NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear has said he is “slightly bemused” by the complaints made by regional newspapers about the BBC’s proposed local video plans.
Speaking at a debate in parliament organised by the Federation of Entertainment Unions, Dear said the corporation’s wish to boost its local online presence coincided with a period when the regional press was tightening its belt.
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“You have two very different beasts,” he said. “Northcliffe have carried out a significant reduction in staffing, giving less resources to local news in order to maintain a 28 per cent profit level.
“The only reason I can see why [regional newspapers] would object to it is if the BBC was taking all the advertising that they could get online. That’s not the case.
“I’m slightly bemused by the argument that newspaper owners are using.”
Earlier in the debate, Dear said newspaper campaigns to cut the BBC down to size were fuelled purely by “commercial self-interest”.
He said: “They do it not because they care about viewers or how PSB enhances our democracy.
“The drip drip dip campaign they run against the BBC can have an impact on public attitudes to the licence fee.”
The BBC Trust is carrying out a public value test on the BBC’s plans to add video to 65 local news websites.
The move has angered groups including the Newspaper Society and commercial radio trade body the Radiocentre.
BBC director general Mark Thompson defended the corporation’s local video plans – saying the proposals were widely supported by the public.
“Our audiences say they want our web services to be better, more up-to-date and to include sound and pictures. That’s what they want,” he said.
“Given the state of the UK media, I want to be very open-minded about Ofcom’s conclusions about whether, on balance, the advantage to the public of better local services from the BBC outweighs the disadvantages of a potential adverse impact to other players.”