Desperate measures 

3 November 2008 tbs.pm/971

Lyons may regret speaking out as regional publishers call in lawyers

Newspaper Society Press Release

Based on a comment made by Sir Michael Lyons that slightly hinted that he might just conceivably be a fraction in favour of the BBC’s proposals for the expansion of local news reporting on its website, the Newspaper Society’s lawyers have sent a letter to the BBC Trust and Ofcom asking them to suspend the public value inquiry into the corporation’s plans.

That’s just how desperate the newspaper groups are to stop the BBC’s local news expansion proposals at absolutely any cost, and you certainly get the impression that any compromise plan that is drawn up won’t be any good to them either.

Regional newspapers have had a tough time of things recently, with some papers even resorting to giveaways to prop up their falling circulation. The problem of course is the rise of the internet, enabling local news to be obtained free of charge from various websites, and the BBC wants to plug gaps in local news coverage with its existing resources.

In theory it should be possible for both the BBC and commercial rivals to co-exist in the sphere of local news just like the regional BBC and ITV services did for many years, although it’s the spectre of falling ad revenues and the complication of regional and local newspaper groups that makes life even more complicated this time round.

The only way forward that may be agreeable to all parties is perhaps a pledge from the BBC that it won’t offer a full local news service in areas that already have a decent local news presence on the internet, but there needs to be a unarguable definition of “decent news service” for this to work. Just how long is that piece of string?

Plus don’t forget that ITV already offers a reasonable online regional news presence, even if its regional broadcast TV service seems to be continually being cutback. And there’s the ever present threat of someone like Google moving into UK regional news, which could well happen if the BBC is forced to abandon its regional news plans.

So the message to regional newspaper groups seems to be: “Be careful what you wish for”.