BBC Local News Partnership Advisory Panel April 2019

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BBC Local News Partnership Advisory Panel

Date: Tuesday 9th April 2019

Time: 14:00 – 15:30

Location: BBC Birmingham Mailbox

Attendees:

  • Matthew Barraclough, Head of Local News Partnerships, BBC
  • Bhavini Mistry, Team Assistant, Local News Partnerships, BBC
  • Matt Payton, Director of External Affairs, The Radio Centre (dial-in)
  • Dr Rob Watson, Community Media Association
  • Emma Meese, Centre Manager, Independent Community News Network
  • Liz Hannam, Head of News, ITV
  • David Lloyd, Chairman, Local TV Network
  • Steve Buckley, Local TV Network
  • Ian Connor, Trinity Mirror, LDR Network

Apologies:

  • Helen Thomas, Director England, BBC
  • Ian Murray, Executive Director, Society of Editors

The advisory panel for the BBC Local News Partnership meeting took place on Tuesday 9th April at the Mail Box in Birmingham. The aim of the meeting is for interested parties to receive updates about the operation of the Local News Partnership scheme, the Local Democracy Reporters scheme, the News Hub and the Shared Data Unit. It is also an opportunity for member organisations to feedback any operational concerns about the schemes and to discuss how any issues that can’t be resolved at a local level might be resolved at a strategic level by the BBC. The LNP was developed primarily with the News Media Association, which seeks to “serve the shared interests of news media publishers in the UK and protect the general interests of its members in all political, legal and regulatory matters.”

Matthew Barraclough, the Head of Local News Partnerships at the BBC started with a recap and summary of the objectives of the LNP, as providing a resource that seeks to fill gaps in local civic accountability that news providers are finding it difficult to do themselves because of market pressures and the demands of changes in the way that audiences access information and news.

Matthew has pointed out that ‘high-impact’ stories by Local Democracy Reporters have been making front pages, filling websites and leading bulletins across the country. There are now 107 separate news partners subscribed to the LNP, accounting for 880 individual news outlets, and over 68,000 stories have been published.

The partnership is designated as covering local news issues only, which in this context is anything that is not considered to be national. News aimed at any of the four nations of the UK does not qualify for the scheme, nor does news that relates to communities of interest or news that is focused on a narrow area of interests, such as entertainment or sports news.

Matthew reported that the scheme will soon be introduced to Northern Ireland, which has taken some additional time to be included in the scheme because of the nature of local government arrangements in effect. In addition, the BBC have been introducing a new news production platform which has caused technical some operational difficulties between the News Hub service and the new production platform, but these are being ironed-out as the services are introduced. Wales news production teams are the latest part of the BBC to be upgraded to the new systems and matching the ‘open media systems’ with the controlled systems of the BBC presents a challenge for ICT integration.

Matt Payton from the Radio Centre, speaking on the phone, indicated that the he has continued to receive positive reports from Radio Centre members that the service continues to operate well for commercial radio news providers, and that many of the glitches that had been experienced with the introduction of the systems have been ironed out, and that improved communication between the Local Democracy Reporters and the news teams in the radio stations was improving. Matt reported that he believes that more stories are being delivered about local council news that is appropriate for local audiences.

Emma Meese, the Centre Manager of Independent Community News Network, based at the College of Journalism at the University of Cardiff reported that there is generally positive feedback from the network of hyperlocal news services that have subscribed to the service. Emma noted that as Local Democracy Reporters engage with some local authorities, there is some confusion about who they are employed by, and what their role is in getting background on some stories. In the minds of some local government representatives this is a hybrid role that comes under the banner of the Local Democracy Reporter title, rather than the BBC or the host partner who is actually employing the reporter. In some cases this has resulted in some ‘mislabelling’ of the reporters output, that has needed clarification.

I reported that I had sought conversations with academics working in universities that are associated with a licenced community radio station and have a journalism programme. I wanted to know if there was any intention to look into accessing the scheme, as the eligibility of being licenced by Ofcom meets an important threshold and quality requirement of the qualifications for the scheme. These conversations suggested that other options seemed more desirable to the programme teams, such as employing ex-BBC journalists directly, or that the scheme was deemed to be too complex to join because of the demands on ‘regular news outputs’ that couldn’t be guaranteed in stations supported by volunteers.

Matthew has agreed to come to the Community Media Association conference in September to provide further information and help with a workshop to look at the access requirements of the LNP. This will be a good opportunity to promote access to the scheme with stations and media groups that are not otherwise covered by the exiting industry-based news providers.

Steve Buckley and David Lloyd gave their thoughts on the access arrangements for Local Television. David suggested that there needs to be more engagement with the Local TV stations to access the LNP and that the distinction between news and editorial content was problematic for the stations. The audio-visual content that is provided in the News Hub can’t be re-broadcast because of licencing and competition issues, which as Steve Buckley explained, puts the TV stations at a disadvantage as text and web-based services can use this content freely, but the broadcast services can only use it for background and editorial information, rather than direct fed into the reports and bulletins they provide.

The discussion then moved on to more general issues about the development of the Local News Partnership in light of the Cairncross Review and the comments from the BBC Director General, Tony Hall, that there is chronic under-reporting of local news, and that he envisioned that the LNP might evolve into a Local Democracy Foundation, that operates independently of the BBC and is funded by a wider set of contributors, including the social media and tech companies.

The discussion was generally supportive of the proposal to expand and develop the scheme, and there was general recognition that the aims of promoting a pluralistic media culture was a priority. Emma Meese welcomed the proposal and wanted the scheme to be administered by an independent organisation that was not susceptible to claims of bias and narrow interest. I expressed the view that the foundation should also be separate from the BBC, and that the foundation should be devolved to local communities who would decide on their own priorities as they saw fit.

Steve Buckley felt that the balance had shifted too much in favour of the deregulated market, in which international financial conglomerates where more interested in their global ambitions than the provision of news services for local communities, and that too much of the LNP focusses on output and not on access.

Ian Connor pointed out that the LNP was cost-neutral for Trinity Mirror, as once the management and administration costs of employing the Local Democracy Reporters was accounted for, there is no additional profit to be recouped.

Matthew suggested that discussions need to be had with member networks in order to be prepared to contribute to the further development of the scheme, and that this might be a case of improving what works at present, in a way that plugs the available gaps, rather than addressing wider and parallel issues. The question, for Matthew, is to identify what those gaps might be, and how they might be plugged within the framework of the existing media regulation framework.

It will be useful to be able to gather feedback about the specific experiences of groups who have accessed the Local News Partnership, and those that have looked at the partnership but have decided that they haven’t got the capacity to commit themselves to the process of gaining and then sustaining access. Any questions, thoughts and observations will help to gain a wider understanding of what community media should be looking to get out of any revised scheme, and how this might be achieved.

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