BBC criticised for expansive commercial activities

07-04-2009

BBC criticised for expansive commercial activities
A House of Commons committee has condemned the actions of BBC Worldwide – the corporation's commercial arm – singling out its increasing number of magazines, investment in production companies and its controversial acquisition of Lonely Planet as aggressively commercial actions undertaken by the organisation.

The culture committee said BBC Worldwide's direction was having a negative effect on its commercial competitors and suggested the organisation limits its operations to those directly in line with BBC core programming.

BBC Worldwide produces a substantial income from its operations which helps to reduce the burden of licence fee payers on creating BBC programming.

However, the committee was concerned the direction of the organisation, following a loosening of its operating restrictions, was making it aggressively commercial.

"We are in no doubt that the BBC should seek to obtain the maximum value from its brand and assets in order to reduce the pressure on the licence fee," said committee chairman John Whittingdale.

"However, in many cases there is no reason why the BBC need undertake commercial activities itself and where it does there should be a clear link to BBC programming.

"There is a balance to be drawn between generating a return for the BBC and preventing damage to its commercial competitors.

"We believe that the balance has tipped too far in favour of BBC Worldwide's expansion and we look to the BBC Trust to correct this."

Liberal Democrat media spokesman Don Foster agreed with some concerns raised by the Committee, but was critical of their recommendations to prop up Channel 4 using licence fee money.

He said: "Robbing Peter to pay Paul is a recipe for disaster."

He suggested a partnership between Worldwide and other public service broadcasters would be a preferable solution.

Channel 4 currently suffers from a funding gap of £150 million and it had been suggested a partnership between Worldwide and Channel 4 could help close it.

The committee noted, however, that there was "no obvious synergy" between the two companies, pointing out that any arrangement would not come close to the £150million needed, and recommended using a proportion of the licence fee instead.

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