Trinity Mirror chief: 'No democratic deficit' in local news and he doesn't want more BBC reporters in regions

Trinity Mirror chief executive has denied there is a “democratic deficit” of local reporting and snubbed the BBC’s proposal to create 100 public service reporting positions.

Speaking on Radio 4’s Media Show, Simon Fox said Trinity Mirror does want “want different help, but we don’t want that help” from the corporation.

The BBC’s proposal for 100 public service reporters was set out by director general Tony Hall in September. It has since been dismissed by the News Media Association, several national newspapers, the National Union of Journalists, which described it as a step towards privatisation, and the Culture Secretary John Whittingdale.

Asked by host Steve Hewlett whether he had any “direct evidence” the BBC has damaged the local press, Fox said: “No.”

And asked what he made of the BBC proposal for 100 reporters to fill a “democratic deficit”, Fox replied: “Our reaction is that there isn’t a democratic deficit and that the BBC, on this occasion, are painting a picture of a problem that doesn’t exist and are wanting to move more journalists onto our areas that we have traditionally… we report on local councils, local courts.”

Asked if this meant he did not want the BBC’s help, Fox said: “We don’t want that help. We do want different help, but we don’t want that help.”

According to Press Gazette research, at least 300 newspapers have been closed in the last ten years in the UK, including 60 since 2012. In the last three years, Trinity Mirror has closed at least 22 newspapers.

Last week, Trinity Mirror announced it had completed a deal to purchase rival publisher Local World, which it already had a 20 per cent stake in.

Trinity said on the day of purchase that it would deploy its "know-how" on cutting costs at its existing regional newspapers to cut £12m from Local World's budgets. Some £3.2m of the annual cuts will come from "content generation".

Press Gazette first reported on Trinity’s plans to buy Local World in March when it was being widely reported that it was interested in a deal for Richard Desmond’s Express Newspapers.

And Fox did not rule out a future deal to buy Express Newspapers.  Asked if he feels the national newspaper market is “overcrowded”, Fox said: “I think it possibly is. I think we’re a very well served nation. I think we have a large selection on news brands. And when markets are shrinking in the way you’ve just described it is likely that there’ll be some consolidation.”

“Well, we’ve just bought Local World, we’ve just spent… nearly £200m, making a big investment in regional press. Now, fortunately, we have a strong balance sheet, we still have the capability to make other acquisitions.”

Asked if he would rule out buying the Express, Fox said: “No, I wouldn’t rule out doing anything.”

In response to this story, the BBC sent Press Gazette the following comment: "We have been consulting the industry on proposals announced in September which aim to create a genuine partnership with the local news sector. This is about creating a more open BBC – not a bigger BBC – and we have spoken with representatives across the sector to ensure they work for everyone involved. We will announce our final plans later this month."

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