Commercial rivals force BBC online inquiry

LONDON - The BBC is facing a second major inquiry following the publication of a report into News 24, this time into its online activity, which has long been a source of conflict with the commercial sector.

The enquiry into News 24, which was led by former Financial Times editor Richard Lambert, told the BBC that it must update the remit of its 24-hour news channel to make it more distinctive from its commercial rivals. Lambert recommended governors provide the service with a clear sense of direction through a revised remit, to ensure its distinction from competitors such Sky News and ITV News.

Lambert looked at how the channel was performing and how it can be improved as part of the independent report, the first in a series of Department of Culture, Media & Sport reviews of the BBC's digital services.

It is now being suggested that a similar 'Lambert'-style review is needed into the activities of the BBC online, which will please many of the BBC's commercial rivals.

The BBC has also come under fire from rivals over the launch of new channels it has rolled out this year. The commercial sector hit out at the launch of new children's channels and its new youth station BBC Three, which takes over from BBC Choice, was delayed following complaints from Channel 4 and BSkyB.

Earlier this year, the British Internet Publishers' Alliance stepped up its fight against the BBC and its campaign to highlight the damage it says the corporation is doing to the commercial sector.

The group, which is chaired by the managing director of Hollinger Telegraph New Media Hugo Drayton, has already submitted a complaint about the promotion of BBC websites on the BBC to the DCMS.

In The Observer newspaper on Sunday, ITN chief executive Stuart Purvis said: "ITN has called on the government to conduct a review of the BBC's online activities and performance since its launch in 1997. The DCMS has responded positively this suggestion."

The commercial sector argues that the BBC, as with many of its services, replicates the commercial sector and with its large budgets has become a very powerful force. Drayton has called the BBC a state-backed dinosaur.

"The central cause is that the BBC threatens to undermine the competitiveness of the UK's digital publishing market. There is no other country in the western world that has made a decision that a state-backed dinosaur should be used to promote the use of the web," Drayton said earlier this year.

Members of BIPA include the Telegraph Group, Guardian Media Group, Trinity Mirror, Associated Newspapers, News International, Capital Radio and Chrysalis.

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