Trinity Mirror chief fears BBC will 'distort' local news market

Trinity Mirror this week sought the backing of the House of Lords to stop the BBC expanding online in a way the company believes will damage regional newspapers.

With the BBC about to submit its proposals for more local news to the BBC Trust for approval, Trinity Mirror chief executive Sly Bailey told peers on Tuesday that the move could distort the market at the expense of the newspaper industry.

‘Our concern is that if the BBC moves online ever more locally, they – without the same kind of commercial constraints as us – will distort those markets, making it much more difficult for us to enter.”

She told the House of Lords Communications Committee: ‘We are very big supporters of the BBC. But we must not allow the BBC to distort these embryonic markets.”

Bailey also told the all-party committee, which is probing the impact of newspaper ownership on news, that competition law needs to be loosened because it was threatening newspapers.

She told the committee that Trinity Mirror had just closed eight free newspapers in Derby and Peterborough which it had wanted to sell to Johnston Press in 2001, but the sale had been overruled by the Competition Commission.

Paul Vickers, the Trinity Mirror group legal director, said that had the Competition Commission allowed the sale to go ahead ‘we think they [the papers] would still be there”.

Bailey told peers that Trinity Mirror was one of the few media organisations making money online and dismissed fears related to the peers by the NUJ that changes in the industry were producing poorer journalism.

‘The best journalists are increasingly multiskilled,’she said.

Questioned by Lord Fowler, chairman of the committee, as to whether the Mirror would follow the example of The Sun, which backed the Tories in 1992 but switched to Labour in 1997, Bailey said: ‘Will the political positioning of the Daily Mirror change? No, it won’t.”

Lord Rothermere, chairman of Daily Mail and General Trust, also giving evidence to the committee, said the board left it to editors to decide which political party they should support.

‘The board takes an interest in a newspaper’s stance, but we let the editors edit the newspapers,’he said.

Lord Fowler asked: ‘If Paul Dacre changed the policy of the paper to legalising cannabis and in favour of joining the euro – which I concede is an unlikely event – would the board not intervene at that point?”

Lord Rothermere provoked laughter from the peers when he told them: ‘I don’t believe this is extreme enough for us to be involved.”

When one peer suggested supporting Labour might provoke the board to intervene, Lord Rothermere appeared to assent.

But DMGT chief executive Charles Sinclair told peers: ‘Our papers in Associated have sometimes supported Labour. The Standard has been a consistent supporter of the Labour Party on London issues.”

Rothermere said DMGT’s policy of non interference in editorial was the same at national newspaper division Associated as it was with the Northcliffe Media regional newspapers.

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