MPs opposed to BBC expansion plans if they harm local publishers

MPs overwhelmingly believe that commercial local news media is vital for communities and must not be crowded out by the BBC expanding its own local news services, new research commissioned by the News Media Association has revealed.

Seventy-six per cent of MPs who participated in a YouGov survey in December agreed it is important that commercial news providers, for example local newspapers, are not marginalised by the BBC’s local news provision, while just six per cent disagreed.

Conservative MPs (78 per cent) were slightly more likely to voice concerns about independent local titles being crowded out by the BBC than Labour MPs (67 per cent), the research found.

The NMA has warned that BBC’s proposals to ramp up its own local news services, laid out in the ‘Across The UK’ plans, could create a democratic deficit by putting independent local publishers out of business.

If the plans went ahead local publishers, who are recovering from the ravaging effects of the coronavirus pandemic on their businesses, would be forced to compete with a state-funded provider of local news on a scale never before seen, funded by vast taxpayer resource, the NMA has argued.

A separate poll conducted for the NMA by Savanta in September last year showed MPs from across the political divide value commercial local news media very highly and believe local titles are essential for local communities and democracy.

Seventy-two per cent of MPs said local papers are important for their communities while 71 per cent said local titles are important for democracy as a whole. Sixty-five per cent of MPs said local papers are important for their own communication with constituents.

NMA chief executive Owen Meredith said: “Quite rightly, MPs from across the political spectrum value independent local news media very highly and recognise the huge benefits trusted local journalism brings for communities.

“We urge the BBC to abandon the misguided plans to beef up its own local news services which would wreak havoc on the commercial local news sector.

“The BBC should instead seek to work in genuine partnership with local titles through initiatives such as the highly successful Local News Partnership which has delivered so much benefit to local communities in the form of local public interest journalism.”

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