“Stay off our patch” - regional press warns the BBC

Dominic Ponsford
 
The BBC has been accused of threatening the future of local papers with its plans to invest in ‘ultra local’news coverage.
 
Regional press trade body the Newspaper Society has made a 63-page
submission to the government review of the BBC’s Royal Charter which
claims that BBC moves could strangle regional press websites.
 
In a statement the NS said: ‘The crucial long-term role of the regional
press in serving local communities is at risk from the BBC’s planned
expansion into local and regional media. Far from remedying a case of
market failure, such an expansion will more likely precipitate one.”
 
It adds: ‘At a stage when local online or TV
services are starting to become commercially viable, a large scale BBC
rollout could undermine the business case for commercial innovation and
distort investment decisions. The BBC risks distorting the key growth
trajectory for the regional newspaper industry over the next five to 10
years.”
 
Newspaper society director David Newell said: ‘For the BBC to
replicate the print and online content of regional and local newspapers
is an unjustified use of licence fee money. It unfairly distorts local
media markets to the public detriment.”
 
The NS has set out ten proposals
for the Department for Culture, Media & Sport to consider in its
BBC Charter Review white paper.
 
*Reject the BBC’s proposed large-scale
rollout of ‘ultra-local’ TV/broadband internet to 50-60 cities at this
stage of the market’s development.
 
*Deny additional licence-fee
funding for ‘ultra-local’ TV or for further development of the BBC’s
Where I Live sites.
 
*Ensure greater transparency in the BBC’s
investments in local services through publication of detailed accounts
for these services.
 
*Consider public funding to research/pilot
programmes of local commercial media services on digital platforms.
 
*Ensure that local media groups are involved in publicly-funded pilot
programmes such as the Midlands pilot.
 
*Ensure future decisions on
extending local BBC services are contingent on public value/market
impact tests, on Ofcom’s review of local TV and on a public
consultation on the role for commercial media.
 
*Confirm that public
value/market impact tests be undertaken by OFCOM and not the BBC Trust.
 
*Reframe the BBC’s eventual remit in local communities as a cautious
and selective intervention in limited areas where it is clear that
commercial models are not sustainable.
 
*Define a clear ‘exit plan’ for
any new BBC services that are approved.
 
*Define specific areas where
the BBC should offer assistance to local commercial media in their
migration from traditional to digital media platforms.
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