Local newspaper publishers want £14m from BBC to help plug gap in council and court reporting

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Local newspaper groups want the BBC to pay for 364 newspaper reporters to cover court and council reporting, The Times reports.

The apparent u-turn from regional newspaper publishers comes as negotiations continue with the BBCabout coming to a new settlement ahead of the corporation’s new charter being agreed at the end of this year.

According to The Times, local publishers – who are represented by the News Media Association – are seeking £14m a year from the BBC’s licence fee income to cover public service reporting.

Last September, the BBC offered to pay for 100 public service reporters to cover councils and courts. But this proposal was roundly rejected by publishers who did not like the idea of BBC journalists working in their newsrooms.

It seems that under the new proposal the reporters would continue to be employed and controlled by the publishers themselves.

Trinity Mirror chief executive Simon Fox denied that there was a “democratic deficit” in local news reporting last November, despite evidence that big publishers have axed around half their reporters since 2008

A source “familiar with the discussions” told The Times: “In leaner newsrooms, staff covering council and planning meetings are being cut. This would pay for journalists to cover these. These journalists would sit in our newsrooms and we would manage them but the BBC would pay for them.”

Local newspaper publishers have been fiercely critical of the BBC in recent years, claiming that its online news operation provides unfair competition for their websites. Local editors have also claimed that BBC local news outlets lift their stories.

According to The Times, the BBC and regional press are also discussing a deal worth between £2 million and £3 million where the BBC would pay for regional news reports as well as committing to improved links and brand promotion of local news sites on its platforms.

Local newspapers are also seeking access to the BBC’s programme library for use on their websites.

A BBC source told The Times: “We wouldn’t do anything that didn’t deliver value for licence fee payers or was a subsidy for the local newspaper industry.”

A spokesman for the News Media Association denied that the proposed deal represents a u-turn. He told Press Gazette: “The reporters would be commissioned to provide council and other quango reporting to the BBC so the proposal is about finding a different way for the BBC to pay for what it clearly needs and values, and currently takes from the regional press without payment or even proper sourcing.

“This doesn’t represent a u-turn, it’s part of an ongoing discussion with the BBC aimed at finding solutions to some very well documented issues which have been around for many years. “

In February BBC head of news James Harding told staff that he is expecting to have to cut £80m a year from the department's budget by 2021.

 This is almost equivalent to axing radio station 5 Live (budget £49.1m a year) and the BBC News Channel (budget £46.2m a year).

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