Future for local and regional media - Culture, Media and Sport Committee Contents

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 public interest.

  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 in Iraq;

    — 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 the footage.

  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 event organisers.

  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.


  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 groups—this 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 our business.

  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.

January 2010

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