The Newspaper Society's excellent lobbying skills played a major part in getting the BBC Trust to today block the BBC's proposals to beef up its 65 local websites with a £68 million investment to add video reports.
But another important factor in stopping the plan was the ill judged comments on the state of the regional press by Trust chairman Sir Michael Lyons made at a Broadcasting Press Guild lunch on 15 October, first reported by Paul McNally in Press Gazette. Lyons infuriated local newspaper publishers by stating: "There's nobody who can be satisfied with the quality of local news in most parts of the United Kingdom...The local press has nothing like the strength that it once had. It's not the same proposition that it was 15 years ago."
These comments left Lyons open to claims he had already pre-judged the issue and was biased. The NS threatened a legal challenge and newspaper executives like Trinity Mirror boss Sly Bailey slammed the Trust chairman. The remarks helped galvanise the campaign to stop the BBC which gained high profile support from the likes of Tory leader David Cameron. I am sure the top four regional newspaper publishers will show their thanks by lifting their ban on advertising in Press Gazette. The magazine's editor Dominic Ponsford reveals today in a comment on his blog that the Trust tried to make Press Gazette retract the quotes but it had them on tape.
Lyons said today the Trust recognised the negative impact that the local video proposition could have on commercial media services which are valued by the public and are already under pressure. "Our decision to refuse permission for local video means that local newspapers and other commercial media can invest in their online services in the knowledge that the BBC does not intend to make this new intervention in the market."