Ofcom to investigate the BBC

Ofcom will investigate the BBC’s online news output after criticism that it is “chasing online traffic” with content that “bears no resemblance to the BBC’s charter commitments”.

The media watchdog said in a statement that “the aim of this review is to understand how well the BBC is adapting to meet that challenge”.

Its findings are expected to be released in late 2019.

The Cairncross Review, which was published last month, said that Ofcom “should assess whether BBC News Online is striking the right balance” between its reach and driving traffic other to publishers.

In a speech at the Press Gazette’s Digital Journalism Summit last year,  News UK chief operating officer David Dinsmore criticised the BBC for “directly challenging core tabloid journalism” with stories covering the popular reality TV show Love Island, and what he described as “serial poopers”.

He said the BBC is “chasing online traffic by publishing popular news content which bares no resemblance to the BBC’s charter commitments”.

Ofcom will look at how users navigate around the BBC’s news website and other news providers, and how different types of BBC stories are accessed. The licence states that the BBC must “ensure that it provides adequate links to third-party online material, particularly within its news stories, helping to provide its users with a wealth of information while also supporting other providers within the industry”.

A BBC spokesperson defended the coverage, saying “The BBC has always covered entertainment and showbiz news – it is of great interest to our audiences.

“Our charter requires us to provide impartial news for all audiences whether on TV, radio or online, and while some online content will naturally be tailored to younger audiences we don’t seek to compete with newspapers. BBC News online also sends tens of thousands of internet users every week directly to the websites of other publishers.

“We welcome this review. Providing impartial and accurate news is one of the BBC’s core purposes and something we take very seriously. Audiences regularly rate the BBC as the news provider they turn to for trusted and impartial news, and it’s important we continue to maintain that.”

The review will ask audiences about their views on the impartiality of BBC News, particularly with regard to political coverage.

Ofcom said: “The BBC has a central role to play in providing trusted, impartial news. Yet our research has shown that audiences consistently rate the impartiality of the BBC’s TV and radio news less highly than many other aspects of BBC’s news output.

“For these reasons we consider it is appropriate to undertake a review, to examine in detail the BBC’s delivery of the first public purpose.”


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