Commercial net publishers call for more cuts to BBC services

NS director Rasaiah, left, and BIPA chairman Drayton welcomed report

Commercial internet publishers say that the BBC’s offer to close five websites in the wake of the Graf report does not go far enough, writes Dominic Ponsford.

Chairman of the British Internet Publishers Alliance Hugo Drayton welcomed the fact that the BBC’s internet activities were “finally” being addressed. But he said the corporation’s offered cuts were not significant enough.

BIPA represents many of the major national newspapers and magazines with a web presence. It believes that the BBC expansion into internet publishing has stifled commercial sites and amounted to unfair competition.

Drayton, who is also managing director of Telegraph Group, said: “They need a fundamental change in attitude towards this business and a fundamental rethink about what the BBC’s public service remit is in this area. This attitude that the BBC has to be everywhere doing everything is wrongheaded.

“I’m glad that the Graf report has made some points that we have been trying to make for the past six years and I’m glad that he’s come up with some clear recommendations for what the BBC needs to do.

“I’m also glad that the Government and opposition are supporting the fact that the BBC needs to be curbed in this area.

“But I’m frustrated that the system of governors is completely unviable – they can’t be their own judge and jury.”

Drayton said that his group has asked for no safeguards that are not already taken for granted in broadcasting.

He called for significant cuts to be made to the BBC’s web services and for limits to be placed on the extent to which it is allowed to crosspromote websites on TV and radio.

He also said that BBC websites should be forced to carry links to other commercial internet sites as part of its role as a “trusted guide”.

The Newspaper Society has argued that the BBC’s local news and listings websites compete unfairly with local newspapers.

Director of political, editorial and regulatory affairs Santha Rasaiah welcomed news that the Government has asked the BBC to “review and redefine the purposes and aims of its online services” following the Graf report.

She said: “Some progress has been made. The Graf report stipulates – and the BBC submission to the Charter review accepts – that the BBC must avoid adverse market impact upon its commercial competitors, that its activities must in future be distinctive and actually justified by its public service remit.”

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