The BBC and a Government minister appear united in their hope for digital players to assist funding the Local Democracy Reporting scheme, an inquiry into the future of journalism revealed.
The BBC has committed to put in £8m per year until 2027 to cover the scheme which employs 150 reporters across the UK but says it is unable to increase contribution to the fund due to financial pressures exacerbated by the Covid-19 crisis and a shortfall within its five-year Charter plan.
Jamie Angus, director of the BBC World Service Group, told the House of Lords Communications and Digital Committee that he found it “regrettable” that tech platforms have not yet wished to proceed funding the LDR scheme.
“We are very much looking to the tech platforms”, Angus said, adding that platforms should be the ones to put in an additional contribution to fund the scheme’s expansion. He said it would help address the dire loss of digital advertising in local media as marketing revenues go to tech giants.
Speaking to the committee, Minister for Media and Data John Whittingdale said he would like to see more reporters as part of the LDR scheme including expanding the scheme for court reporting.
The possibly of expansion has been raised in the recent LDR review in June which stated that any expansion of the LDR scheme would require “new sources of external funding”.
Whittingdale added that while the BBC finds themself under a great deal of financial pressure especially during the Covid crisis, “it was the hope that others would contribute” to the scheme.
He said large tech platforms “would be well placed” to input money into the foundation which administers the LDR’s funds and added, “I will continue to press them to consider contributing to that”.
Whittingdale acknowledged that while Google News Initiative and Facebook Community Reporter schemes exist there was an “existential threat” to newsrooms and ultimately the platforms depend on reporters to provide the content which propels those schemes.
The Minister said that the Covid-19 crisis has “accelerated” pressures on newspapers coming “at the same time with “a huge take up of online material both through newspapers and other platforms”.
The inquiry follows the release of the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) report recommending the UK needed tougher rules to curb the dominant position of tech giants in the digital advertising market.
John Whittingdale told the House of Lords Future of Journalism inquiry:
“People more and more get their news from a handful of online providers. These platforms do not employ a single journalist and therefore if we see a continuing decline in newspapers and broadcasters who are the people who actually employ the journalists then that has profound consequences for the functioning of our democracy and ultimately it’s going to deprive the platforms.”
The committee also heard arguments for the LDR scheme to incorporate smaller news organisations, after revealing that 140 out of the 150 contracts went to larger regional publishers Reach, Newsquest and JPI Media.
Lords also pressed the broadcast representatives present – from ITN and BBC – for their planned actions to increase the diversity of thought within newsrooms and challenged the broadcasters’ current regional distribution.
CEO of ITN Anna Mallett said that the current Covid crisis has enabled broadcasters to re-evaluate how newsrooms are placed with remote working able to lend itself to assist the recruitment of those from regions across all parts of the UK.
Following the hearing a spokes person for Facebook responded: “Facebook is committed to supporting journalism and we want to help news organisations build sustainable business models as they adapt to the changing digital world. Publishers choose to post their content on Facebook to reach a wider audience at no cost, and we continue to invest in free tools and programmes specifically designed to help them drive readership and revenue. We will continue working with governments, regulators and news organisations to help develop business models that are sustainable for the long term – while also doing what’s best for our users.”