95. The BBC has already started to provide strong
and innovative local services on its web site. It further proposes
to provide "ultra-local" television news services on
the same scale as its 40 local radio stations (P. 464). It proposes
to establish 60 local news centres. These will be available through
broadband and digital, they will not be stand alone permanent
TV channels. The BBC has promised this proposal will be subject
to the Public Value Test. Currently it estimates the costs of
the new local television services to be £310 million
and the costs of new local radio services to be £90 million.
96. In our first report we stated that "We
endorse the Government's proposal that strengthening broadcasting
in the nations and regions should be a core public purpose of
the BBC. We also welcome the BBC's commitment to use new digital
technology to provide innovative local programming".
There are gaps to fill in provision of local news. Current regional
news areas are not based on areas of regional identity but on
the position of transmitters. Few viewers in Portsmouth find news
of traffic problems in Berkshire of compelling importance, and
a better matching of services to local identities and preferences
would be all to the good.
97. However, in evidence to us Ofcom has argued
that "ultra-local" is something of a misnomer for the
local television news services proposed by the BBC. This is because
the BBC's proposals appear to map television onto the areas already
established for local radio: areas which are, Ofcom contends,
neither "particularly local" nor the "kind of community
level services that some local TV stakeholders envisage"
98. We received evidence from Trinity Mirror
arguing that the BBC's proposals for ultra-local news will "stifle
investment" and lead to a "reduction in pluralism"
(p 469). The Newspaper Society also expressed its concern about
any possibility of the BBC authorising new services despite "independent
assessment that they will have adverse market impact" (p
461). Ofcom also pointed out concern that the BBC's plans could
"discourage potential investment in this market, closing
it off before commercial and community providers have had a chance"
(p 300). We understand such concerns. We believe the burden of
proof should lie with the BBC to show that, where there are significant
negative impacts of this kind, the public interest is sufficient
to justify proceeding with its plans. We therefore welcome
the BBC's commitment to subject the proposals for new local services
to a public value test which will include the publication of a
market impact assessment. As we recommended in our first report
this market impact assessment should be carried out by a competent
and reputable third party. The results of the Public Value test
should be published and interested parties should be entitled
to appeal against the findings of the Market Impact Assessment
to Ofcom if they are able to show prima facie well reasoned and
evidenced grounds for such an appeal.
99. In the spirit of this transparency the Newspaper
Society also argued that full financial accounts relating to the
BBC's investments in local services should be published (p 461).
We support this suggestion and recommend that the BBC should
publish full accounts of its investments in local services.
100. We took evidence on local services from
Lord Puttnam. He told us that he would like to see different community
organisations, of different types, getting involved in the production
of local television services. He suggested that the BBC could
be a key partner with local organisations with the aim of producing
truly local services. However he was also doubtful that this would
happen because he believed "the BBC traditionally is a horrible
partner. It does not partner" (Q 1768). Mark Thompson
countered this assertion. He told us that the BBC is currently
conducting a trial of local services in the West Midlands. As
part of this trial the BBC are already working in partnership
with local newspapers, for example by sharing journalism. He told
us "we should see ourselves very much in partnership with
other players" (Q 2008).
101. We believe that the provision of local and
ultra-local services requires a genuinely local community starting
point. We recommend that the BBC should consider the provision
of ultra-local services as an opportunity to demonstrate its partnering
skills by working alongside a range of local organisations. The
BBC may have a contribution to make to such grass roots initiatives
by facilitating and partnering rather than by controlling and
directly supplying new local services. Accordingly, we believe
that any implementation of the BBC's proposals for ultra-local
services should be preceded by further pilot initiatives involving
strong local, grass roots, participation.
Independent production in the
Nations and Regions
102. In our last report we stated that "We
welcome the BBC's aim to devolve programme production and commissioning
across the United Kingdom. We do not believe additional regional
production quotas beyond the existing "out-of-London"
quotas are necessary as long as the BBC keeps to the commitments
it has made. We also
stated that "We recommend that the BBC should set indicative
targets within the Window of Creative Competition for sourcing
from small and regional companies".
103. However, this second inquiry has led us
to reconsider whether more should be required of the BBC to ensure
that it sources a significant proportion of its programmes from
outside London and other media hubs. Talent is not confined to
the area inside the M25 (or metropolitan centres outside the M25).
It is important that programme makers throughout the UK supply
the BBC with programmes. This is not just because it is fair for
licence fee payers throughout the UK to see and hear a reasonable
number of programmes from and about their experiences but because
all of us will be better off if we have access to the best that
programme makers UK wide can offer.
104. During this inquiry we received evidence
from Channel 4, which feared that the indicative targets we recommended
in our first report would not be strong enough. Andy Duncan told
us "it is getting harder and harder in fact to secure quality
programming from some of the small- and medium-sized independents
and that is a particular issue outside of London. It is almost
inevitable that the BBC, unless they are forced otherwise, will
put a disproportionate amount of extra spend into the big, strong,
My sense is that it has to be
an absolute requirement on the BBC, otherwise, if it is just a
good intention and they are given some indicative targets, it
will get lost (Q 1133).
105. We acknowledge the seriousness of Andy Duncan's
concerns. While we wish to emphasise that the BBC's primary objective
should be commissioning high quality content we believe more could
be done to source this content from across the UK. We therefore
recommend that there should be more transparency in the commissioning
process. The BBC Trust should give clear guidance to BBC management
on the desired amount of regional production. Management should
have to report regularly to the Trust on its progress in this
area. The Trust should publish an annual account showing how much
regional commissioning has taken place. If regional commissioning
does not increase then the Trust should report fully and transparently
what measures it has required management to take to address the
situation. It important for the BBC to carry out the spirit
as well as the letter of a policy of improving representation
of the whole of the UK by securing more programmes made outside
the M25. We believe that the move of some commissioning departments
to Manchester should help secure these benefits.
31 Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Review
of the BBC's Royal Charter: A strong BBC, independent of government,
March 2005, p. 5. Back
First Report of Session 2005-06, para. 181. Back
First Report of Session 2005-06, para. 183. Back
First Report of Session 2005-06, para. 176. Back
First Report of Session 2005-06, para. 183. Back
Ibid, para. 267. Back