Government green paper on BBC expected to propose scaling back news website

A Government green paper consulting on changes to the BBC will suggest that the corporation’s website should be scaled back after complaints it is killing local papers, according to The Sunday Times.

There has been a net reduction of around 200 UK local newspapers over the last decade. Both The Sun and Mail have accused the BBC of website of closing local newspapers in recent editorials.

The BBC News website has been a long-standing target for criticism across the UK newspaper industry and is seen by some as stifling the ability of commercial news websites to turn a profit by creating unfair subsidised competition.

The Sunday Times also reports that this week’s green paper, to be published on Thursday, will suggest that the corporation should stop chasing ratings and instead focus on its public service remit.

The consultation comes ahead of the renewal of the BBC charter, which expires at the end of 2016 and is normally granted for ten years.

And it follows a budget funding deal which will see the BBC pay for the cost of free TV licences for over-75s in the future. This has been estimated at costing £750m, but will be offset by other changes which benefit BBC finances.

According to BBC director general Tony Hall, writing in The Observer, the new deal will give the BBC “flat funding for our content and services for the first five years of the next charter”, which will equate to a cut in real terms.

Previously, though, he said that the BBC will get more back out of the new deal that gives up.

Hall said that in future the debate about the BBC's scale and funding "should be taken out of the political cycle".

"As the dust settles after a challenging week of negotiation over funding and debate about the future of the BBC, three things are clear.

"First, the BBC has negotiated a strong financial settlement from the Government that gives us stability and clarity, but we should be in no doubt that the charter process will be tough.

"Second, despite noises to the contrary, the BBC is as independent today as it has ever been. There has been no fundamental change in the relationship between government and corporation. Nor will there be under my watch.

"Third, although the BBC used the pre-budget window of opportunity to reach a fair deal, it is not a process we would have chosen and it is not a process that should be repeated."

He said major efficiency savings will have to be found and difficult decisions taken, adding: "Successive governments have used the licence fee in different ways to fund priorities that are only indirectly connected to BBC output, for example, to support broadband rollout.

"So this is not a new debate and last week did not mark some seismic shift in the relationship between the BBC and the Government. Our independence is precious and will never be negotiated away.

"However, for people to have confidence in the country's most important news organisation, they must know that its journalists will ask the difficult questions without fear or favour.

"So I believe that in future the debate about the BBC's scale and funding should be taken out of the political cycle."

Meanwhile, Culture Secretary John Whittingdale has appointed an advisory group to look at the future of the BBC, which includes Johnston Press chief executive Ashley Highfield who last year called on the corporation to close local news websites and work more closely with the regional press industry.

Channel 5 boss Dawn Airey, who has previously called for the licence fee to be cut and for the broadcaster to consider charging for its website, is also on the panel. The other members are:

  • Former Ofcom chairwoman Colette Bowe
  • Shazam executive chairman Andrew Fisher
  • Arts Council England boss Darren Henley
  • Former Shine Group chief executive Alex Mahon
  • Digital entrepreneur Lopa Patel
  • And journalism professor Stewart Purvis – a former editor-in-chief of ITN.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said the panel will provide strategic independent oversight and challenge to the charter review programme.

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