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Ashley Highfield

Rejects BBC local journalists plan

27 Sep, 2015

Highfield responds to the BBC’s suggestion that it would fund 100 local reporters to provide public service material for regional papers.

[It’s not an olive branch], More like an olive leaf. It looked to us like BBC imperialism through the back door. The whole idea was flawed. Essentially, by hiring more journalists, it meant the BBC putting another workforce into the regions who could well end up competing with us. We are worried about the BBC’s plans to get more local, as per their charter announcements, and worried also about their false belief that there is a market failure [by us] which gives them the right to fill the vacuum.

Rejecting the 100 reporters idea, the publishers prefer a quota system in which 25% of the BBC budget spent on regional news would be made available for publishers to fund their own journalists to provide content for newspapers and the BBC.

There are issues around impartiality, but our guys can write impartial copy. It is solvable. And it would be an attractive proposition for our staff to have the chance to appear on camera. It will make working for the local media more attractive. I believe we can find a symbiotic win-win relationship. The BBC can take our content and pay for it. And we can take BBC content and extend our audiences. What’s not to like?

He also addresses the conflict addresses the conflicts arising from his role as a member of the advisory panel created by the government to review the BBC.

I’ve been absolutely transparent about it. John [Whittingdale] knows I have views on how the BBC should work with regional publishers. But that is being dealt with through a clear and separate channel, so no one can be in any doubt about the situation. I’m extremely proud of having worked there…I’m a big fan of the BBC. It’s simply about finding the right ecosystem.