NPA calls on BBC Trust to block news apps plan

Newspaper Publishers Association has called on the BBC Trust to block the introduction of planned ne

The NPA said today the launch of free news and sport apps would damage the burgeoning market for news applications on mobile devices.

Erik Huggers, BBC director of future media & technology, told the Mobile World Congress earlier this week the corporation would follow the scramble among the major commercial media businesses and launch its own mobile phone news app in April - it is also planning to launch apps for BBC Sport and the iPlayer at a later date.

This move would "undermine the commercial sector's ability to establish an economic model in an emerging but potentially important market," the NPA said today.

The NPA said development of mobile news apps constituted a "new service in a particular market", and should therefore be subject to a BBC Trust public value test before any introduction.

David Newell, director of the NPA, said the market for iPhone news apps "a unique and narrow commercial space" which meant that potential for market distortion by the BBC was much greater.

Commercial newspaper publishers have long been critical of the activities of the BBC and campaigned hard for the abolition of its plans to launch a £68m network of local news websites.

The plan was eventually rejected by the BBC Trust in November, 2008, after a public value test found that the video network would not improve services sufficiently to justify the investment or impact on commercial media businesses.

The NPA said today the corporation's online presence was a key obstacle to the development of sustainable advertising and paid-for models for online content provision.

Newell said: "Not for the first time, the BBC is preparing to muscle into a nascent market and trample over the aspirations of commercial news providers.

"At a time when the BBC is facing unprecedented levels of criticism over its expansion, and when the wider industry is investing in new models, it is extremely disappointing that the corporation plans to launch services that would throw into serious doubt the commercial sector's ability to make a return on its investment, and therefore its ability to support quality journalism."

But the BBC Trust later appeared to pour cold water on the idea that it could make ruling on the introduction of mobile apps.

A trust spokeswoman said: "The BBC Executive has advised the trust that it is satisfied that these plans to deliver BBC News, Sport and iPlayer content via smartphone apps fall within the terms of its existing BBC service licence and that the plans do not constitute a significant change to the service. The proposals have not been referred to the Trust for approval."

The NPA said it would also raise its concerns with the Government and the Media Select Committee.

Oliver Luft writes for Press Gazette