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Local papers ‘will go out of business’ without BBC cutbacks, publisher warns

Gary Shipton 1A regional publisher has warned local newspapers will “go out of business” unless the BBC cuts back on its regional coverage.

National World has demanded the corporation scraps its ‘Across the UK’ plans for a new network of more than 100 reporters around the country as part of a “major investment” in local journalism, and that it reduces its market share in online news to below 25pc.

The regional publisher had made the pleas in its response to Ofcom’s consultation on modernising the BBC’s operating licence, claiming there is “a need to level up the media – otherwise local publishers will increasingly go out of business”.

Other recommendations made in the response by National World deputy editor in chief Gary Shipton include for the BBC to limit its soft news, comment and analysis output, improve communication of its plans and withdraw the BBC News Daily email which it says “directly competes with commercial alternatives”.

Gary, pictured, wrote: “There is a need to level up the media – otherwise local publishers will increasingly go out of business because of the calculated and predatory behaviour of this publicly funded competitor.

“The BBC speaks with one voice, directed from the centre, whereas local people and local editors independently drive products that genuinely reflect the differences in communities.

“It would be considered unthinkable for the BBC to launch local newspapers that contained no advertising, had no cover price, were of limitless pagination and consequently offered a premium user experience, in markets served by traditional, commercial publishers.

“But this is what they are effectively doing by continuing to invest in local news websites in direct competition to commercial news organisations which cannot offer the same UX and upload speeds because of the advertising they carry to sustain their journalism.”

The BBC last year announced plans to create a network of digital community journalists that will help it to cover some of the UK’s “most under-served communities”, in a move that has since been repeatedly criticised by regional and national press trade body the News Media Association.

In National World’s response, Gary also noted new Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan’s past opposition to the BBC licence fee.

He added: “More than a year ago, a National Audit Office report found that the BBC faces ‘significant’ uncertainty over its financial future due to changes in viewing habits.

“Frankly, the BBC is spreading itself far too thinly while audiences – especially younger ones – shrink and fewer and fewer people legitimately no longer need to buy a TV licence.”

A BBC spokesperson said: “The BBC’s local online services are valued by audiences the length and breadth of the UK and there is no evidence that the BBC is crowding out other digital publishers. Our plans to strengthen these services were published last year and we are discussing these proposals with partners across the sector.

“The BBC works collaboratively across the industry and our partnership with the NMA has transformed coverage of local democracy across the UK.”