The Culture, Media and Sports Committee today published a 164-page report on the future of the corporation ahead of its Charter Renewal due next year.
It called for a “more symbiotic” relationship between the local press and the BBC and put forward a number of radical proposals for the future of local news provision.
They included top-slicing the licence fee to help fund “public service journalism” by local and regional media, and extending the BBC’s independent production quota to cover local news.
In effect, this could mean that the BBC is forced to outsource the provision of some of its local news content to local and regional publishers.
The committee, chaired by Tory MP John Whittingdale, left, also backed industry calls for local BBC sites to link to stories published on local newspaper sites.
It said: “We believe there must be a more symbiotic relationship between local media and the BBC, where each benefits from the other.
“The BBC as the dominant partner must always be mindful of the effect of its activities on regional media groups and their
ability to turn a profit, given the greater certainty resulting from its publicly-funded position.
“The BBC Trust’s conclusions from its 2013 review of BBC Online, where it called on the BBC management to make sites more local, demonstrated a disregard for the health of local journalism.
“Whilst the BBC appears to make the right gestures in supporting local and regional media organisations in the run up to Charter Reviews, we believe more definite commitments in respect of its interactions with the press must be codified into any future Charter framework.”
The report continued: “The BBC must not expect to receive others’ news content without providing something in return.
“We are attracted by the idea of exchanges of content and information, where the BBC local websites link to the source of local material they have used, and in return the BBC allows others to use its content and embed BBC clips on their sites, where these would be of local interest, under a licence agreement.
“We also see the case for the BBC outsourcing the supply of some local content on a commercial basis, where there is an ongoing requirement for such material, and it is a more cost-effective way of meeting this need.
“We recommend this be ensured by extending the BBC’s independent production quota to cover local news.”
He said: “I’m heartened by today’s report on the Future of the BBC. We at Johnston Press and across the industry have long argued that the BBC should be looking to work more closely with local media, rather than against it, and so it is hugely encouraging to see this view is echoed by Whittingdale.
“The BBC should allow local publishers free access to its regional content, which they can take to market. The shared content would, of course, be properly credited, whilst ensuring that individual titles can keep their own local voice.
“Were this to be regulated with a quota, the BBC could even be given specific content targets for how much local publishers can use from an independent regulator, which would then allow traffic on local platforms to be counted towards the BBC’s reach too. “
Lynne Anderson, News Media Association deputy chief executive, added: “The news media industry has long been keen to explore a more positive relationship with the BBC, one in which independent commercial newspaper companies would be appropriately credited, and rewarded, for sharing their local – and global – content with the BBC, while being able to access publicly-funded content from the BBC.
“The BBC must not be permitted to expand its services in such a way that could have harmful consequences for independent national and local news media.
“This position has been stressed to the BBC for many years and endorsed by senior politicians at the top of Government.
“The NMA would welcome a thorough review of the BBC’s role and remit which properly examines how the BBC could benefit from and support a successful independent commercial news media rather than seeking to provide the universal solution for a market failure which doesn’t exist.”
A BBC spokesperson said: “Director of news James Harding is a strong supporter of local journalism and has repeatedly stressed his commitment to helping it flourish. Over the past year the BBC has started pilot schemes to share stories with local papers and to link through to newspaper websites from BBC Local Live pages.
“We have promised to improve attribution of stories which originate in local papers and agreed to a formal audit of how many BBC website stories originate in the local press.
“We have suggested other news organisations might consider covering such things as sport and courts for the BBC, we have hosted an industry event on data journalism and we are exploring joint ventures in local areas during the General Election campaign.
“BBC News remains committed to maintaining a close dialogue with local newspapers. We believe a thriving local news business benefits the BBC and that a thriving regional BBC operation can benefit the local news business.”