Ofcom says it will engage with the BBC as it develops its plans for the combined BBC News service and changes to BBC Local Radio.
In its latest annual report on the BBC, the broadcasting regulator said the BBC must continue to “deliver content for all audiences in the UK”, including the provision of “UK and international news and current affairs for domestic TV and online audiences”.
The BBC plans to combine the current BBC News Channel and BBC World News TV service into a single channel from April 2023.
UK viewers will see simulcasts of news programmes on BBC One and BBC Two in place of World News programming. At other times, the BBC says there is an “option” to opt-out of the main service to provide UK-specific content.
The plans, which have not gone to public consultation, have raised fears that the TV news channel will deprioritise UK news – something that has already become evident in recent weeks as more of its UK-focused news output is replaced by World News simulcasts.
According to Ofcom, the BBC is “still in the process of developing its plans for the integration of the two services.” But Ofcom added: “it is important that the BBC continues to offer a broad range of domestic news for UK audiences who rely on broadcast services”.
Meanwhile, Ofcom has warned the BBC it is closely following the broadcaster’s controversial plans for local radio.
The BBC recently announced plans to cut local radio output to eight hours Monday – Friday, with regional and national programming outside of local live sports coverage at other times.
Ofcom said it would monitor the stations between which the BBC shares its programming, as well as the specific programming being shared. Ofcom said it intended to do this going forward “to ensure that the BBC continues to provide important local content such as local news”.
Ofcom confirmed for the second time this year that if it had any concerns about the BBC’s delivery of news and current affairs as a result of planned changes, it could amend the Operating Licence to enable it to hold the BBC to account.
Elsewhere in Ofcom’s report, the regulator found the BBC was failing at reaching out to audiences on lower incomes, including semi or low-skilled workers and people on state benefits.
People in lower socio-economic groups were more likely to have a poor opinion on the BBC’s output, according to Ofcom’s research.
And Ofcom ordered changes in the way the BBC communicates planned changes to its services. The regulator demanded greater consistency. But some future changes will not need to go out to consultation and won’t need Ofcom’s involvement.
Documents released by Ofcom today indicate changes to services including the iPlayer and BBC Sounds are less likely to need additional scrutiny. That’s a move that could make it easier for the BBC to launch pop-up online-only TV and radio streams.
PICTURED: Ofcom and BBC logos. COPYRIGHT: Ofcom/BBC.