Minister assures regionals over BBC expansion plan

By David Rose

Broadcasting minister James Purnell has told MPs that the BBC is willing to talk to regional newspapers about its controversial plans to develop a network of local TV stations.

But Media Secretary Tessa Jowell refused to apply any brakes on the BBC’s expansionist plans in her Broadcasting White Paper. And she has left it to the BBC Trust, when it replaces the BBC Governors, to subject any proposed new services to a "public value test".

Her only concession was that media regulator Ofcom will carry out a market impact assessment before any new services are approved.

John Whittingdale, chairman of the influential Commons media committee, this week warned Purnell in the Commons that the BBC plans were causing concern to the Newspaper Society.

He urged him to confirm that "any new local service will be subject to the new regulatory arrangements outlined in" the Government’s White Paper on the BBC. He asked the minister to encourage the BBC to work with local newspapers "whenever possible".

Purnell said: "I am happy to give the MP an assurance on both those points.

We have spoken to representatives of the BBC, who are talking to local newspapers and will be happy to cooperate wherever that is the sensible thing to do.

"The Governors of the BBC have made it clear that any proposed service will have to go through the public value test even before the new charter comes into force."

Whittingdale said: "I very much welcome the prospect of the development of local television but the minister should bear in mind the concerns being expressed by the Newspaper Society and others about the ambitions of the BBC."

Broadcasting minister James Purnell has told MPs that the BBC is willing to talk to regional newspapers about its controversial plans to develop a network of local TV stations.

He moved to reassure them amid concern that the BBC plans could endanger the future of regional newspapers.

Plans to expand local BBC radio stations and local news websites to embrace local TV stations are being piloted in the West Midlands. As many as 60 local news centres, at a cost of £310 million, could eventually be given the go-ahead.

Regional newspaper publishers have expressed concern that the move could stifle their own investment in developing new services, threatening the future of newspapers themselves.

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