Express & Star

Why BBC plans are a threat to local news

As your local news title, we believe firmly in the importance of trusted local journalism to communities up and down the UK.

Far from boosting local journalism, the BBC’s ‘Across the UK’ plans will in fact irrevocably damage local news

Local newspaper titles such as the Express & Star invest in trained journalists who seek to challenge authority and hold power to account on your behalf, bringing you the news that matters when, where and how you want it.

The audiences of local newspaper titles are huge – 40 million people, or 73 per cent of British population aged 15 and above, now read local news media in print or digital every month.

Trust in our journalism is rising too. A recent survey found 81 per cent of Brits agree that they trust the news and information they see in their local news media, a rise of seven per cent on 2018.

The Express & Star is here to make a difference as well as to inform and entertain.

We have been helping foodbanks through our Feed a Family campaign and by have highlighted important local issues such as the NHS crisis, pollution in the River Severn and the scourge of county lines and knife crime.

We list planning applications that have an impact on you and attend court hearings and council meetings that would otherwise go unreported.

It is no secret that the business model for local journalism is facing some challenges, but we remain fully committed to finding a truly sustainable future for our sector.

And we will get there. We just need a bit of space and time to do it.

Two years ago, the BBC published highly controversial plans to transform its local journalism services.

A huge public outcry continues to surround the BBC’s ‘Across the UK’ plans.

They involve inflicting swingeing cuts on the corporation’s hugely popular local radio services with much-loved presenters.

Instead, some of the money would be diverted into boosting the BBC’s digital services, ramping up its provision of local news online.

Why does this matter?

Firstly, we must be clear that we have no axe to grind against the BBC. Its local radio stations serve our region admirably and we have always regarded them as partners in local media.

But the BBC’s ‘Across the UK’ plans will weaken those local radio stations and instead divert resources to news websites instead.

It is no exaggeration to say that some local newspaper titles in the UK may be forced to close if the ‘Across the UK’ plans are not stopped.

Editor, Martin Wright.

That would lead to the BBC becoming the lone voice in some local communities – a voice, by the way, that doesn’t have the same freedom to campaign on your behalf like we do, because of impartiality requirements.

For anyone who believes in freedom of speech, as we do, that’s a pretty terrifying thought.

The problem lies with the BBC’s enormous and unique power – granted to the corporation by the licence fee – and the impact of this upon other news providers.

The licence fee enables the BBC to do things the commercial sector simply cannot do, such as running websites with no advertising or paywalls on them.

We are always up for fair competition. Fair competition drives innovation and quality in many different sectors.

But, because of the enormous power of the licence fee, the BBC’s ‘Across the UK’ plans are the exact opposite of fair competition.

Under the plans, online readers – and the commensurate advertising revenues which we use to pay our local journalists – will be sucked away from our websites to the BBC’s.

That will place pressure on our resources, at a time when we are grappling with a host of other challenges could cause some local titles to call it a day.

That would be a disaster for the communities affected.

Far from boosting local journalism, the BBC’s ‘Across the UK’ plans will in fact irrevocably damage local news.

What’s more, there is no need for the BBC to do this.

The commercial local news sector already serves communities across the entire length and breadth of the UK, including here in the Black Country and Staffordshire.

Enshrined in a Royal Charter, guardrails that are supposed to prevent the BBC misusing its power in this way have completely failed.

So, we need your help to tackle this problem.

By contacting your MP and asking them to write to government about this issue you can make a real difference.

Your MP can express concern about the impact of the BBC’s ‘Across the UK’ plans and ask government what steps it is going to take to get the BBC to change course.

The local news sector believes in and values the contribution the BBC makes to our vibrant news ecosystem.

But there is a real risk that the ‘Across the UK’ plans could wreak untold damage on our vibrant local journalism sector.

We cannot allow that happen.

With your help we can get the BBC to be a better neighbour to local commercial titles.

That will ensure a vibrant and diverse local news sector for many years to come.