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Ofcom issues warning to BBC over local news changes

OfcomThe broadcast watchdog has warned the BBC not to “leave audience groups behind” in planned changes to its local news coverage.

Ofcom has told the corporation it “must continue to deliver content for all audiences in the UK” amid proposals to cut 139 roles due to the introduction of increased programme-sharing across its network of 39 local radio stations in England.

In its annual report on the BBC, Ofcom said it will “engage” with the BBC over the plans and touted changing the terms of its operating licence if the regulator had any “concerns” about the delivery of news and current affairs as a result of planned changes.

The report’s publication came 24 hours after the BBC revealed further plans to cut its regional news services, with up to 40 jobs set to be made redundant in Northern Ireland.

In its report, Ofcom said: “We recognise that in the context of the licence fee freeze, and in order to modernise its operations and output, the BBC must make difficult decisions.

“But in making these changes, it must continue to deliver content for all audiences in the UK, including UK and international news and current affairs for domestic TV and online audiences, and tailored news and current affairs content for those in the nations and regions, which make an important contribution to the delivery of the BBC’s remit.

“It is important that the BBC does not leave audience groups behind.

“We will continue to engage with the BBC as it develops its plans in these areas, to ensure that it continues to deliver for audiences.

“In respect of its plans to streamline its local radio offering, we believe it is important to monitor the stations between which the BBC shares its programming, as well as the specific programming being shared.

“We intend to do this going forward to ensure that the BBC continues to provide important local content such as local news. Should we have any concerns about the BBC’s delivery of news and current affairs as a result of planned changes, we could amend the Operating Licence to enable us to hold it to account.”

Ofcom has also addressed concerns raised by regional press industry bosses about concurrent plans by the BBC to create 131 new jobs as a result of planned investment in local news services across the country.

In a statement, it said: “As it implements the digital first strategy, the BBC must not lose sight of the importance of local content. This includes proposed changes to news and current affairs.

“We will scrutinise the BBC’s plans as they develop, and assess their impact.

“That includes keeping a close eye on programme sharing between local radio stations, to ensure the sustained provision of high-quality local content, including local news.

“Separately, the News Media Association has raised concerns with us about the BBC’s planned changes to its local online news offering.

“Our assessment of these proposals, which we expect to conclude shortly, will take account of the BBC’s analysis, the NMA’s concerns and our own data sources.”

Responding to the report, a BBC spokesperson told HTFP: “Ofcom recognises our investment in distinctive UK content, how we bring audiences together for major national moments and the significance of our trusted, impartial news, which means we’re delivering on our remit and delivering value for audiences.

“While BBC is the most used media brand for low socio-economic groups, we know we have further to go both on and off screen so we are commissioning ever more varied content that reflects UK communities and we’ve set a new staff target, for 25pc of staff to come from low socio-economic backgrounds to ensure we’re serving all audiences.”