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Dorries backs further expansion of local democracy reporter scheme

Nadine DorriesCulture Secretary Nadine Dorries has backed a further expansion of the local democracy reporting scheme between the regional press and the BBC.

Ms Dorries has agreed the service should be “enhanced”, indicating an expansion could form part of discussions as part of next year’s mid-term review of the BBC charter.

The BBC-funded scheme grew earlier this year to cover more local authorities, with the number of journalism roles created across regional newsrooms increasing from 150 to 165 as a result.

She was asked to give her thoughts on the scheme as part of an appearance before the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee on Tuesday.

Asked whether the service could be “enhanced” in future by fellow Tory MP Simon Jupp, himself a former BBC and ITV regional journalist, Ms Dorries said: “Yes, and I don’t see why it couldn’t be or shouldn’t be.

“That was the training ground, wasn’t it, for journalists to go and sit in those village halls, night after night, reporting the minutes of those meetings for their local newspaper the next day.”

She added: “Local democracy? Local reporting? Yes, I think what we need to see actually is a revival.

“Can we have a revival of journalism? Because they were the good old days, if you like, of honest reporting which wasn’t overlaid with filtered opinion, which I think is something that we see a lot of now.”

Ms Dorries, pictured, was further quizzed by Committee chair Julian Knight on whether she would achieve an expansion of the scheme by discussing it as a “prerequisite” of the future BBC licence fee settlement.

In response, she said: “I think that’s something that’s going to be part of the mid-term review… in the framework agreement.

“I don’t think it’s coming in as part of discussions on the licence fee, but I think it’s something, when we start the mid-term review discussions next year, we will be discussing.”

Ms Dorries added: “It’s incredibly important. It’s part of regional news and it’s part of what I’ve spoken to, to that point.”

The News Media Association has welcomed the comments by Ms Dorries.

NMA chief executive Owen Meredith said: “We welcome the Culture Secretary’s comments regarding the vital importance of local journalism to our society and her support for the expansion of the successful Local News Partnership between the BBC and the NMA.

“In her evidence, the Culture Secretary also cited previous examples of concerns surrounding BBC plans to beef up its local news services, and the profound dangers of a licence fee-funded local news provider crowding out commercial outlets.

“We believe that local communities across the UK are best served by a strong, vibrant independent commercial local news sector, working in partnership with the BBC through initiatives like the Local News Partnership, not forced to compete against a state-backed provider of local news services.”

A BBC spokesman added: “We’re proud of our partnership and the local democracy reporters who are producing such vital public service journalism.

“The partnership has grown since it began because it has been so successful.”