Report: BBC Must Find Ways to Partner With Local News Media

Local news is extremely important and the BBC must find ways in which to partner with the local news media sector for the benefit of the public, a report on the BBC charter review by the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee said today. 

One of the key recommendations of the report, which looked at key areas such as BBC governance, culture and regulation as well as its relationship with the national and local commercial news sector, was for the abolition of the BBC Trust which had “lost confidence and credibility.” Instead a new accountability body would be introduced and the BBC’s board would be reformed and strengthened, with the addition of an independent chair.

Looking at the BBC’s relationship with the local news media sector, the report quoted extensively from evidence given by News Media Association chairman Ashley Highfield, chief executive of Johnston Press, who outlined ways in which a constructive partnership could be achieved.   

“What the industry (both traditional publishers and the hyperlocals) is seeking now is closer partnership with the BBC, to distribute BBC content to areas that the BBC may struggle to reach, and to provide commissioned content to the BBC website which is properly attributed and acknowledged by the BBC,” the report said.

The report quoted one of Mr Highfield’s suggestions which was for the BBC to commission content from the regional press. “He also believed that, in order to avoid the failures of the past, details about this collaboration, and areas such as proper attribution of sources and linking to external websites would have to be written into the BBC’s service licences and properly overseen by the BBC’s regulator.”

The report, which made clear that “local newspapers are far from dead” said attribution of news articles from other sources was “a particularly sore point” and media organisations “consider that the BBC does not have an open, collaborative approach to hosting and linking to third party content.”

“GMG told us that, unlike global commercial platforms such as Google or Facebook, very little of the traffic which initially lands on the BBC website and mobile app is linked back to commercial creators of public value such as the Guardian and the trend in terms of traffic from BBC desktop and mobile sites to the Guardian’s digital news services is downwards,” the report added.

“Local news is important: people deserve to be able to find out what their local councils, police forces, hospitals and schools are doing, planning and transport issues that affect the community, court reports, the availability of local services and what is happening in the local economy, as well as the fate of local sports teams and more personal news.”

“Other initiatives under way, such as the moves towards opening BBC archives and sharing other resources with local journalists, offer a better way to co-operate with and support local media.

“We would also like to see further progress from the BBC in systematically acknowledging the source of stories that it picks up from local media, and a greater willingness to share content in both directions: though the BBC prides itself on its standards of reporting and impartiality, most truly local stories are unlikely to be covered by non-BBC reporters in any way that would lead to serious accusations of bias or damage to the BBC brand.

“For its part, the BBC could provide online links back to articles run by trusted local newspaper partners, appropriately tagged, without impugning its reputation for impartiality,” the report added. “There are doubtless other ways in which the BBC might help to sustain local news coverage.”

Looking at the BBC’s global operations the report cited evidence from Guardian Media Group’s head of public policy Matt Rogerson in which he said the BBC’s efforts to expand its commercial news activities internationally put competitors at a disadvantage. He called for “much more thorough oversight and transparency regime in future.”

The BBC’s approach to partnership should be changed to require the BBC “to exercise restraint before trying to do everything, and to refrain from seeing,” the report continued. “We have concerns over the way in which the BBC is developing its commercial arms overseas, in part because of their impact on other parts of the BBC and the Corporation in general, and in part because of concerns about value for money and fair competition.”

The report went on to say that the BBC World News also runs the risk of “mission creep” and recommended that it should resist “the temptation to expand into magazine-style material.”

“We believe that BBC Worldwide should make every effort to be as transparent as commercial confidentiality allows, including in relation to compensation arrangements with members of staff and staff acting as outside contractors. In that context, we welcome BBC Worldwide’s recent commitment in the BBC’s agreement with PACT to report results by business activity as well as by regional split.”