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BBC and News Media Association announce partnership plans

MUMBAI: UK pubcaster the BBC and the News Media Association (NMA) announced a set of plans to support local journalism in the UK, which include a new team of reporters to cover local councils and other institutions.

The 150 local reporters will be funded by the BBC and employed by qualifying local news organisations to cover local authorities and public services. The framework created envisages that this number may rise to 200 in 2019. The proposals also include setting up a video news bank to allow local news media to access BBC News output for use online.

The agreement will get under way as part of the new BBC Charter in 2017 and sets out to sustain plurality in the local news media, drive up the quality of services and use the expertise of both the BBC and the local commercial news sector for the benefit of all audiences.

The key initiatives are:

  • The establishment of a reporting service to cover local authorities and public services. The BBC will fund 150 journalists from 2017, who will be employed by qualifying local news organisations to provide a service to local news providers including the BBC.
  • A video news bank enabling BBC local video and audio news content to be accessed by other local news media websites, enhancing their online offers and making BBC news output more accessible to audiences online.
  • The BBC will invest in a data journalism unit which will work with partners across the industry to develop expertise and deliver content to all local news providers.

In addition to those key initiatives, there will be 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 proposals mean an overall investment of around £8 million a year and it heralds a new and unique partnership that will support both the BBC’s ongoing public mission to serve local audiences, and the growth and evolution of the commercial news media sector.

BBC News and Current Affairs director James Harding 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.”

NMA chairman Ashley Highfield 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.”

Culture Secretary, John Whittingdale MP 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 delivery of the proposals, and the broader relationship between the BBC and its local news partners, will be subject to a joint annual review by the BBC and the NMA and considered by the new BBC Board to ensure that the terms of the agreement are being met and that it continues to deliver its intended purpose. The results of this review will be published alongside the BBC’s Annual Report and Accounts.

On the BBC side, the local newspaper initiatives will managed by the BBC English Regions HQ and will be based at BBC Birmingham.

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 News Media Association is the voice of national, regional and local news media organisations in the UK. It exists to promote the interests of news media publishers to government, regulatory authorities, industry bodies and other organisations whose work affects the industry.