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BBC defends local news expansion plan after fresh regional press attack

Rhodri Talfan Davies newThe BBC has defended its planned local news expansion after a fresh warning the plans could cause regional commercial titles to “call it a day”.

The regional press industry has launched a new coordinated attack on the BBC’s proposal to create 131 new jobs as a result of planned investment in local news services across the country while at the same time axeing 179 jobs in local radio and TV services.

In a plea issued in regional commercial titles across the country on Monday, press trade body the News Media Association called on the BBC to ‘Be A Better Neighbour’ to its local competitors and to step back from the plans.

But the corporation has once again defied the call, pointing to Ofcom’s ruling last year that the expansion will not have a “significant adverse impact” on regional publishers.

NMA chief executive Owen Meredith said: “The BBC’s unique status as a licence fee-funded news provider means that robust guardrails are required to protect the commercial news sector from being damaged by its activities.

“However, in the case of the ‘Across the UK’ plans, these guardrails have failed.

“The web is the modern newsstand, and the BBC has essentially put a free, taxpayer-funded newspaper on offer next to commercial competitors.

“We now need government to see what can be done to get the BBC to change course. Otherwise, we fear that local journalism will be irreparably harmed.”

Ian Carter, editorial director of Iliffe Media, added: “The problem lies with the BBC’s enormous and unique power – granted to the corporation by the licence fee – and the impact of this upon other news providers.

“We are always up for fair competition. Fair competition drives innovation and quality in many different sectors. But the BBC’s proposals are the exact opposite.

“Under the plans, online readers – and the commensurate advertising revenues which we use to pay our local journalists – will be sucked away from local media websites to the BBC’s.

“That pressure on our resources, at a time when we are grappling with a host of other challenges could cause some local titles around the country to call it a day. That would be a disaster for the communities affected.”

In response to the campaign’s launch, BBC director of nations Rhodri Talfan Davies, pictured, highlighted the work of the Local Democracy Reporting Service, run in conjunction with regional publishers and funded by the licence fee.

He said: “The BBC has worked constructively with local media publishers for years and already funds 165 reporter posts across the UK that supply commercial publishers with stories focused on the work of local authorities.

“Since the scheme launched, it has produced more than 340,000 original stories for in excess of 1,100 different news outlets.

“The BBC’s plans to strengthen its local online news coverage over the coming months will offer greater value to millions of licence-fee payers.

“Our regulator Ofcom has already scrutinised these plans and concluded that they do not expect them to significantly impact commercial media outlets.”