Row over BBC Australian expansion

Row over BBC Australian expansion

Guardian Media Group chief executive Andrew Miller is the latest media executive to criticise public broadcaster operations, saying the BBC’s expansion to Australia “goes beyond its public service remit”.

Mr Miller’s comments parallel debates in Australia about the publicly-funded Australian Broadcasting Corporation competing with private enterprise in digital publishing.

In a speech Mr Miller gave at the London School of Economics, titled Global News Media: The Next Horizon, he said that his company was “a friend” of the BBC, but that the public broadcaster’s recently announced expansion into Australia would have no benefit for UK licence fee payers. He said the move did not “meet the requirement of the BBC to provide news in parts of the world where there are limited alternatives”.

On October 21, the BBC launched a dedicated Australian news service on BBC.com across its desktop and mobile platforms and via the BBC iOS and Android app. It also appointed former Sydney Morning Herald journalist Wendy Frew as online Australia editor.

Mr Miller said that as Australia was a diverse and competitive market, there was no public service mandate for the BBC to expand to the country, and that this move was one of several recent “worrying commercial sorties”. He cited the BBC’s purchase and subsequent sale of the Lonely Planet franchise as another example.

The Guardian launched an Australian version of its website in May 2013 and has seen steady audience growth over its first 18 months. UK publisher the Mail Online also launched in Australia earlier this year and Mr Miller said that the introduction of the BBC as another British news provider in the country “threatens a distortion” of the market and is “not in the interests of audiences or other UK news providers”.

The BBC should also look at sharing some of its digital content with other publishers, said Mr Miller. “What if UK commercial content providers, such as the Guardian, Mail Online, the Telegraph or the Times, were able to access the raw news feeds coming in from court cases, Royal weddings, key select committee hearing and other global breaking news events?” he asked.

In his MacTaggart Lecture in 2009, News Corp executive James Murdoch made similar criticisms of the BBC, which he said had “chilling” ambitions, while having the advantage of guaranteed income through taxpayer funding.

“There is a land-grab, pure and simple, going on – and in the interests of a free society it should be sternly resisted,” he said. “The land grab is spear-headed by the BBC.

“The scale and scope of its current activities and future ambitions is chilling.”

In Australia, News Corp Australia chief executive Julian Clarke made similar criticisms of the ABC in December last year.

Mr Clarke told the Melbourne Press Club that while the ABC was an important institution, publishers should be wary about the public broadcaster moving into new media spaces.

“How we grow advertising revenue has got nothing to do with whether the ABC exists or not,” Mr Clarke said.

“The question is, whatever comes in the future, should they continue to push into that area?

“And at that point you have to ask the question, ‘Why is a government-funded business doing this?’ People will have different responses to that.”

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