Fairclough Favours Commercial Fight for Local Markets

The head of the Scottish newspaper body, the Scottish Newspaper Publishers’ Association, says that, while he was against BBC plans – shelved on Friday – to set up more localised news services, he is not against one commercial organisation seeking to win a local readership ahead of another.

Simon Fairclough said he was “relieved” when it was announced on Friday that the BBC was dropping plans to develop more localised reporting via online video. Indeed, only two days’ previously, he had been arguing, at a committee meeting at the Scottish Parliament, of the possible detrimental effects such plans might have had on local newspapers.

The proposed BBC service would have provided local news, sports and weather in 60 areas across the UK, with an additional five Welsh language sites. But a ‘market impact assessment’ report published by broadcasting regulators, Ofcom, concluded the service would have a “significant negative impact” on commercial providers – a view shared by the licence fee representative body, the BBC Trust.

But Fairclough also said the SNPA would not wish to take a position on two commercial organisations – say Herald publishers, Newsquest, and local newspaper group, Clyde & Forth – battling it out for a local market.

He told allmediascotland: “That would be open competition between one publisher and another, a straight commercial issue.”

Friday’s decision was welcomed by the Newspaper Society, but not the National Union of Journalists – the latter because of the possible jobs and training opportunities that might have been created.

Said Newspaper Society director David Newell: “We are pleased that the BBC Trust and Ofcom have responded to the industry’s concerns and rejected the BBC Local Video plans for the time being. This is a proposal which the BBC should never have made and would have severely reduced consumers’ media choice and the rich tapestry of local news and information provision in the UK.”

However, Jeremy Dear, NUJ General Secretary, said: “This decision is a missed opportunity to improve local news for communities around the country.

“Local papers are closing and job cuts mean thousands of journalists don’t have the time to do their jobs properly anymore. ITV is withdrawing from its regional and local news commitments. Against a significant decline in local journalism, here was an opportunity to take a small step in the opposite direction by actually enhancing local news provision.

“The BBC made commitments to invest in local and regional news services. We expect the Corporation to stick to its promises and ensure that other news services now benefit from this investment.”

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