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Is the BBC using licence fee payer’s money correctly?

Posted by willd2 on November 6, 2008

Russell Brand resigns from Radio 2 and apologises for leaving abusive messages on Andrew Sachs’ answerphone:


In recent weeks the BBC has suffered something of a public relations disaster.

Following ‘Sachsgate’, Russell Brand and Lesley Douglas both resigned from their jobs at Radio 2 and Jonathan Ross has been suspended.

Complaints made to Ofcom, after Brand and Ross left abusive messages on former Fawlty Towers actor, Andrew Sachs’ phone, have now risen above the 30,000 mark.

The incident has sparked a debate around the BBC’s rules regarding self-regulation and the organisation’s use of licence fee payers’ money.

Plan for local websites comes under fire

Criticism has also been aimed at the corporation after lawyers representing the local UK press organisation, the Newspaper Society, wrote to the BBC Trust and Ofcom to ask for the review into a new website scheme to be suspended.

The BBC’s proposals to develop 60 local news websites, at an estimated cost of £68 million, are considered to pose a serious threat to local newspapers.

Neil Benson, editorial director for Trinity Mirror’s regional titles, told the journalism industry website, ‘It’s going to seriously distort the market place the fact the BBC are ploughing extra millions upon millions of pounds of licence fee payers’ money into an area that we feel is already well served.’

The journalism industry website, Press Gazette reports that the Head of the BBC Trust, Sir Michael Lyons responded to criticism by saying that whilst the ‘rising noise and anxiety’ from the BBC’s commercial rivals was understandable, ‘there’s nobody who can be satisfied with the quality of local news in most parts of the United Kingdom.’

Lyons also dismissed the idea of the BBC sharing its licence fee with other public service news provider, such as ITV and Channel 4, and urged commercial rivals to come up with their own proposals about how to save the future of journalism.

Is Ross worth ‘1000 BBC journalists’?

Much of the debate about the BBC’s use of the licence fee has focused on Jonathan Ross’ three-year, £18 million contract.

Last year, whilst hosting an annual comedy awards ceremony, Ross joked, ‘I’m worth 1,000 BBC journalists’.

As reported in The Independent, this comment angered many in the industry, and provoked a response from Jeremy Dear, general secretary of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), ‘Jonathan Ross’s comments were obscene at a time when thousands of his fellow BBC colleagues are facing losing their jobs.’

It also brings into question the BBC’s priorities, which should be about quality news and journalists, first and foremost, but is not really reflected in salaries. They seem to think that having one light entertainment presenter is better than having 600 broadcast journalists.’

The fallout

The video journalist, Michael Rosenblum wrote in his blog, ‘is it right to oppose any investment in local journalism? Should we stand back and watch papers down-size and yet deny the rights of an alternative news-provider to step into the vacuum?’

Much has been made of The Daily Mail running the Brand and Ross story on the paper’s front page for four consecutive days, adding a new strand to the private versus public sector broadcaster debate.

In an article in The Guardian, Peter Wilby wrote, not for the first time, the Mail showed that, in this country at least, newspapers can still lead the news agenda and alter the national mood.’

Wilby also said, ‘if they are to survive, British papers need to preserve and develop their individuality. The Mail, in the past week, has shown them how.’

Indeed, this debate appears to be turning into one about identity and how best to preserve it.  The financial crisis is having an obvious impact on proceedings and the future remains very much unclear, not just for smaller newspapers, but also for the BBC.


Will Drysdale (

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Will BBC websites spell the end for local newspapers?

Posted by willd2 on November 6, 2008


Will local papers soon be a thing of the past?

Will local papers soon be a thing of the past?

After scrapping plans for an ‘ultra-local’ TV service in October 2007, the BBC has announced that it intends to develop a network of local, news-on-demand websites.

The proposals, to develop 60 websites at an estimated cost of £68 million, are currently being reviewed by Ofcom and the BBC Trust.

Should the plans be approved, local newspaper reporting as we know it, could come to an end.

A spokesperson from the BBC told the journalism industry website,, ‘If approved, our proposal to put new video onto our existing local BBC websites will directly contribute to the public purpose of the BBC by better reflecting the nations, regions and communities of the UK.’

The video journalist, Michael Rosenblum, explains, ‘At present, the BBC websites each have staffs of four people. The proposal is to increase staffing by five per site over a five-year period. These new employees will be video journalists (VJs) whose task, rather obviously, will be to increase the video content.’

‘Struggle to compete’

As reported in, ‘representatives of several major regional newspaper publishers said the plans showed a disregard for their industry and its achievements online.’

A Bournemouth blogger and Daily Echo journalist wrote, ‘I have no idea what the BBC Trust will decide. But with ITV cutting back, there is obviously an argument that local news needs a boost.’

The blogger explains: ‘The sad truth is that the BBC is so far ahead of most local newspaper’s websites that we’ll struggle to compete.’

Unclear future

In the latest twist to the story, lawyers representing the local UK press organisation, the Newspaper Society (NS), have written to the BBC Trust and Ofcom asking for the review to be suspended.

The BBC Trust’s involvement with the review into the websites, raises questions about the BBC’s self-regulation policies.

David Newell, NS director, told ‘The BBC Trust cannot be the chief cheerleader for the BBC, encouraging it to extend local services out of more and more taxpayers’ money, at the same time as being the independent regulator determining the public value of those services and their impact on local media.’

The future of local newspapers and the BBC’s ability to regulate itself, especially in light of ‘Sachsgate’remain unclear.

The results of the review by the BBC Trust and Ofcom into the website proposals are due on the 27th November.


Will Drysdale (

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