The BBC is set to beef up its local online news coverage in a move which could reopen a bitter row with regional press publishers.
In a letter to Culture Secretary Maria Miller last week, Newspaper Society president Adrian Jeakings urged the government to curb BBC “competition” and encouraged the corporation to commission more content from the local press.
However a BBC Trust report published today reveals that the corporation is already working on plans to bolster its ‘local offer.’
The Trust report identifies local news coverage as a relative weakness in its output and highlights the need for improvement as a key action point.
It says: “One area for improvement is the provision of local content, particularly local news.
“The Trust’s Audience Councils, as well our audience research and public consultation, suggested that BBC Online’s local offer is not as strong as its UK and international and international news.
“For instance, local news stories are not updated frequently and news coverage is not particularly comprehensive in most localities.
“In addition, BBC local sites are organised around regions or counties which are perceived as being too large to be locally relevant.
“We have discussed these challenges and the barriers to improvement with BBC management. It has plans to plans to improve the local online offer both technically and editorially.
“We support these plans and have asked for them to be developed and implemented speedily, as we believe that they will go some way to addressing this issue without changing the local footprint of the BBC.”
An action point set out in the report states: “We recognise that BBC Online’s local sites, and news coverage in particular, are important to the service’s delivery of public purposes.
“BBC management should develop and implement initiatives to improve the local offer, alongside broader actions to improve navigation and personalisation. We will assess progress and consider whether any further action is required.”
Five years ago the BBC was involved in a protracted row with the regional press over plans to bolster its websites by a huge expansion of local video.
The £68m proposal was eventually scrapped after a fierce lobbying campaign by the Newspaper Society, which represents regional press publishers.