Culture Secretary Welcomes NMA Agreement With BBC

John Whittingdale has welcomed an agreement between the News Media Association and the BBC to implement a series of initiatives which will boost local journalism and the “vital role” that local newspapers have in holding authority to account.  

Mr Whittingdale said: “Local and regional media plays a vital role in reporting issues that matter to communities and also helps hold local decision-makers to account. Given the challenges the industry is facing, these plans from the BBC and NMA are welcome. They will need to be implemented carefully and in consultation with industry, but will help make sure our local media thrives for years to come.”

The agreement, which is outlined in a joint letter from NMA chairman Ashley Highfield and James Harding, director, BBC News and Current Affairs, to the Culture Secretary, identifies a number of initiatives where the BBC and NMA can work together: 

  • The establishment of a shared data journalism unit, drawing on the model of Trinity Mirror’s operation in Manchester.
  • A video bank of BBC audio and video news material enabling BBC local video and audio news content to be accessed by news media websites, enhancing their online offers and making BBC news output more accessible to audiences online.
  • A jointly commissioned independent audit to establish the usage of local press content by the BBC on its media platforms and vice versa. The outcome of the independent audit will inform a review of the BBC’s efforts to improve the linking and attribution of stories and sources.
  • The establishment of a local public sector reporting service to cover local authorities and public services. The BBC will fund 150 journalists from 2017, who will be employed by local newspapers and other qualifying providers of local news (e.g. IPSO-accredited organisations). While the journalists will be under the editorial direction and control of their employers, processes will be jointly agreed to ensure the quality of coverage is in line with the BBC’s public service obligations. The number will rise to 200 journalists, depending on the outcome of a joint review of usage in 2019. If the usage of the journalism on BBC outlets warrants increasing the numbers from 150 to 200 in 2019, the further 50 journalists could be funded from a number of different sources including net revenues raised by the participating news media groups from advertising against BBC news bank video content (which may need specific approval from the future regulatory body of the BBC), external funding, or reallocation of BBC resources spent on the data journalism unit.

The White Paper says: “The BBC has been working with the News Media Association to develop proposals and good progress has been made in agreeing the principles of such a service that sees the BBC providing some funding for local journalists to provide reporting for use by the BBC and other news providers.

“These proposals could provide a positive contribution to the diversity and quality of local news provision. The government welcomes the BBC’s commitment to continue to work with the industry to develop and implement these plans and its commitment to provide funding for 150 journalists from 2017, given the public interest in a plurality of local and regional news provision. This number could rise to 200, subject to the outcome of a joint review of usage and funding in 2019.”

 The proposals, which will be subject to a joint annual review by the BBC and the NMA and considered by the new BBC Board, mean an overall investment of around £8million a year.  The results of the review will be published alongside the BBC’s annual report and accounts.

Welcoming the agreement Ashley Highfield, NMA chairman, said:   “We believe this will strengthen and enhance local journalism, and the crucial role it has in holding local authorities to account, while maintaining the healthy competition between different news sources which is so important in a democracy.  More coverage and content from councils will be more widely distributed ensuring greater accountability and transparency in an ever more devolved Britain.

“As the market leader in local news provision, the local news media industry has long been keen to explore a more positive relationship with the BBC which would be of real benefit to our readers and licence fee payers. More work is needed to finalise the details but we have now all reached an agreement we believe will enable the BBC to benefit from local media’s first class local journalism while providing an appropriate framework for use of this content.

“Reaching 40 million people each week, local newspapers in print and digital sit at the heart of communities across the UK providing an invaluable public service which underpins democracy at a local level.”

James Harding, director, BBC News and Current Affairs, said: “These plans are not just a milestone in the relationship between the BBC and the local press.  They will enhance local journalism, ensure greater accountability of people in public life and enable BBC audiences and newspaper readers to get better coverage of what’s really happening in their communities.  

“These are big steps to strengthen local news.  We will add 150 journalists reporting for their papers and BBC audiences alike.  BBC video will reach more people through local newspaper websites.  And, together, we will harness the potential of data journalism to improve our reporting of public services and institutions across the country.”