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BBC’s regional output likened to ‘cultural imperialism’

Regional media minnows have complained that they are being muscled out of the local news gathering picture through a ‘forced marriage’ with the all-encompassing BBC News website, in a series of criticisms to be levelled at the public sector broadcaster’s growing digital operations during a media forum at Westminster Hall.

Amongst those to criticise the institution was Austin Mitchell, a former MP, who warned that the BBC site was a form of ‘cultural imperialism’ that was drowning out alternative voices and ‘taking readers, viewers and news stories away from local newspapers.’

Defending the BBC however David Holdsworth, controller of English regions, said he was aiming to be an ‘effective partner’ and will expand a system whereby regional media titles can submit links to their strongest stories which would be featured on the BBC’s own platform, with links back to the original article.

In a blog post however Holdsworth cautioned that the regional media's present travails stretched far beyond the BBC: "It is worth being clear that local newspapers publish thousands more stories than we do and the serious structural problems they face are beyond the BBC’s influence. The global decline in print sales and loss in classified income to digital advertising are where the real pressure lies. The regulations that govern the BBC actually reduce the impact we have on local newspapers, giving industry more certainty."

The BBC is launching an improved way to link to the best stories provided by local newspapers across the country from BBC website Local Live streams. The streams provide short form updates and will integrate local press and hyperlocal kinks into a feeds that let users pick onward online journeys to external media, original BBC journalism and user-generated content. In the pilot regions up to a quarter of the dailt news content on the live streams are curated to other local providers.

Welcoming these moves Jeff Henry, chief executive of Archant, told the audience: “I was delighted to hear about the idea of being able to link stories properly back to us. That would be a major step forward because it has felt very one-way in that relationship. It’s been somewhat like a forced marriage."

In a separate blog post from earlier this week (21 April) Holdsworth wrote: "The way the digital world is changing traditional business practice is phenomenal. It's also changing the way people behave. For all local journalists, however we are funded, whether our original background is broadcast, print or even the internet this disruption is frightening but also exciting. You might think it feels a bit different inside the BBC - cocooned by the relative security of the licence fee and the success of traditional broadcast platforms - but I assure you it doesn't. We’re meeting 26% efficiency savings targets - we’re not insulated from external pressure as some would have you believe."

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