BBC Slaps Local Media In The Face With Its Olive Branch

As olive branches go, the one offered by the BBC's Director General, Tony Hall, to the local news industry yesterday was a very odd one. Local media organisations have been calling for years for the BBC to dial down competition and consider sharing content. What they were offered in yesterday's speech was something altogether very different.

Instead of offering to share local content, Hall proposed setting up a new news gathering team of 100 journalists that would be run by the BBC but for which local news groups could pitch to sell on the content generated. Confused? You're not the only one wondering why a local news group would pitch for a contract to sell on local court and council stories from a team that would be under BBC control. It is probably little surprise, then, that the local newspaper industry has labelled the proposed move a 'trojan horse' for the BBC to embed itself even further in local news. Instead of sharing stories, or dialing back its local coverage, the BBC appears to be proposing a setup that is hard to imagine working in real life.

Interestingly, shares in local news groups saw an uplift yesterday on what analysts are warning was a fairly quiet day of trading in which even the most mediocre news could see upward pressure on values. I suspect any uplift for the local newspapers came not because city investors believed the BBC was offering a good deal but rather that the issue is now firmly on the table. Alongside what happens to the likes of CBeebies and BBC 4. How the BBC interacts with the local press it is believed to be harming is now a major political issue -- and as such, what Hall offered yesterday is most probably being seen as a starting position rather than a final deal. Certainly, if anyone is listening to the tirade of opposition from local media groups, it would be hard to see how Hall's plan could progress.

The biggest pressure on the BBC is to cut costs -- and you would imagine one of the simplest ways would be to do one of two things -- cut a deal with local news organisations to stop creating local BBC news coverage and instead buy in their content or share content that the BBC generates on a free or licensed basis. The odd combination of expecting a team of 100 journalists run by the BBC to provide content to the highest bidder, rather than all local media, who would then sell on that content is just perplexing. Rather than fix the problem, it looks to attempt to increase the BBC's presence at the same time as creating a new revenue stream. Would one local news organisation really pay another for stories coming from a team of journalists operated by the BBC?

Monday's speech gave very little away about how Hall will oversee what roughly amounts to saving a pound in every five currently spent by the corporation. What it did show us, however, is that its plans to work with local media organisations rather than against them are half-baked and will not get past the first hurdle. 

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