Thursday 25 April 2019

BBC boss Tony Hall reveals foundation plans in the wake of decline in local news

The director general says there is ‘chronic underreporting’ of local news.

Director-general Tony Hall outside BBC Broadcasting House (Ben Stansall/PA)
Director-general Tony Hall outside BBC Broadcasting House (Ben Stansall/PA)

By Sherna Noah, Press Association Senior Entertainment Correspondent

BBC chief Tony Hall is revealing plans for a new, independent foundation to tackle the “chronic underreporting” of local news.

The director general has been in talks with the Government, some newspaper groups and big tech companies about its creation.

But details of the journalism foundation and how it would be funded are yet to be unveiled, with more information expected this summer.

In a speech on Wednesday night, Lord Hall will say there is “potential to unlock millions from a range of business and institutions who are open to the idea of supporting the foundation”.

He will paint a bleak picture caused by the vacuum in local news, with concerns over fake news filling the gap.

There is a “chronic underreporting of events, issues, politics and crime in local communities” and “whole communities” are feeling “left behind and ignored”, he will say.

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Copies of newspapers piled up in Manchester (Peter Byrne/PA)

His comments, to Lords as part of a lecture series, comes after the Cairncross Review into the future of the UK news industry said that investigative journalism and “democracy reporting”, such as local courts and councils, are under the greatest threat.

Local newspapers have folded and shrunk in circulation as they face competition from giants like Google and Facebook, which have absorbed the majority of online advertising revenues.

Lord Hall is instigating a foundation, independent of government and others, to support “a strong local media landscape and nourish the foundations of local democracy”.

He will say: “My goal is to mobilise a powerful coalition behind the creation of a local democracy foundation.

“And, together, to do all we can reverse the damage that has been done to local democracy in recent years and bring about a sea change in local public interest journalism.”

His comments follow the axing of around 60 local breakfast and drive-time programmes in the commercial radio sector, to be replaced with shows hosted from London.

The move is a result of the loosening of rules by regulator Ofcom.

The BBC currently funds around 150 local democracy reporters to hold local institutions to account, in a partnership with regional newspapers.

Lord Hall will say that despite financial pressures, the BBC remains committed to local radio and “local reporting”.

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