New 'contract' to curb BBC local news expansion

The BBC is proposing a review of local radio with more investment in peak time journalism but sharing of content across services at other hours.

And a new "contract for local" has been proposed to ensure the corporation's news services never become more local in England than is currently the case.

In a strategic review unveiled by BBC director general Mark Thompson today he proposes "investing in better quality local journalism within the core listening hours at breakfast, mid-morning and drivetime'adding that this will be enabled 'through the sharing of some content across services in non-peak hours".

Calling for a "reform" of BBC local radio, Thompson suggests the following changes across the network:

  • A new monthly programme in the schedule to hold the elected and the powerful to account;
  • Current and recent music chart hits to represent no more than 15 per cent of weekly output;
  • A renewed emphasis on speech radio and journalistic content which holds local democracy to account;
  • 100 per cent speech at drivetime;
  • Audience focus on the over 55s.

Thompson's review also suggests that local websites should be refocused to carry only news, sport, weather, travel and local knowledge content.

A "contract for local" will define a series of BBC commitments and limits, the report states.

This will mean, the corporation said, "leaving room for local newspapers and others to develop in a digital world by keeping the BBC's current pattern of local services, and not launching new services in England at any more local a level than today".

The BBC prompted a fierce response from the local newspaper industry when it proposed creating a new network of local video news websites. Local newspaper publishers claimed such a move would smother their own online video news efforts. The new local video news network was scrapped by the BBC Trust in 2008.

Acknowledging this sort of criticism, Thompson says in his report: "There are ways in which the BBC, with a relatively stable income and remit, can and must set clearer limits for itself."

The report states that in the past the BBC it has not "differentiated sufficiently between excessive and unreasonable attacks and legitimate concerns about its activities by commercial media players".

It says the BBC must "take the latter seriously and demonstrate its determination to respond to reasonable and evidence-based complaints about the boundaries of its scope promptly and effectively".

Thompson's proposals will now go to the BBC Trust which will issue its own conclusions later in the year after a further period of consultation with staff and the public which concludes on 25 May.

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