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BBC "biased against regional media" says editor

Newspaper bosses and editors have hit back at claims by the chairman of the BBC Trust that the regional press is now too weak to deliver a quality local news service.

Sir Michael Lyons provoked a storm of protest after a speech on Wednesday in which he said “nobody can be satisified” with the quality of the country’s local and regional press.

The bosses of two of the country’s biggest newspaper groups, Trinity Mirror and Johnston Press, have already strongly condemned the remarks, which come in the midst of the ongoing row over the BBC’s plans for 68 online local video news outlets.

And Northcliffe’s North-East regional editor John Meehan has now weighed in, claiming Sir Michael’s comments are proof of his “strong bias” against the regonal media.

Hull Daily Mail editor John, who is co-ordinating Northcliffe’s response to the BBC’s local plans, said: “Sir Michael’s comments are disturbing and reinforce Northcliffe’s serious concerns about the impartiality and credibility of the process for reviewing the BBC local video proposals.

“Sir Michael leads the body that will decide whether the plans go ahead. He should not be commenting on these issues during the process and effectively pre-judging it.

“His remarks indicate that he has a strong bias against regional media and holds views which have no basis in fact. They also show that the BBC aims to supplant, rather than complement, the journalism of local and regional publishers.

“It is ridiculous for Sir Michael to talk about regional newspaper companies wanting to cut the BBC ‘down in size’. Of course we don’t want to do that. We do, however, oppose strongly its continuing growth, particularly in local and regional news, and its damaging impact on commercial operators and markets.”

Sir Michael has also come under fire from Sly Bailey, chief executive of Trinity Mirror, and Tim Bowdler, the chief executive of Johnston Press, over the speech.

Ms Bailey accused Sir Michael of making “an astonishing attack on the local press” and said the comments showed the “entire regulatory process to be a sham”.

Mr Bowdler said that Sir Michael’s remarks “must undermine confidence in the regulatory process – because it would appear that a decision had already been made, despite our lobbying.”

As chairman of the Trust, Sir Michael is charged with overseeing a review of the BBC’s controversial local video plans which have been condemned by the Newspaper Society as duplicating the work of regional press news providers.

Speaking at a lunch organised by the Broadcasting Press Guild, Sir Michael said: “There’s nobody who can be satisfied with the quality of local news in most parts of the United Kingdom.

“The local press has nothing like the strength that it once had. It’s not the same proposition that it was 15 years ago. Will the BBC make it better or worse? That’s exactly the issue to be explored.”

The BBC has since battled to limit the fallout from Sir Michael’s comments, claiming they do not indicate that the chairman’s mind was made up on whether to approve the local websites.


Thomas (17/10/2008 10:37:51)
I have to agree with the chairman’s comments.
I work for a TM weekly and in the last few months we’ve become just too stretched to deliver a quality paper.
We’ve lost reporters, halved the size of the paper and have a much higher advertising to editorial ratio.
I can’t honestly say that I’m proud of my publication and this situation is far from unique. It’s happening across the entire country.

Louise (17/10/2008 10:45:03)
I completely agree with the above. If local newspapers want to offer a quality service, they should pay for more staff, simple as that.

Walter Greenwood ex Thomson Regional Newspapers (17/10/2008 10:57:55)
Monetheless, Sir Michael’s remarks are especially galling when he knows, or ought to know, that regional broadcasting news especially TV, relies to to some extent on follow-ups from mornings and evenings in the area. Broadcasting does not have enough staff on the ground to come up with sufficient off-the diary ideas of its own. However whether it will be able to obtain as many ideas in future from scouring the papers is questionable as staffs are cut to the bone to assist the share prices of the big groups.

GD (17/10/2008 10:59:42)
Maybe if the likes of Trinity Mirror turned its focus to producing quality products instead of trying to appease shareholders through short sighted cost cutting excercies, shifting production out of the areas they are supposed to serve and losing quality staff hand over fist (through redundancies and people getting out while they can) they would be better set up to fight off potential competition from other media outlets.

David Gledhill (17/10/2008 11:03:05)
If it weren’t for the regional press, the BBC would not have a regional news service. Full stop.
For years they have relied on local newspapers to set the agenda which they have then followed, often having the cheek to ask for help with sources, pictures etc.

AH (17/10/2008 11:33:01)
Everyone is right. BBC regional news is laughable with some of its stories.
Life on local papers is bordering on the intolerable for anyone with any sense of professionalism because there are simply not enough people to do the job properly. Blame the recession, bosses, whatever you like.
That’s the reality out of the sanctuary of the boardroom and on the shop floor.
Only the worse prospect of being out of work keeps many journos at their papers.

Bill (17/10/2008 11:54:30)
Bit of truth on both sides here – regional papers with reduced staffing are now often too full of slightly re-written press releases. Equally the BBC commitment to local services is poor. Dorset, for example, has fewer staff than on the Channel Island of Guernsey! Currently only two part-time staff working in the Dorchester office one or two days a week, at most.

