Thompson admits question mark remains over ultra local TV

BBC chiefs are thinking again about controversial plans to develop a network of local televison new stations which the government has been warned could threaten the closure of local newspapers.

Director general Mark Thompson admitted today there was a question mark over the project because of the BBC's failure to secure a larger licence fee settlement.

The Newspaper Society and individual newspaper publishers have in the past warned Parliament that the BBC's expansion into the new market would prevent newspapers themselves developing their own proposals and that in turn could threaten local newspapers.

Ministers, however, refused to put any bar on the BBC developing its proposals when they renewed its charter. While the BBC would be required to submit plans for a new service to a market assessment by media regulator Ofcom, the BBC Trust would remain free to give its approval if it decided that was in the best interest of the licence fee payer.

The BBC has been piloting the idea of local TV stations in the Midlands and had suggested up to 60 local TV stations could eventually be developed. These would combine local radio and websites.

But when he appeared before the Commons cross-party media select committee today, Thompson told MPs: "This is a good example of effectively a new commitment which I think inevitably there is a big question against, given the settlement we have got."

While he did not rule out the BBC pressing ahead, he said he could not undertake that "we are going to proceed with it".

"I can see benefits to it," Thompson said. "It is complementary to local radio and our websites."

He gave an assurance that the BBC would take account of newspapers' concerns and seek to allay their anxieties.

"I take their concerns seriously," he said.

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