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BBC Trust rejects local video plan

The BBC Trust today rejected the corporation’s £68m plans to introduce video to 65 of its local web outlets in what will be seen as a major victory for the regional press lobby.

The Trust reached its decision after conducting a six-month long inquiry into BBC management’s proposals to introduce a web-based local video service across the UK.

A separate inquiry by the industry regulator Ofcom found that the plans would have “a significant negative market impact” on commercial providers such as regional newspapers.

Industry leaders today warmly welcomed the decision – but the National Union of Journalists branded it a “missed opportunity.”

Chairman of the BBC Trust Sir Michael Lyons said: “It is clear from the evidence that, although licence fee payers want better regional and local services from the BBC, this proposal is unlikely to achieve what they want.

“We also recognise the negative impact that the local video proposition could have on commercial media services which are valued by the public and are already under pressure.

“We believe the BBC’s priority should be improving the quality of existing services. The public wants better quality regional television news programmes and more programmes of all kinds produced in and reflecting their areas.

“We would expect BBC management to consider carefully the conclusions of this public value test before returning to us with new proposals.”

Ofcom said in a statement: “Overall, we conclude that the launch of the proipsal would have a significant market impact on commercial providers.

“Almost every local newspaper now has its own website. The BBC local video service would represent a major presence in this area and is likely to be of significantly greater scale than commercial providers could offer.”

The decision follows a fierce lobbying campaign against the proposals by leading industry organisations including the Newspaper Society and the Society of Editors.

They have consistently argued that the BBC plans would duplicate what is on offer on local newspaper sites and would amount to unfair competition.

Society of Editors executive director Bob Satchwell said today: “Quite clearly the BBC has recognised the potential damaging effect, particularly in regional newspapers, which are facing the double challenge of huge structural change as well as the general economic malaise.

“It’s always good to know that organisations such as the BBC Trust and Ofcom will listen to a case which has been so powerfully put and sensibly explained by the regional media.”

Newspaper Society director David Newell added: “We are pleased that the BBC Trust and Ofcom have responded to the industry’s concerns and rejected the BBC Local Video plans for the time being.

“This is a proposal which the BBC should never have made and would have severely reduced consumers’ media choice and the rich tapestry of local news and information provision in the UK.”

Trinity Mirror chief executive Sly Bailey said: “We are delighted that the BBC Trust and Ofcom have recognised our view that BBC Local plans would have posed a severe threat to the commercial regional and local media marketplace.”

Northcliffe managing director Michael Pelosi added: “This is a victory for common sense. We felt strongly that the BBC proposals would duplicate services which are already provided by local media organisations.”

But NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear said: “Against a significant decline in local journalism, here was an opportunity to take a small step in the opposite direction by actually enhancing local news provision.

“Newspaper employers have spent years taking huge profits out of local media whilst cutting jobs. Now they have helped stop new jobs being created because they said such competition would stifle their investment.”

  • See the Ofcom and BBC Trust inquiry findings in detail
  • All the regional press industry reaction


    James (21/11/2008 10:24:38)
    This is fantastic news for local papers at a time when we are all having a really tough time.
    However bad things are regionally all of us in the local press should breathe a sigh of relief at this.
    Most amazignly however is the comment from the NUJ who appear to have abandoned the local press by the look of their comments.
    The NUJ proves looks here as if it is only interests in its BBC elite and the rest of us in the regions can go hang.
    I hope every local newspaper journalist will remember this – the NUJ seemss more interested in political point scoring against newspaper bosses than your job and your welfare.
    Sad but true.
    PS Thanks BBC Trust!!!

    Shuttleboy (21/11/2008 10:37:59)
    I am now really looking forward to seeing the newspaper groups invest in lots of new online journalists jobs.
    They will do won’t they?
    They won’t simply rest on their laurels and continue cutting back on editorial money to protect their bottom line will they?
    We haven’t just seen 300-plus new journalists jobs blown away for nothing have we?

    Simon (21/11/2008 10:53:39)
    The newspaper lobby’s argument has been that this would stiffle their own online innovation and investment. The proof of the pudding will now be in the eating. If we still see jobs going, budgets slashed and weak, half hearted stabs at online coverage then that argument will be revealed as being nothing but profit driven humbug.

    Mark (21/11/2008 11:05:04)
    Great news, but what on earth do the NUJ mean? It wouldn’t have created more jobs, as most of the newspaper web staff would be out of a job, maybe they could have gone over to the BBC, but thats just shifting jobs around.

    Douglas (21/11/2008 12:01:15)
    But people’s jobs would have been safer at the BBC because it has a regular funding source. It’s a victory for newspaper owners who want to keep their papers going, but problematic for journalists who will still potentially find themselves out of a job. I agree with the NUJ.

    RichardB (21/11/2008 12:02:05)
    I’m really glad Trinity Mirror boss Sly Bailey will now be able to practice what she preaches and “continue to invest” in the regional press.
    Her recent decision to close 44 local titles, axe 1,200 jobs and freeze everyone’s pay rise next year is simply inspired – the epitome of investment.
    Serious competition from someone like the BBC is the strategicly aimed boot this industry needs.
    Newspaper bosses’ opposition has nothing to do with quality and everything to do with share prices, personal bonuses and utter greed.

    hacked off (21/11/2008 13:13:06)
    It’s a shame. Some healthy competition would have forced newspaper companies to properly invest in video and other online coverage. As it is, they’ll continue cutting staff and expecting their dwindling news teams to somehow deliver hours of video.

    Des (21/11/2008 13:51:05)
    This could be a Pyrrhic victory for the regional press, they’ll now spend valuable resources spending money on websites which one man and his dog will view.
    This money could be spent building up their overall digital offering and making it more competitive against rival internet organisations or developing innovative websites
    The regional press might not be killed off by the BBC, it will be killed off by something like Google, MSN or a site likes Craigslist which will take away advertising revenue.