BBC Plan for Web Ads Draws Fire
Critics in England have attacked plans by the BBC to sell advertising on its Web site. Now some of those critics inside the BBC are redoubling their efforts.
Employees from the Web site have circulated a 10-page document condemning the proposal, which they say could lead to less serious journalism and damage the BBC’s reputation. Management is “not seeing the bigger picture of what the BBC is really about,” said one employee, who did not want his name used for fear of reprisal. Earlier this year, more than 170 BBC Web site employees signed a petition protesting the idea.
The BBC, which is financed mainly from fees paid by British television owners and government grants, does not carry advertising on its public television channels, although BBC World, the corporation’s television show outside of Britain, does carry ads, as do its magazines. The BBC Web site is viewed by four million people a day, though the ads will be visible only to readers outside Britain.
Jennie Allen, a spokeswoman for BBC Worldwide, said, “We’re still working through the approval process.” She said the BBC hoped that the ads would go up before the end of its fiscal year in March.
BBC’s increasing commercialization is highly controversial in Britain. For-profit competitors complain that the corporation will steal valuable advertising revenue from them, and analysts say the BBC may be traveling down a slippery slope.
“In the end they have to be extremely careful about how they do it to be sure they don’t slide into becoming a commercial broadcaster,” said Roy Greenslade, a professor at City University and media critic at the Guardian newspaper.
If the BBC is successful at taking ads, people may say that the fee they charge the television-owning public should be removed, Mr. Greenslade said. “That immediately removes the independence that the broadcaster has,” he said, making it subject to the same commercial pressures of any other broadcasting organization.
BBC journalists worry that adding advertising to the Web site will lead to changes in news coverage. “There has to be a chance that advertisers wouldn’t care about us doing stories on poverty and African politics, they’d want us to do more stories on Madonna and Kylie,” one Web site employee said, referring to the singer Kylie Minogue.
Ms. Allen said the company was well aware that the idea was not popular with some employees. “There is absolutely no question of advertisers having any influence over the content,” she said.