Monday, 20 July 2009

Stephen Glover: 'BBC is pointing a dagger at the heart of a free press'

The Independent's media columnist Stephen Glover today joins the critics of the BBC website who claim it is strangling newspapers by preventing them charging for their online material.
Glover takes issue with Financial Times editor Lionel Barber's prediction that "almost all" news organisations will be charging for online content within a year.
He says: "The problem he does not consider is the BBC website. This provides only limited competition to, which supplies specialist financial information and commentary not freely available elsewhere. But the BBC's increasingly ramifying website, which now includes blogs offering analysis and commentary, competes directly with mainstream newspapers that do not offer "must have" financial articles.
"I find it difficult to see how most titles can successfully apply even a modest charge as long as the BBC offers so much content online free of charge. In effect, the publicly-funded broadcaster is pointing a dagger at the heart of the free Press. If this sounds like special pleading, I cheerfully own up to being guilty.
"The BBC was not set up to produce a newspaper, which is what the BBC website is, in an online form. Without Parliament having had any say, the Corporation has become a major competitor to newspapers in their own medium. The next government must review this covert extension of BBC power. If the BBC website were entirely audio-visual, newspapers would not be forced to compete with the publicly-subsidized written word."


Rich Simcox said...

The point about the BBC now having a de facto newspaper in online form is an interesting one, but diversionary in my view. And this smacks of the latest in a long (and no doubt continuing, with a general election on the horizon) line of fashionable 'bash the Beeb' articles.

Essentially, criticisms of this nature usually boil down to the fact that the BBC is too good, too professional, too well staffed, provides content of a quality that no one can possibly compete with etc. At the very least, we should be demanding that the BBC always operates to these standards; we ought to celebrate it when it does.

Of course, the FT is something of a special case. But it proves that readers will seek out expert analysis and information, and I do think people will pay for certain online content eventually.

But it will require some thought by the publishers. It doesn't mean you have to charge for everything like you do with a print newspaper (buy all of it or none of it) and it probably does mean upping your game in some areas - like investigations for example - and putting resources behind your editorial teams, as well as making more of the supporting roles of online/digital and print.

Undermining the BBC for doing a quality job with our money - or taking some of that money and handing it to profit-making companies - won't raise the standard of journalism in this country - it'll lower it.

Rich Simcox said...

Of course, the other point is that I hope Stephen Glover, like me, pays £142.50 a year to watch, read and listen to the BBC. So bloody good value it may be, but free it isn't.