Telegraph, Times and FT condemn BBC plans to create 100 public interest journalist jobs

The Daily Telegraph, Financial Times and Times have criticised BBC plans to create 100 public service journalist jobs.

The Telegraph said in its leader column today: “In effect, the BBC’s answer to a problem caused by there being too many BBC journalists providing local news is to recruit more BBC journalists to provide local news."

It added: “The simple and better answer – for the BBC to reduce its activities in areas where the private sector can provide – was apparently not even considered by the corporation’s numerous and well-paid executives, who bizarrely deny that the BBC’s extensive coverage of local news has any adverse impact on local media firms.

“If this misguided plan has a virtue, it is to expose the institutional self-interest of the BBC. Far from existing to provide the high quality British public-service broadcasting that it still does so well and which the still country expects of it, the BBC now exists primarily to sustain itself and its influence. Lord Hall should think again, about his local news plan, and about what his organisation is for.”

This criticism comes after the Ashley Highfield, vice chairman of the News Media Association and Johnston Press chief executive, snubbed the plans on behalf of the regional press.

He described the plans as "BBC expansion into local news provision and recruitment of more BBC local journalists through the back door".

The Financial Times said of the proposal: “The initiative may well please politicians who are understandably concerned about any decline in local media and its impact on democracy. Quite what practical use it will be is less obvious. Adding 100 reporters seems inadequate to the task of covering local stories across the country. Nor is it evident the extent to which it will help or hinder local news media.”

The FT also suggested it is “questionable why licence fee payers should want to subsidise such content”.

“Local news scarcely seems to fall within the BBC’s remit as a national broadcaster. It simply starves the organisation of money that could be better deployed elsewhere.

“In a world in which television is merging with the web, it makes little sense to draw hard lines between what the BBC does on TV and online. To fulfil its remit the corporation needs to be present in both. But rather than offer political sops to justify its online presence in sensitive areas, Lord Hall should set out what the BBC needs to do in text to fulfil its mission — and otherwise show restraint. Magazine features and local news do not make the cut.

“The BBC has warned the income squeeze it faces will require deep cuts in the provision of services. This will necessitate hard choices. The website cannot be exempt from these.”

In an editorial yesterday, The Times described the proposal for creating 100 public service journalist positions as “eye-catching”, but it said the proposals were “symbolic rather than substantive”.

“Their aim is to strengthen local news services without adding to their costs. Yet it is scarcely conceivable that 100 journalists throughout the United Kingdom will redress the balance between a behemoth like the BBC and local news. The BBC’s proposals are gestures of recognition of a fundamental problem.”

The Guardian’s editorial today concentrated more on the BBC’s Ideas Service proposal, “an online, shareable resource for science and culture, provided by the BBC and partners – universities, museums, arts organisations”.

The Guardian said: “It would provide the best of everything to the greatest number of people, to paraphrase Lord Reith. If you happened to want to know about Stravinsky, say, here would be the best material imaginable: recordings from Radio 3, ballet from the Royal Opera House, links to historical resources and archival material. Perhaps even to reporting from the Guardian.

“A wonderful idea in principle. But the BBC has yet to show that it is willing to work as a truly equal collaborator, instead of dominating its so-called partners as has so often been the case in the past.”

In response to yesterday's comments from Highfield, the BBC said: “These proposals mark the start of a consultation process which aims to create a genuine partnership with the industry, so we welcome all views to shape the final proposals. This is about creating a more open BBC – not a bigger BBC.”

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