BBCThe controller of BBC English Regions attempted to spike the ire of figures in the regional press by claiming that the corporation's planned Local TV service can 'co-exist happily' with similar services offered by local newspapers.

Figures from the regional press repeated claims that the BBC was already harming regional newspaper's online investment and repeated calls for moves to expand Local TV to be halted as the undoubted quality it would bring would likely damage commercial opportunities further.

Speaking at the Westminster Media Forum, in London today, the BBC's Andy Griffe said that if the planned expansion of the West Midlands pilot project received the green light from the BBC Trust then roughly 60 new services would be launched.

Not nearly enough, he claimed, to compete with the thousands of local news sources and tens of thousands of reporters at the disposal of local and regional papers.

"You [regional press] are very big operators with tens of thousands of reporters on the ground. The BBC is proposing to launch about 60 local TV services… you are ultra-local we are local.

"We want to be as local as our radio stations. If you turn the clock back 30 years you will have heard people saying that the BBC should not get into local radio it will kill the industry.

"What has happened? Quite the reverse… we will not produce anything like the number [of news videos] the regional press can potentially provide, or at anything like the local level you can provide.

"I believe the BBC has a fundamental duty to be in the news business and if you are going to have a news business in a rich democracy you want to have as many players as possible…if you take one step back you will find that you can co-exist quite happily with us and everyone will benefit."

The nine month trial in the West Midlands, he added, had exceeded its targets of a 15 per cent reach per month into the homes of those in the region with broadband and also exceeded its target of 15 per cent reach to those with digital satellite TV, thus showing there was a need for such services.

Yet, Griffe's admission that the overall cost for the nine-month pilot was £3 million drew audible gasps.

Senior executives from the regional press claimed there was no need for the BBC to enter a realm where commercial enterprise could easy serve the public need.

Mark Dodson, chief executive of GMG Regional Media, said he hoped that plans for the role out of the service could 'be put quietly to sleep' now that the BBC had received an unfavourable licence fee review, adding that his Channel M TV service cost little more than £3 million to run 24/7 annually.

Tim Bowdler, chief executive of Johnston Press, told the Forum: "The BBC should not be allowed to launch new services which compete in markets already well served by established commercial players.

"I have seen no clear evidence to suggest there is a massive unfulfilled public need requiring the BBC to launch ultra-local TV services. If they are permitted to do so commercial enterprises will undoubtedly be deterred from investing in such services.

"The BBC's Where I Live websites are already attracting a huge audience. In part to the detriment of local newspaper websites."

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