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September 7, 2015updated 08 Sep 2015 4:28pm

Regional press snubs BBC 100 public service reporters offer as ‘back-door expansion’

By William Turvill

The News Media Association, the body which represents the national and regional press, has criticised the BBC's plans to provide 100 public service reporters.

The corporation today set out plans to offer staff and content to local newspapers and allow rival shows to be seen on the iPlayer.

Set out by director general Tony Hall, the move came a week after national and regional newspaper publishers urged the corporation to share resources and do more to promote commercial news rivals with a major report issued as part of the charter renewal debate. The BBC's current ten-year charter expires at the end of 2016 and it is currently facing a fight to defend and justify its use of licence fee income.

Culture Secretary John Whittingdale is currently consulting on possible replacements for the licence fee and considering whether the BBC should be "all things to all people" or have a more "precisely targeted" mission.

Among his proposals for a new "Open BBC", Lord Hall will reveal plans for a new multi-million pound partnership with local news groups to provide a network of 100 public service reporters.

The NMA has responded by accusing the BBC of further "expansion into local news provision and recruitment of more BBC local journalists through the back door".

In a statement, NMA vice chairman and Johnston Press chief executive Ashley Highfield said: "The BBC’s latest proposals are welcome recognition of the need to cooperate and not colonise, and there are many aspects of the report to be commended, from enhanced linking to a video and audio news bank.

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"But it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the BBC’s proposal – to create a network of 100 local public service reporters for towns and cities ‘run by the BBC’ and with the BBC itself able to ‘compete to win the contract’ – are anything other than BBC expansion into local news provision and recruitment of more BBC local journalists through the back door.

"The local newspaper sector already employs thousands of journalists and is the only reliable source of independent and trusted local news across the UK.

"As the O&O report published last week made clear, there is no deficit which the BBC needs to plug.

"Instead, the BBC could benefit by tapping into this pool of local news through a system of arms-length content commissioning along the lines of independent production quotas."

A BBC spokesman said: “These proposals mark the start of a consultation process which aims to create a genuine partnership with the industry, so we welcome all views to shape the final proposals. This is about creating a more open BBC – not a bigger BBC.”

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