The BBC has pioneered the development of online media, with its hugely successful website, and services such as iPlayer, showing the way to go for broadcasters not just in the UK but across the world. The government allotted the corporation a key role in facilitating the UK’s transition from analogue to digital, and BBC managers have been right to push technological innovation, despite the opposition of those big media businesses with bottom lines rather than public interest at heart.
There can be too much of a good thing, however, and no-one wants the UK’s world-renowned media ecology, with its mix of licence fee-funded and commercial media, to be distorted by a BBC which has grown too big. The BBC should not use its size and resources in a way that amounts to unfair competition with the private sector.
Friday’s decision by the BBC Trust to acknowledge competition concerns and halt the development of BBC Local Video is therefore the right one. Last week saw the Independent announce 90 job losses, and Johnston Press shares in free fall. stv managers are trying to come up with a survival plan for digitalisation, and commercial radio is in crisis. The BBC Trust has conceded, after reviewing the evidence, that the public value of a local video network is outweighed by the potential damage done to other local media.
The Trust’s decision is not, one imagines, unconnected with the BBC’s current difficulties with Brand, Ross and now Sergeant. Right now, as [broadcasting regulator] Ofcom’s review of public service broadcasting funding nears a conclusion, the BBC needs all the friends it can get, and to pacify its critics. There are sound political reasons, therefore, as well as competition ones, for pulling back from this particular expansion of the BBC’s activities.
Some accuse the local media of neglecting their journalism, and have supported the local video proposal because it would fill genuine gaps in provision. That is a valid point, and never more worth making when unprecedented financial pressures are forcing cutbacks in editorial resource within