them as “colleagues” citing an incident involving Times comment editor Daniel Finkelstein and Cameron’s four-year-old daughter.
Finkelstein was apparently recently visiting the Tory leader’s constituency home when Cameron’s daughter asked him what he did for a living – he explained that he makes newspapers.
Cameron said that she replied: “My daddy reads the newspapers for a living, and when I’m watching the cartoons on telly he switches over and watches himself.”