Fears BBC local news plans will 'jeopardise' newspapers

BBC chiefs are heading for a collision with newspaper publishers over plans to seek the go-ahead in the New Year to expand their 40 local radio stations to provide online local news.

The BBC has already abandoned more controversial proposals to develop a network of local television stations after the Newspaper Society warned it could kill off local newspapers.

But director general Mark Thompson has told peers the BBC now intends to press ahead with plans to expand local radio and will seek the approval of the BBC Trust in the spring.

If the move is sanctioned by the BBC Trust, the plans will be subject to a public value test by media regulator Ofcom to assess its impact on the market.

Thompson sought to reassure newspaper publishers when he disclosed the plans to the House of Lords Communications Committee.

Baroness Thornton told him the Newspaper Society had expressed its concerns to the committee. ‘It would be awful if local newspapers were jeopardised,’she told Thompson.

Thompson said the local radio stations covered wide areas which embraced five, six or even eight local newspapers. ‘We would expect our services to link and complement local newspaper websites.

‘We intend to come up with proposals we feel will be complimentary to what the market is providing,’he said.

Thompson confirmed the BBC had dropped plans to develop local TV. He said that with the lower-than-requested BBC licence fee settlement ‘we don’t think that is credible”.

And he said the licence fee settlement had also forced the BBC to abandon plans to open more local radio stations. New stations had been planned in Cheshire and Somerset.

But he assured MPs that despite proposals to axe 400 journalists’ jobs nationally, reducing the number of journalists from 7,200 to 6,800, the BBC intended to ‘invest in local news”.

He told MPs that 380 journalists had applied for voluntary redundancy.

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