Press Association in bid to be 'glue' in new commercial relationship between regional press and BBC

Press Association editor-in-chief Peter Clifton is bidding to act as a bridge between the regional press and the BBC and in any commercial relationship between the two parts of the media.

Regional press trade body the News Media Association is currently in talks about how the BBC can share resources with local newspapers. It has already rejected a suggestion that the BBC funds 100 new local news reporters who would be embedded in regional media.

Talks are instead centring on how the BBC can share video content with local newspapers and possibly commission local news content from them.

Clifton, who is a former editor of the BBC News website, told journalism students at the University of Westminster: “You can see there’s potentially a threat to us but we prefer to view this as a real opportunity for PA. Because given our pedigree, that we’ve been involved in regional media for 147 years, we provide content to the BBC and we provide content to the regional press, we should be the pivotal central part of this new relationship.

“However this evolves, over the next weeks and months we believe the PA can be a central part in what can be a very positive process. Now that could be around how we do our diaries, how we do our forward planning, how we deploy journalists, how with our network we can distribute content to anybody anywhere in the country.

“We ought to be the sandwich in the middle of this new relationship and given what we already know about the BBC’s standards we could also be that final checking point around quality.

“Is it good enough, is the style right, is it legally sound? It’s a role PA could play in any new relationship between the regional media and the BBC.”

He said PA is currently involved in talks with the BBC and the regional press.

“We are doing that to push home the case that the PA, given its unique relationship with all the people involved, should be that glue that can hold together a very positive partnership for the future of regional media.”

BBC Controller of English Regions David Holdsworth recently explained how the proposal for new local news reporters would work in a blog post. He said: "One of our proposals is to fund a network of 100 reporters from different organisations across the country….They would then be based in that organisation for the benefit of the whole news sector in that region.

"Bids could come from local and regional papers, agencies, journalism start-ups or citizen bloggers, as well as BBC teams, providing that bidders are both reputable and can meet the BBC Editorial Standards and Guidelines”

Clifton also said that PA is concerned by the current Independent Commission on Freedom of Information, which is mulling new exemptions to the act and the introduction of fees.

He said: “We can expect quite a choppy ride as this panel considers the future of the FoI Act.”

He said that there are countless examples of PA stories which have come from FoI requests, including the recent revelation that Commons speaker John Bercow spent £172 taking a 0.7-mile trip in a chauffeur driven car.

He said: “This is something that is seriously under threat and it should be at the cornerstone of a free media where people have the right to know what’s happening in their public institutions.

“If it takes people’s time in public institutions and it costs them some to explain what’s happening in those institutions that we’re paying for, that’s money well spent. We should be passionate about this.”

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