If you don’t (or can’t) pay your TV license, you could be taken to court. It is so easy. It happens. Just read these stories about vulnerable people in Wales being persecuted for not paying the £159 annual fee to know it’s true.

The BBC uses this public money, which could almost be considered an inevitable tax, to finance its vast operations. And with that, he does a truly remarkable job, not only covering news at home and abroad, but also diligently conducting difficult and dangerous investigations, verifying allegations that spread wildly on social media, and providing unbiased information, which is vital to a democracy. .

This is what we want and expect from the BBC. The problem is that now it goes much further. And in doing so, it threatens the very future of local independent journalism, such as that found on WalesOnline and many other local news sites in Wales and the UK. This is not an exaggeration.

I’m referring to the BBC’s current strategy of withdrawing resources from local radio (drastically cutting the number of hours of local programs) and instead channeling those resources into publishing news online in direct competition with local news websites. Commercial media already face a number of challenges that affect their ability to cover the news as effectively as we would like (and as effectively as countries like Wales deserve and expect). It would not be an exaggeration to say that there are tangible threats to its future.

These issues include a drop in the number of visits to our sites from external referrers. For example, Meta recently made the unilateral decision not to receive news from its Facebook users. As a result, local news is read tens of millions of times less each month. Challenges also include falling advertising revenue, advertisers remaining more cautious about advertising in the current economic climate, and technology giants like Meta and Google taking the vast majority of advertising revenue. Additionally, we are experiencing a significant increase in our costs due to inflation. The BBC’s strategy is as big a threat to our future today as any of these strategies.

But unlike Google and Meta, the BBC’s funding is guaranteed by the license fee, meaning the British public supports this threat. Although the BBC doesn’t have to worry about finding advertising to pay its websites and journalists, it chooses to direct that public money to local news websites, making it difficult for proud, independent news sites like this to survive for long. time. term.

None of us asked for this. In fact, recent Ofcom figures showed that in Wales more people read the news sites of Reach plc, owner of WalesOnline, than the BBC. WalesOnline represents the majority of this audience and North Wales Live is also widely read. The same report also revealed that WalesOnline is read more in Wales than the Mail, Sun, Mirror or any other UK national online news provider. Therefore, there is no democratic deficit that the BBC can step in and fill. However, it could very well happen if the corporate shift to online local news has the effect many of us fear. If this happens, you will be very limited in where you can get your news. In fact, in Wales the BBC will be more or less the only option.

More news with less advertising sounds great. What is the problem?

We make no secret of the fact that the user experience when trying to read WalesOnline can be complicated by advertising. We are fully aware of this and constantly seek to improve. Additionally, we’re also working to diversify our revenue streams, and now you can subscribe to the premium ad-free version of our app (here on iOS and here on Android) and sign up to receive an ad-free newsletter with exclusive insights. The journalism of one of Wales’ best journalists, Will Hayward, is here.

But the fact is, even with these efforts, advertising is still the biggest source of revenue for a local news website. And we use it to do things that simply wouldn’t happen without us: comprehensive coverage of our criminal and forensic courts, the freedom to campaign on behalf of communities and openly report those who seek to undermine them (a freedom that has been denied to the BBC). . due to impartiality requirements), elevating voices that would otherwise go unheard and honoring those who are doing great things across the country.

Just four quick, recent examples of real-life results that wouldn’t have happened without WalesOnline journalists: We exposed a Cardiff-based direct sales company that exploited young workers and attempted to trick vulnerable people into signing up to a direct debit in the name from UK. charities. Within days of our report, that office was empty, the operation was disbanded, and the charities he worked for promised to review the way they operated.

In another example, the police and CPS reopened investigations into alleged child sexual abuse following our report. No one else reported it, no one fought for these victims. Adam Price resigned as leader of Plaid Cymru at the end of a chain of events caused by us outlining concerns about his leadership – a direct causal link between our reporting and who people in Wales can now vote for democratically elections. And as we speak, our plea is to buy hundreds of toys for children in Wales who would otherwise go without presents this Christmas (you can help here if you want).

The BBC’s plans for local and online radio are coming to fruition in England. Why do I care about this in Wales?

It’s very simple. Local news sites in the UK tend to be owned by large publishers. WalesOnline is part of Reach plc, the UK’s largest commercial publisher of news websites. But if the BBC in, say, Nottingham or Stoke-on-Trent makes other local news sites in those areas unviable, then the publishers who own them will have their resources cut, and this will happen across the whole of the UK, including in Wales. We’re living with this reality now: You may have heard about the loss of more than 300 editorial jobs at Reach last month. Hundreds more were lost earlier this year. The threats we face are real, people are losing their jobs and there is a real danger that you will get less of the independent journalism you want.

And while it is true that the BBC in Wales is already more developed than many regions of England, with an advanced online presence already existing alongside local radio and television production, the BBC in Wales can generally be described as as national news coverage. Country. But if BBC Wales decides it wants to produce more content online, or if it wants to become a more local news provider in different areas of Wales, then it will be in even more direct competition, not just with the WalesOnline, but with the entire Western Telegraph. newspapers and websites. in Pembrokeshire to Argus in Newport, South Wales.

That’s not what the BBC is for

The BBC says it wants to be a good neighbor to local news organisations. Indeed, in some ways it becomes the neighbor from hell – a state-funded behemoth bent on stifling independent journalism in every city, town and village in the UK. It is a government-funded organization that has quickly established itself as one of the biggest threats to the survival of independent local journalism in the UK.

If this continues, it will be remembered as the moment when Big Tech and the BBC joined forces to destroy Britain’s proud tradition of free, diverse and independent media. It’s a shame and it doesn’t matter if these consequences are not foreseen. The BBC proudly announces every additional article it writes. The BBC’s digital editor recently posted: “Today we’ve been doing some number crunching. Compared to October 2022, the number of stories published on the site by the excellent team at BBC West has increased by 44%.”

Public broadcasting was not created to make aggressive moves into market segments served by commercial and independent operators. BBC journalism and reporting is extremely important, and the license fee rightly ensures that this can still happen. But if you want to compete fairly and be part of a diverse and robust local news ecosystem, a strong case can be made that you need to support yourself as a company and pay your own expenses. Otherwise, you will simply have an advantage over independent local news sites that is so large that we simply cannot compete.

The BBC’s move to online publishing has conditioned us all into thinking that news is free. In fact, producing news is expensive. It has always been like that. Taking reporters and photographers to the streets and turning what they see into the exact story you want to read, in a format that works for you, is a complete process, done by qualified people who care deeply about what they do. keep doing it even in these difficult circumstances.

If the BBC takes readers away from us, it takes money from us and our ability to continue doing so is affected. The BBC says its plans will deliver a “stronger and more differentiated online local news service”. In fact, the sector as a whole will be anything but “stronger” and “more distinct”.

The UK government is taking positive steps to address market abuse by Meta and Google through the Digital Markets Act, which we hope will create a level playing field for publishers and technology platforms. Now is the time to also rein in the BBC and remind it that it is at its best when it is not trying to compete with companies that do not share its strengths.