KH (17/10/2008 12:41:38)
I agree with David Gledhill that the BBC has always relied heavily on the regional press, but I also have to say Sir Michael is absolutely right in what he says about the state of the regional press. My experience is that cost-cutting has led to a shocking fall in quality. Where I work, editorial staffing has been cut savagely and now it is a case of doing all you can to keep your head above water. Everyone tries their best to do a professional job, but mistakes are frequent and complaints pour in from readers. People regularly work 12-hour days and I have colleagues who turn up for work on their days off because there is insufficient manpower to get the job done any other way. It is not an environment that allows talent to flourish – hence the substandard publications compared with 15 or 20 years ago.

JJ (17/10/2008 13:31:09)
Nice to see Bowdler n Bailey chipping in. What the pair of them know about journalism could be written on the back of a postage stamp – and there would still be enough space to fold it over. As a JP employee it’s heartening to see the soon-to-retire Bowdler suddenly so concerned about about regional newspapers.
This BBC initiative is clearly not going to help regional papers but – perhaps naively – I don’t see the BBC building the same contacts and trust in the community. But I’m sure the aura of the organisation will pull in stories.

Malcolm (17/10/2008 13:44:42)
David Gledhill is completely correct. For the last decade regional broadcasters have basically read out the news from local and regional papers.
It’s astonishing the number of court reports that are ‘covered’ by reporters who have not stepped inside the court building.
Having said that I do have huge concerns for the future of regional press with the knee-jerk cost-cutting currently being carried out.

Barry Fry (17/10/2008 17:04:44)
The BBC’s move to go ultra-local is clearly going to hurt the regional press, and it’s appalling that Sir Michael is making these statements at this time.
hat said, he probably has a point – the state of some of our papers through cut-backs and non-replacement is appalling. The paper I used to work for now has NO full-time journalists. How can JP expect that paper to deliver a “quality local news service”?

Observer (17/10/2008 18:36:10)
Absolutely incredible. Sly Bailey accusing someone else of “an astonishing attack on the local press.” Jesus wept. Whatever next? Take a good look around Sly and see who’s really destroying it. I’m seething with her crass stupidity and how blind she is to what SHE is doing to Trinity’s so-called newspapers.

Mr_Osato (18/10/2008 12:42:48)
Tee-hee, at last someone’s pointed out that the emperor’s got no clothes on! He’s dead right, local newspapers are dying on their feet due to underinvestment. Bring on BBC local!

hack (18/10/2008 17:05:47)
bring on BBC local? Do you seriously think the BBC will be able to afford the staff to create a proper local news service – like most paid-for local papers do still provide? They would need thousands of new staff to do the job!
As for staffing cuts – I have to be honest, in many cases, its simply been culling people who are not really suited to be journalists in the first place. Many of them lack the basic requirements – like curiosity, legal knowledge and a nose for a story to name but three.

Mr_Osato (18/10/2008 17:38:42)
Hack – or should that be management stooge – I know many people who’ve left newspapers and not been replaced or grabbed the pay-off when it’s become available and let me tell you, almost to a man (or a woman) they’re better journalists than those who’ve stayed behind. They’ve left because they haven’t been able to do their jobs properly, don’t want to get involved in hopelessly poor quality video ‘n’ audio garbage which damages the reputation of the paper they work for and hate working for management stooges who do whatever the latest missive from head office tells them to do. The ones without the imagination or common sense to do anything else, and a few die-hards and those who wants to get a bit of experience under their belts and end up taking leadership roles before they’re ready for them tend to stay (the latter category not for long). The local newspaper industry is a car crash – albeit still a very profitable one. We’ll see how long that lasts…

Kelly (20/10/2008 09:40:25)
Tim Bowdler should be ashamed of himself. I have watched as he has encouraged his army of chief executives and managing editors to rip the heart out of local newspapers by changing to overnight publishing, failing to fill editorial vacancies and stretching reporting resources to their limits. I am unsure as to how he has the gall to now ‘speak up’for local journalism. The only things he wants to protect are profits and shareholders. Sir Michael is, unfortunately, spot on.

PeterG (20/10/2008 12:38:39)
“Nobody can be satisified” with the quality of the country’s local and regional press.
That’s spot on.
But maybe the BBC’s plans will shake things up a bit. Either local newspapers bosses will wake up to the realisation it’s going to cost to compete or they’ll continue their slow suicide by a thousand cuts – and what benefit would that be to shareholders?
Management have pursued a policy of short-term shareholder gain for long-term pain for too long. Just look at the share prices of the major players in the regional newspaper market.
The myopic bosses should be looking to consolidate their newspapers’ positions and for long-term growth – forget short-term profits and dividends and deliver real, long-lasting benefits for shareholders.

Daisy May (20/10/2008 15:21:25)
Newspapers are not charities or not-for-profit enterprises. They are a business. They owe no one a living. Get real. They have carried too many people for too long and are now paying the price.

Paddy (20/10/2008 15:24:43)
Regional telly never ever broke a story. All the hard work is done by the regional print press only to see oevrpaid Barbies and Ken’s tell the tale again on screen at teatime.