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BBC Local Decision: Reaction

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Dave Lee | 12:02 UK time, Monday, 24 November 2008

Last week the BBC Trust rejected plans to invest £68 million in BBC Local services. Media regulator Ofcom believes annual revenues for local commercial providers would drop by 4%.

bbc_trust_foi.pngThe Newspaper Society has welcomed the decision, saying:

We are pleased that the BBC Trust and Ofcom have responded to the industry's concerns and rejected the BBC Local Video plans for the time being. This is a proposal which the BBC should never have made and would have severely reduced consumers' media choice and the rich tapestry of local news and information provision in the UK"

However, the National Union of Journalists criticises the trust's conclusions:

Newspaper employers have spent years taking huge profits out of local media whilst cutting jobs. Now they have helped stop new jobs being created because they said such competition would stifle their investment.

Writing in yesterday's Observer, Peter Preston hails the decision as a blessing in disguise:

The trust, in a small but significant way, has offered the corporation a chance to silence some critics and become, once again, more appreciated for what it offers than for where it threatens to go next."

On PaidContent, Robert Andrews, condemns the trust's decision:

BBC Trust has gained a track record for restricting BBC innovation, mostly aiming to protect commercial media in a manner than makes the Beeb's place in the pecking order plain - the broadcaster can only launch a substantive digital initiative if someone else hasn't got there first."

Our own blogger-in-residence Steve Bowbrick says the decision is "sad", suggesting that the knock-on effect of a BBC investment in local news would be positive rather than negative:

The newsgathering and distribution facilities (studios, newsrooms, personnel, servers, bandwidth, CMS) purchased at wholesale rates by the BBC could be opened up to local players to produce real benefits to communities and struggling media outlets."

Blogger Daithí Mac Síthigh on his Lex Farenda blog says:

the Trust's report goes on at great length about how the proposed service would not reach out to all communities because it was broadband-only. Have they ever tried to watch streaming video over dial-up?

Daithí is also flattered that his blog post was picked up by the Today programme.

Guardian Media blogger Roy Greenslade describes the decision as the "first major example of the trust showing its muscles", but issues a warning to the regional press:

More and more people are seeking news online and they want a good service. Now, freed from the "burden" of BBC competition, publishers must prove that they are willing to do the job they have prevented the BBC from doing.

Cheshire-based journalist Louise Bolotin weighs in, saying that the regionals should see this as an opportunity to improve:

Regional newspapers are, as expected, heaving a huge sigh of relief. It's understandable as the BBC's video news proposals would undoubtedly have had an impact on local news provision. However, they should not feel threatened by the addition of one single web page to Aunty's sprawler of a site. They now have an opportunity to get their act together. If they are so worried about the BBC muscling to provide local news, then they need to provide it themselves in a more consumable form than they currently do."

Finally, Press Gazette gauges the reaction of the big names in regional press, complete with assurances from Trinity Mirror Chief Executive Sly Bailey:

We can now continue to invest without the fear that a publicly funded giant would be duplicating already existing services.
However, we will still be seeking assurances from the BBC Trust that the BBC will not be overstepping the boundaries of their current service licence by launching new hyperlocal map-based news services."

Dave Lee is co-editor, BBC Internet blog


  • Comment number 1.

    I'm pretty sick to death of the BBC Trust and it's stifling of innovation, especially the iPlayer. The Trust seem to roll over and die at any comment from commercial alternatives, whether or not those alternatives do, or will, exist.

    Since the iPlayer's introduction the end result has been to spur the Commercial competition into actually offering something substantional whereas previously all you would get would be simple clips. Though despite the Trust's best efforts the iPlayer is far and away better constructed than any of the competition. The alternatives often look like technical previews than fully functional websites.

    I am very sceptical as to whether or not the local newspapers actually have anything planned or now they have killed off the BBC's alternative they can go on with the current insubstational rubbish that they peddle today.

    If the BBC had been allowed to move into Local news then the current malaise that seems to pervade on local news paper websites wouldn't be tolerated any longer. My local newspaper's website is awful and could be replaced by a wordpress blog and be suddenly quicker and a lot more functional.

    With these decisions I'm not sure who the BBC Trust represents. It's certainly not the public at large, who would have gained a fantastic local news resource, and the BBC is definitely poorer as a public service broadcaster after this decision.

  • Comment number 2.

    I love the hypocrisy of Peter Preston in the Observer. The Guardian Group in Greater Manchester has a monopoly of local news sources supplying a daily paper, an evening paper 17 local weeklies, a property mag or two and two large websites as well as a TV Channel on Sky and Virgin. Lets have less crocodile tears from the provincial fat cats and lets have more nuanced proposals for BBC Management ( refurbish local radio sites and add video for example.)

  • Comment number 3.

    Pathetic decision by the BBC Trust. Where I am, local media coverage online is truly appalling and geared around driving sales of the newspaper ... full of half stories ("for the full story read tonight's paper" etc), bland fluff and uninsightful nonsense.

    This decision allows them to carry on in this fashion with nothing forcing them to drive quality upwards.

    There is a reason that electrical stores all open close to each other ... because it keeps all of them on their toes, competing and attempting to provide customers with what they want. Keeping the BBC out of local services like this does the opposite, allowing the commercial media to expend as little time, energy and money as possible on their offering because there is no competition.

    True, the BBC is publicly-funded, where they are not, but there is increasing scepticism about the BBC in the country at large (although not in my house), so good quality (dare I say, BBC News style) local media services should be able to attract users without too much difficulty.

    Gaining them by default (as at present) serves neither the user nor the outlet in the long term.

  • Comment number 4.

    This doesn't 'keep the BBC out of local online media' as the BBC is already in that space.

    The Puplic Value Test was looking at whether the BBC should spend an extra £68 million on adding video gathering staff to the existing local websites.

    All the current sites are getting a new look next year - Bristol has already gone live and will all still have video as well.

    The difference is that the video will be user generated commissions and video broadcast by regional TV services.

  • Comment number 5.

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