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BBC to refocus budget with online snips and radio trims

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-03-02

In a highly politicised decision, the BBC announced Tuesday that it is to close two radio stations and cut 25 percent of its online content, a move management says will free up 600 million pounds to be set aside for programme funding.

AFP - The British Broadcasting Corporation is to slash spending on its online services and close two radio stations in a shake-up which follows criticism of its market dominance, it announced Tuesday.

Digital radio stations BBC Asian Network and BBC 6 Music will close from next year as part of a review of the BBC's strategy designed to boost programme funding, said director general Mark Thompson.

The review comes amid political sparring over the publicly-funded BBC's future with general elections looming, with the governing Labour Party warning that the opposition Conservatives are "viscerally hostile" to the broadcaster.

Spending on its sprawling online services -- which commercial competitors complain stifle competition -- will be cut by 25 percent by 2013, with half the website pages closing, Thompson said in a widely-anticipated presentation.

The changes will free up an extra 600 million pounds (890 million dollars, 660 million euros) to be spent on programme-making, he said while insisting that the plan was to refocus priorities, rather than cut the overall budget.

"This is a step change. It's saying the BBC can't do everything, it needs to concentrate its investment on the services and the programmes that make the most difference to audiences. And that does mean some sacrifices," he added.

Thompson said that Asian Network, targeted at Britain's South Asian communities, and alternative music station 6 Music will close in 2011 at the earliest.

The plans will now be considered by the BBC Trust, a body which oversees the broadcaster's activities, and be put out for public consultation.

The review comes as all media struggle to adapt to rapidly changing technology and markets, and some -- notably Rupert Murdoch's News Corp -- are pledging to end the era of news online for free.

Thompson said the review recognised that the BBC should not try to compete in all areas -- noting that 6 Music if expanded further would fight head-to-head with private competitors.

"We've got a lot of problems for commercial media, and the BBC's got to think more carefully about how it fits in with media elsewhwere," he said.

In the report entitled "Putting Quality First", the BBC said its online services -- which critics say are so comprehensive that commercial rivals cannot compete -- will need a new "harder" focus.

"All online content should feel justified and purposeful: not extraneous or encyclopaedic, but within a distinct editorial purpose," it said.

Unions said the BBC move will cost hundreds of jobs. "These cuts are totally unnecessary and are purely politically motivated," said Gerry Morrissey of broadcasting workers' union Bectu.

"It is obvious that the BBC is being bounced by its competitors and by the political climate...It is not acceptable for the BBC to be offering up services and jobs as some kind of sacrifice ahead of the general election," he said.

Politically the BBC review has been seen as an attempt to show a possible future Conservative government that the corporation does not need outside intervention to solve its problems.

The Conservative Party, traditionally more hostile towards the BBC than Labour, is expected to freeze the licence fee if it wins power in a general election due by June.

Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw said the BBC's future would be safer under the ruling Labour Party of Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who is widely expected to call general elections for May 6.

"The BBC is a great British asset and should not approach the future assuming the Conservatives, who are viscerally hostile to the BBC, will win the election," he said.

Date created : 2010-03-02