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Regulator demands change

BBC ‘losing the young’ and should embrace other media says Ofcom

BBC Scotland

BBC Scotland overlooks online news providers (pic: Terry Murden)

The BBC has been accused of failing to engage with young people and told it should provide more support to the wider media industry, said the broadcast regulator.

Ofcom, which took over responsibility as regulator in 2017, found some viewers and listeners feel the BBC “isn’t relevant to their lives.” It said “our research shows younger people are passing it by.”

The report found that the continued decrease in young people engaging with the BBC’s TV, radio and websites is a “significant risk to the future sustainability of the BBC,” Ofcom warned of a “lost generation”.

Unless more is done to reach young audiences, public support for the licence fee could be eroded in future, the regulator added.

Ofcom’s research shows that two-thirds of adults now go online for news. Almost half now say they regularly use social media, with around one in six citing Facebook and Twitter as the news sources.

Half of all adults now use social media for news, and this rises to more than three quarters of 16-24 year olds.

Ofcom also criticised the BBC’s failure to embrace the wider media community. It found the vast majority of links in BBC news stories were to other BBC web pages and it could do more to drive traffic to commercial sites.

The regulator said in March it would look at the quality, relevance and trustworthiness of BBC news output across TV, radio and online and published its findings yesterday.

The report follows complaints to the BBC and Ofcom by Daily Business that BBC Scotland overlooks stand-alone online news services, focusing its attention on the print titles of media companies that also have online services and by giving free airtime to those companies it gives them a commercial advantage over those it rarely mentions.

Under its operating licence, the BBC must ensure that it provides adequate links to third-party online material, particularly within news.

Ofcom found that the BBC could provide more links to external, third party content. External links support the wider industry and benefit audiences by providing access to a wider range of material.

The BBC website plugs newspapers every day, but overlooks non-newspaper online services

Eighty-five per cent of links within stories on the BBC News website were internal to other BBC pages, according to Ofcom’s analysis.

For the external links, 41% were to tweets, 20% to the websites of businesses or organisations, 12.5% to UK newspapers, 11% to international media, and 7% to academic journals.

Ofcom said: “Our work indicates that the BBC could provide more links to external, third-party content. External links support the wider industry and benefit audiences by providing access to a wider range of material.”

It now plans to gather evidence, which will include formally requesting information from the BBC, to “establish if it should do more to link to outside sources”.

It will also look at the wording of the operating licence to decide whether it is still appropriate “given changes in news consumption”.

Terry Murden, Editor of Daily Business, says: “This report may help bring about a broader acknowledgement by the BBC that we have a changed media landscape.

“I approached Ofcom earlier this year about BBC Scotland’s failure to embrace the wider media community, particularly news websites, in its daily review of headlines and was given a sympathetic hearing.

“It is my contention that by routinely reviewing only newspaper headlines the BBC is giving these titles (which also have online operations) free airtime and therefore a commercial advantage over those online news services that are never mentioned.

“My view is that regular references to selected media titles is in breach of the BBC’s editorial guidelines. These state that reviews should be free from “plugging”. They add that no “undue prominence” should be given to a product, brand or service.”

“As we approach the next decade of the 21st century the BBC would better serve its audience by taking note of changing reading habits. As the Ofcom report found, two-thirds of adults now read news online.”

Read Ofcom’s full review of BBC News.

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