Internet group accuses BBC of stifling its rivals

Drayton: ‘BIPA has exposed BBC’s broken promises’

The BBC has been accused of stifling competition and making a catalogue of broken promises by the British Internet Publishers Alliance (BIPA).

The group represents most of the major newspaper publishers in the UK as well as Emap, IPC and the Commercial Radio Companies Association and has just made its submission to the Government’s review of BBC internet policy.

Chairman Hugo Drayton, who is also managing director of the Telegraph Group, said: “This is about the BBC misusing public money and stifling competition, which lessens the choice for the consumer in the long term.”

The BIPA submission says that in 1998, when the BBC was given Government permission to provide online services, it promised to keep to a tight annual budget of £21m, focus on education and not have any competitive effect on the marketplace.

BIPA says the BBC has broken these promises by running sites such as Celebdaq and Fightbox. It also claims the corporation is now spending £100m a year on web services The submission states: “Its entire competitive stance has completely undermined the ability of British commercial companies to compete in this market. British internet publishers cannot compete fairly with the BBC’s enormous resources and constant promotions and cross-references on radio and television.”

Drayton said: “BIPA has exposed a catalogue of broken promises by the BBC and has provided the Graf Review with detailed evidence to show how far the BBC has strayed from its own public service remit, and how it has damaged the delivery of consumer choice.”

BIPA’s suggestions for the Graf Review include:

BBCi should be subject to a new remit, setting clear boundaries beyond which it would be digressing from its public service obligations;

Effective sanctions and timely remedies should be devised for use in cases where the limits of the new remit are breached;

All proposed new public service online activities should be subject to separate approval, including industry consultation and a full market impact test conducted by an independent body;

The BBC should be required to scale back from areas where other commercial or public sector providers are able to satisfy user needs; In general the BBC should be required to provide links to quality commercial services rather than seeking to replicate them;

The BBC should not provide prominent links to companies with which it has commercial arrangements.

The deadline for comments to the Graf Review was Monday. The review is due to be published in the spring.

The BBC has declined to comment before the review’s conclusion.

By Dominic Ponsford

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