MEDIA: BBC brushes off call to divest interests

BBC Worldwide has rejected shadow culture secretary John Whittingdale's call for it to sell off its commercial interests, arguing that the licence fee-payer would suffer, and expressing fears over the integrity of the BBC brand if it were "farmed out".

Whittingdale attacked BBC Worldwide at a Broadcasting Press Guild lunch last week, saying he had serious doubts about the legitimacy of the BBC's commercial arm. He said he could not understand why the BBC had launched ten magazines this year, published books and launched its own record label.

The rights to exploit BBC programmes through brand extensions should be franchised out to private companies, he added, and the BBC should withdraw from areas that are now well-served by the market.

But a BBC Worldwide spokeswoman pointed out that in its last financial year, BBC Worldwide contributed £123m to BBC programming budgets. Without this contribution, she said, the licence fee would have had to increase by at least £5.

Emap Consumer Media chief executive Paul Keenan said he had no problem with the BBC as a competitor, providing the competition was fair.

"We can't advertise our magazines on the BBC, but it can and does," added Keenan. "In that sense the market is distorted and we should have the ability to advertise on its channels as it does."