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‘Neighbours from Hell’: BBC director of nations responds

Earlier today a group of editorial chiefs representing some of the UK’s biggest regional publishers co-signed an article published in the Press Gazette accusing the BBC of being a “neighbour from Hell.”

The co-signees accused the corporation of “suffocating” independent journalism through its plans to invest more heavily in localised digital news, of having an unfair advantage when it comes to online search on account of its publicly funded, ad-free model, and of enjoying a lighter regulation regime due to being governed by Ofcom, rather than IPSO, which monitors most commercial news publishers.

In a statement shared with Prolific North, Rhodri Talfan Davies, the BBC’s director for Nations, has responded to the criticisms:

“Once again, a range of local and regional newspapers across England have published articles criticising the BBC for endangering local journalism and accusing the corporation of being a ‘Neighbour from Hell.’

Commercial publishers claim that our plans to strengthen our own local journalism by investing in new online and investigative reporter posts could jeopardise the sustainability of other local news providers.

This criticism of the corporation is again misplaced and misleading.

First, there is no evidence the BBC ‘crowds out’ local competition through its online activity. In fact, successive studies and reviews over the last decade show it’s the internet – not the BBC – that has radically challenged the business models of local news operators across the world.

Second, the media regulator Ofcom has reviewed the BBC’s local online plans and determined that they are unlikely to have a significant impact on other local providers. In fact, Ofcom concluded that our plans to strengthen BBC local news provision across 43 areas in England are unlikely to impact more than 0.5-1% of existing local media revenues. In their own words: ‘We do not consider the change is one that may have a significant adverse impact on fair and effective competition.’

Their full findings can be read here.

The articles that criticised the BBC also invited readers to write to their MPs urging the BBC to be a ‘better neighbour’. What they pointedly failed to tell their readers is that the BBC is already investing millions of pounds every year to support high-quality news jobs within the local commercial sector.

In fact, today, the BBC funds a unique network of 165 journalists – all employed by commercial newsrooms – to scrutinise the work of local authorities across the UK. The impact of the Local Democracy Reporter Scheme (LDRS) is clear. Since the scheme’s inception, it has produced more than 370,000 original stories for over 1,100 different news outlets.

Alongside the LDRS, the BBC also provide video content to local news operators via the BBC News Hub, and our Shared Data Unit – based in BBC Birmingham – delivers a range of investigative reports for use by local and regional media partners, as well as data journalism training programmes for reporters based in commercial newsrooms. This all comes at a time when commercial publishers are themselves making drastic cuts to jobs and frontline journalism in the regional sector.

The truth is that the BBC has always recognised it has a unique responsibility to support our partners in the local community and – like all good neighbours – we are committed to deepening that collaboration in the years to come. But that won’t deter us from setting the record straight when our role in local journalism is misreported.

What exactly are the BBC’s local online plans?

Back in October 2022, we laid out our plans to strengthen local online news provision in communities across England. The plans include the creation of 130 additional posts across England, including over 70 investigative journalism working across tv, radio and online.

The plans will deliver a stronger and more distinctive local online news service for 43 different local areas in England – all available on the BBC News website and app. Our local journalism across tv, radio and online will also benefit from 11 new investigations teams based across England, delivering original journalism across our daily services.

The 43 online areas include four new news services for Bradford, Wolverhampton, Sunderland and Peterborough.”

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