Editorial: Time steps were taken to rein in 'arrogant' BBC

The BBC has been likened to a herd of elephants ambling amiably through the jungle trampling on everything laid before it yet blissfully unaware of the harm it causes.

Last week, the Commons culture select committee interpreted this kind of blundering on regardless in the development of its commercial operations as arrogance. And it's not hard to see why. Not only is the corporation awash with enough cash to blast any commercial rival out of the water, but highly professional in the way it goes about its business.

At the same time, its relentless aggressive scheduling - pitching Strictly Come Dancing directly against ITV's X Factor is the latest example - in order to justify the licence fee is continuing to dilute audiences and making it ever harder to target commercial messages effectively.

What's increasingly clear is that BBC entrepreneurialism is getting out of hand. Why should a state-funded broadcaster be acquiring something like the Lonely Planet travel guide business that is not directly related to its programmes? And why should it be allowed to expand its internet news delivery in a way that threatens to destroy print and broadcast media, and not just in the regions? What's more, the BBC has a structure and resource to cross-promote its activities that can't be matched anywhere else.

The fact is that the BBC has been allowed to distort the media market to an alarming extent. And it surely cannot be right that the licence fee should continue enabling it to launch new products and services that the commercial sector is perfectly able to provide.

What's to be done? Relaxing ITV's public-service broadcasting responsibilities would be a start. So would the curbing of the BBC's most overtly commercial activities. Then there's the issue of "top slicing", which would force the BBC to share licence-fee income with rival broadcasters. It's an intriguing idea, although it would allow the Government to exert an unhealthy influence over broadcast media.

Reining in the BBC is essential. How best to do it is rather more problematic.


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