Northcliffe demands answers from BBC Trust

Regional publisher Northcliffe Media claims many of its questions on the BBC’s bid to launch a network of video-based local websites have been left unanswered, and questioned the BBC Trust‘s handling of the bid.

The BBC is currently proposing to create a network of 65 local video news websites with a £68 million investment over five years, a plan which has met with much resistance from both the regional newspaper and commercial radio industries.

The BBC Trust is conducting a public value inquiry into the proposed service, and Northcliffe claims it has been denied answers to a number of questions it put to the broadcaster.

Northcliffe first requested the information in an email to David Holdsworth, the BBC’s Deputy Controller, English Regions, on 15 July 2008.

Information requested includes detailed statistics on usage of BBC Local sites, information on current BBC Local provision and staffing and evidence to support the BBC’s claims that the new service would be delivered at zero net cost to BBC Nations and Regions.

After failing to get answers from BBC management, the questions were re-directed to the BBC Trust and Northcliffe claims the BBC Trust has failed to provide the information or give credible reasons for not disclosing it.

Northcliffe managing director Michael Pelosi, also president of the Newspaper Society, said: ‘We are deeply disappointed and alarmed that the BBC Trust has denied us answers to a series of reasonable and relevant questions related to the BBC’s proposals. The Trust claims it is conducting an ‘open and thorough’ process, but our experience of it is nothing of the kind.

‘We have co-operated fully by providing comprehensive and detailed information on our business. In contrast, BBC Management and the BBC Trust have failed to provide even basic information about usage of the BBC’s local sites – the kind of data we have at our fingertips.

‘Together with the Newspaper Society and its other members, we are reviewing all our options for ensuring that the regulatory review process is conducted fairly, objectively and transparently.”

Last week The Newspaper Society lodged a legal bid to make the BBC suspend the plans for local video, with the Newspaper Society asking the Trust’s ongoing public value inquiry into the local video news plan to be abandoned and accusing the Trust of ‘failing to share market information to allow it and its member companies to assess the impact of the BBC’s proposals”.

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