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12/02/2001

DCMS DENY INQUIRY INTO BBC PUBLIC SECTOR STATUS

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THE Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) have denied reports that Culture Secretary Chris Smith has ordered three separate inquiries into whether the BBC are abusing their public sector status.
The Financial Times reported that the Culture Secretary had appointed a watchdog to investigate whether the BBC are using licence fee-payers money to subsidise their commercial services. While Smith (pictured) has announced a review of BBC Online and given the go-ahead to a third party inquiry into BBC News 24, a spokesperson for the DCMS said an independent review had been launched but it was aimed at the examination of the BBC’s commitment to fair-trading.
However in an interview reported in the Financial Times, Smith, said: “There must be a firm wall between licence fee-funded activity, which must be part of the public service responsibilities for a domestic audience, and commercial activities which must be funded commercially and make a commercial return.”
A spokesperson for the DCMS, said: “An inquiry is not underway into commercialism within the BBC. There has been an independent review set up to review the BBC’s commitment to fair-trading. But there are no inquiries into commercialism.”
A BBC spokesperson said this was a reiteration of what was planned after the BBC went to the DCMS to present their case regarding licence fees last year. The review was set up in 1999 to examine the new services being offered by the BBC, and to ensure these complied with the Corporation’s fair-trading commitment.
In January it was announced that Richard Whish , Professor of Law at King’s College in London would head the review.
His brief is to consider and comment on the adequacy of each of the specific requirements in the BBC’s Commercial Policy Guidelines, whether any further requirements should be included, and to consider if the BBC’s fair-trading policies are consistent with upholding EU Competition law.
The review is expected to be completed in February. Professor Whish will then report with his findings to the BBC Board of Governors and the Culture Secretary. (CMcL)
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