Commercial Publishers Attack BBC as 'Anti-Competitive'

18 February 2004

"A frank exposé" is promised by the European Publishers Council. No, not another sleazy magazine top-heavy with mammaries, but a report into the allegedly anti-competitive behaviour of the BBC and other publicly funded European broadcasters.

The EPC represents a number of major European commercial publishers, among them Axel Springer, NewsCorp-offshoot News International, Pearson and Reuters.

The EPC's black book of broadcasters' shame will be published in March and seek to show how the publicly funded broadcasters “distort the advertising market for television and other media, including the press and new media”.

EPC chairman Francisco Pinto Balsemao complained Monday that publicly funded media receives the third highest level of state aid in Europe. “We must ensure that the [European] Commission adopts a framework which allows for proper scrutiny," he demanded, "and that private sector interested parties are consulted in an open and transparent way.”

Angela Mills Wade, EPC director, averred that the business of private sector publishers and media groups is being “compromised” by public broadcasters that either charge a licence fee or receive other state support -- and are also free to sell advertising. The council alleges there are examples of advertising being sold at “far below the market rate”.

• The source of this news story -- UK newspaper The Times (owned by EPC member News International) -- told its readers: "In Britain, the council’s main concern stems from the scale of the BBC’s licence fee-funded online operations. … The BBC presently charges £116 a year for a licence to watch its channels and listen to its radio networks."

Curiously, however, The Times omitted to tell its readers that the BBC's TV channels and radio networks accept no advertising whatsoever -- either "far below market rate" or at any other price.

It is true that the BBC's highly profitable commercial arm, BBC Worldwide, publishes a number of magazines and online media -- all of which do accept advertising and compete with EPC members.

But in an even more curious omission, The Times failed to mention that none of these BBC commercial ventures receive a single penny from public funds. Indeed the net flow of cash is in the reverse direction.

Data sourced from: Times Online (UK); additional content by WARC staff