BBC fee settlement not a problem for regions

Culture Secretary, Tessa Jowell, confirmed today that the BBC licence fee will only rise by three per cent a year over the next two years – a deal which the NUJ has said will lead to journalism cutbacks.

But the BBC’s head of nations and regions journalism production, Leo Devine, has dismissed suggestions that the licence fee settlement will have a negative effect on the corporation’s regional journalism.

The new deal for the BBC will see the licence fee rise to £151.50 by 2012 – with rises of three per cent over the next two years and then two per cent in years three to five.

Devine told Press Gazette of the recent decision to invest £500,000 into investigative journalism in the regions as a sign of its commitment to news and current affairs outside the M25.

Last week the NUJ”s deputy general secretary, John Fray, told a Commons meeting that the proposed settlement would put the quality and content of journalism in the regions at risk.

But Devine told Press Gazette: “The licence fee is outside my remit, but I don”t detect that it poses any threat to regional journalism. Half a million pounds may not be a huge sum of money but it definitely is an indication that the BBC wants to invest i regional journalism.”

He said that the move was less triggered by viewer feedback and more by a desire to gives the journalists some “breathing space in the newsroom”, enabling them to carry out more original reporting and make more regional contributions to the network news.

The BBC nations and regions has the biggest group of journalists within the corporation and the investment could reach a wide range of people.

Devine refused to be pressed on what an investment of £500,000 means in real terms: “It could be anything from a few thousand for a story to many thousands for another one, it really depends on the story.”

Devine said: “The quality of investigative journalism coming out of the regions is very high and there have been a number of stories and current affairs reports that have made it from regional newsrooms onto the networks.

“Already [there is a] very multimedia approach in the BBC regions, with our journalists working on investigative journalism for television, but also radio and the internet, and the funds will be invested in news, current affairs, politics and sport across all regional platforms.This £500,000 will give journalists the headroom to do some real digging around on stories, and maybe even some foreign travel.” Devine was appointed head of journalism production for the BBC Nations and Regions division in September 2006 and has ” uniquely ” run four of the 12 English regions.

He said it was important for the BBC that “London doesn”t become the centre of the universe”. adding, “It”s an enriching experience to move around different regions and it should be a constant challenge for journalists everywhere to keep in touch with the grassroots in this country.”

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