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March 20, 2019updated 30 Sep 2022 7:32am

BBC proposes charity to fund local news reporters and address ‘chronic under-reporting’ of communities

By James Walker

The BBC is proposing a new charity to fund local news reporters with money from outside the corporation.

The Local Democracy Foundation would pay the salaries of regional journalists on a variety of beats to address the “chronic under-reporting of events, issues, politics and crime in local communities”.

The charity would take control of the existing local democracy reporters scheme, which currently has 136 reporters in post, who are paid for by the BBC and contracted out to regional publishers to cover local authorities.

In a speech to the House of Lords later today, BBC director general Lord Tony Hall will reveal that the BBC has spoken with tech firms, Government and news publishers about forming the charity.

Funds from these companies would be added alongside the BBC’s existing commitment under the LDR scheme to pay for more reporters, although the proposal is still in its infancy and precise details are as yet unclear.

Lord Hall is expected to say this evening: “My goal is to mobilise a powerful coalition behind the creation of a Local Democracy Foundation.

“And, together, to do all we can reverse the damage that has been done to local democracy in recent years and bring about a sea change in local public interest journalism.”

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The BBC boss will add that the foundation could unlock millions from businesses and institutions, while remaining independent of Government.

Speaking about local newspaper closures, Lord Hall will say: “There’s an irony that, in a time of so much information, the flow of information we all need to participate in democracy where we live has been drying up.”

The proposed charity will support “a strong local media landscape and nourish the foundations of local democracy”, Lord Hall will say, and so help combat the fake news that can flourish in the absence of real journalism.

The broadcaster’s existing LDR scheme, launched in January 2018, is part of the Local News Partnership, which was formed in an agreement between industry body the News Media Association and the BBC.

Local democracy reporters filed 50,000 stories in the scheme’s first year.

Press Gazette spoke with a number of LDRs earlier this year, who said they were passionate about what they do and believe in its importance, but also pointed to areas where improvements could be made.

The scheme aims to recruit a total of 150 reporters, but that number could grow after the Cairncross Review suggested the scheme should be expanded when it delivered its findings last month.

The review also proposed the creation of a new Institute for Public Interest News that would support the future of public-interest news with backing from a Government “innovation fund”.

Lord Hall’s speech will be given as part of the Lord Speaker’s Lecture Series.

Picture: Shutterstock

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