Supplementary written evidence submitted
by the Press Association
We write with respect to the Culture, Media
and Sport Select Committee evidence session with the BBC's Mark
Byford and Helen Boaden on Tuesday 24 November 2009 at which you
raised questions about the Press Association's access to footage
from the broadcast pool and the BBC's online video sharing initiative.
At present, access for cameras to events of
national importance is still routinely restricted to the current
broadcast pool only, operated by the BBC, ITN and Sky. This has
resulted in digital media being denied access to footage of clear
The Press Association's discussions with the
broadcast pool on the matter of one-camera assignments have been
ongoing for some time and to date we have been unable to reach
a satisfactory position where the requirements of the broadcasters
and digital media are being met.
The Press Association has been denied either
access to gather its own material or access to footage gathered
by the broadcast pool to the following single camera events:
printing of swine flu leaflets;
emergency statement made by Home Secretary
John Reid and Douglas Alexander at 5am on 10 August 2006 concerning
a terror threat which Government said could have caused "carnage";
statement made by Gordon Brown on 22
June 2009 concerning the discovery of the bodies of British hostages
statement made by Jan Beattie (friend
of Jason Creswell) on behalf of all five families of the hostages
in Iraq; and
Prince Charles's statement on the death
of Lieutenant Colonel Rupert Thorneloe.
The broadcast pool has also attempted to charge
the Press Association for access to footage from funerals including
Rhys Jones and Jane Tomlinson where the families involved may
well have believed that they had secured one "pool"
camera which would cover all of the interested media.
In all these cases only the broadcast pool camera
was permitted to attend resulting in the availability of video
footage being restricted to broadcast use and pool members' websites
or sites with which they have commercial arrangements. Press Association
customers, including national and regional newspapers, were unable
to access material because the broadcast pool denied access to
In recent weeks, the broadcast pool has moved
from a refusal to supply to a policy of requiring the Press Association
to share the very high costs of live broadcast gathering. For
example, the broadcast pool has informed us that the charge to
access footage from the Chilcot Enquiry on Iraq would be £17,866.20.
This cost is not reflective of the cost of video gathering by
a Press Association video journalist and it is not reasonable
for a digital news gatherer to meet the broadcast rate where live
coverage is not required. The Cabinet Office was unable to meet
our request for access for a digital pool camera. For access to
footage from the funeral of the policeman who died in the Cumbrian
floods, we were quoted £1,500.
The Press Association was able and willing to
send a camera to all of the events mentioned above but the presence
of an additional camera was denied by the organisers. The likely
explanation is that the organisers believed that the broadcast
"pool" camera would disseminate footage to all those
who requested it. It is hard to imagine that government departments
or grieving families are aware that the broadcast pool will either
deny access to footage or charge a substantial fee in order that
newspapers can include video of the event. The current situation
does not seem to be in the best interests of the public or the
If the broadcasters are either going to deny
access or charge an incommensurate fee, the only solution is to
ensure that a digital pool camera is allowed access so that footage
from such events can be distributed free of charge to newspaper
websites, portals and other digital customers. In a converged
media world, it is unreasonable for the broadcast pool or rights
holders to deny access to these audiences.
We urge the select committee to recommend that
government communications departments recognise the requirements
of online news outlets in an increasingly converged media and
establish a right of access for providers like the Press Association
not currently being served by the broadcast pool arrangements.
BBC ONLINE NEWS
The Press Association has continuously expressed
concern to the BBC over their proposals to make video news content
available free of charge to newspaper websites.
Mr Byford refers to "liaising" with
us (specifically Mr Watson) over the free video plans. We met
with both the BBC Trust and BBC Executives during June and July
2009 and made our objections to the plan clear. At a meeting on
23 July with Mark Thompson and Mark Byford, it was suggested that
further discussions could be had concerning the extent and range
of content and the period of time it would be available. We were
astounded when it was then announced on 28 July that the initiative
was going ahead with four national newspaper groupsthis
imminent launch had not been mentioned at the meeting.
The provision of free content clearly distorts
the market and does not fulfil the criteria set out in the BBC
Trust's consultation document of 11 December 2008 which called
for "sustainable partnership proposals" and went on
to say "far from the BBC bearing gifts, looking for opportunities
to work ever more closely in partnership with other broadcasters
must represent a genuine shift in attitude". Giving away
BBC content for free in geo-blocked categories, with BBC branding
but no advertising does not provide a "sustainable"
outcome and seems to run counter to the assurances from all at
the BBC that it is in favour of plurality and supporting, not
smothering, its competitors with its vastly superior resources.
As you are aware the Press Association has developed
a scalable and cost effective method of video newsgathering appropriate
to the requirements of cross platform publishers. Our video wire
service offers video gathered at a sustainable cost, allows our
customers to commercialise it and also offers the real opportunity
for the news industry to concentrate on distinctive journalism
by allowing a news agency to film diary and core news events on
its behalf. In meetings with the BBC's news executive we made
clear that their free video proposals would have an impact on
In the select committee evidence session, Mr
Byford described the subject areas of video on offer as "narrow".
One of the categories of information offered by the BBC is "politics".
With an upcoming general election, we would not describe "politics"
as a genre that will have limited market impact on the Press Association.
In addition, there seems to be some confusion about whether the
video material on offer is available "on the day".
We have recently learnt that the BBC plans to
open the free video initiative to regional newspapers. This has
the potential to have a greater impact on the Press Association's
commercial activity if these newspapers decide to rely on BBC
content for video coverage, particularly around an election, rather
than subscribe to the Press Association service.
We will continue to express our belief that
"content dumping" by the BBC has a negative competitive
impact and that the BBC should, rather, be sharing resources such
as its audience and technology research.
We believe the BBC should be required to publish
figures for the usage of the material on offer in order for us
to assess the full impact of the project and request that this
is supported by the select committee.