New guidelines issued
Ofcom to monitor BBC over ‘unfair advantage’
Ofcom today pledged to ensure the BBC applies “fair and effective competition” as part of the regulator’s new remit to oversee the corporation.
The watchdog has issued new guidelines on its role which specifically refer to the BBC’s ability to distort the market and create “an unfair competitive advantage for the BBC’s subsidiaries.”
Its statement is a clear reference to concerns over how the BBC’s licence-fee funded activities – and its online operations in particular – are threatening the viability of other media.
The guidelines follow publication of the final BBC Royal Charter detailing how the BBC will operate from 2017 to 2027.
This will see the biggest reform of the governance and regulation of the BBC since it was founded.
The Government has decided that a new BBC unitary board will govern and run the BBC, and ultimately be responsible for editorial and management decisions.
The previous Charter and Agreement gave Ofcom shared regulatory oversight of some of the BBC’s content standards with the BBC Trust, which will close when Ofcom takes on its new role.
The new arrangement hands Ofcom regulatory responsibility for content standards on BBC broadcasting and on-demand programme services including, for the first time, for the accuracy and impartiality of BBC news and current affairs programmes.
Ofcom will also create procedures for handling complaints about BBC content standards, and for conducting its investigations and sanctions.
Regulation of the BBC will sit within Ofcom’s existing teams and will focus on three core areas, as laid out in the Charter: content standards; protecting fair and effective competition; and reviewing the BBC’s performance.
On competition, Ofcom says: “Fair and effective competition is good for viewers and listeners. It can increase choice and stimulate investment and innovation – ensuring the provision of a wide range of high-quality and varied programmes, and different ways to access them,” it said.
“Ofcom will assess the effect of the BBC’s activities on audiences and the UK media sector, and set rules as to how the BBC should behave.
“We will also impose requirements on the BBC to avoid the relationship between its public service activities and commercial subsidiaries distorting the market, or creating an unfair competitive advantage for the BBC’s subsidiaries.”
In the coming months, Ofcom will develop an ‘Operating Framework’ for the BBC. This will ultimately contain all of the elements of our regulation across the BBC’s content standards, competition and performance.
The Operating Framework will set out the regulatory tools that Ofcom will use to hold the BBC to account. There will be separate consultations on the finer details of our role over the coming months, which fall into the following broad categories:
> Daily Business Comment: The “fairness and competition” element in the new guidelines is a clear reference to the ongoing concern over the publicly-funded BBC’s ability to crush other media which rely on privately-sourced revenue.
This guideline will also be closely scrutinised by Daily Business which has already raised questions at Pacific Quay about BBC Radio Scotland’s preferential treatment of certain media in its reviews of the day’s news.
Daily Business believes that when more news is being consumed online it is no longer editorially or commercially justifiable for the BBC to limit its references to the day’s news agenda to print media only.
Such references are tantamount to subtle promotion of these titles and are therefore providing them with a commercial advantage. Daily Business believes this is not compliant with the BBC’s guidelines on impartiality and fairness.