The BBC should use its “privileged position” to support the local news sector, the government says in today’s White Paper on the corporation’s future.
As reported earlier today, the corporation is pledging £8m a year to fund 150 public service journalists who would be employed by local newspapers to boost coverage of local councils and devolved bodies.
The multimedia journalists, to be recruited from next year, will produce video, audio and written content to be used on BBC news bulletins and websites as well as on their own outlets.
The proposals relating to local news are set out in full on page 73 of the White Paper in a section entitled: “Supporting and invigorating local news provision across the UK.” Here is what it says:
Local and regional news provision in the UK is a key element of our plural media landscape – reporting on issues that matter to the communities they affect and helping hold decision-makers to account. However, the industry has faced challenging times: the circulation of regional newspapers has seen an average annual decline of almost seven per cent between 2009 and 2013 and revenues have suffered similarly.
This is in large part attributable to the increased role of the internet: while many local news providers are making great strides in transitioning their audiences online, the monetisation of this move remains challenging.
The government expects the BBC to use its privileged position to support the provision of news and information and specifically we expect to see a positive partnership with the local news sector. The BBC has set out proposals about how it would like to do this:
- A News Bank – syndicating audio and video content for local and regional news organisations across the UK.
- A Data Journalism Hub – partnering with a university to make data journalism available for news organisations across the UK.
- An Independent Audit of Local Content – looking at usage of local press content by the BBC on its media platforms and vice versa.
- A Local Public Sector Reporting Service – investing in a service to report on local institutions.
The government welcomes this focus, but recognises that these plans will need to be implemented in consultation with industry. In particular, there are details about the Local Public Sector Reporting Service which still need to be resolved.
The BBC has been working with the News Media Association (NMA) to develop proposals and good progress has been made in agreeing the principles of such a service that sees the BBC providing some funding for local journalists to provide reporting for use by the BBC and other news providers.
These proposals could provide a positive contribution to the diversity and quality of local news provision. The government welcomes the BBC’s commitment to continue to work with the industry to develop and implement these plans and its commitment to provide funding for 150 journalists from 2017, given the public interest in a plurality of local and regional news provision. This number could rise to 200, subject to the outcome of a joint review of usage and funding in 2019.
These proposals will sit alongside the BBC’s existing local services which the government wants to see continue to thrive. The provision of local news and current affairs are vitally important to the communities they serve, for example, BBC local radio provided essential information to listeners during the floods resulting from Storm Desmond.