BBC magazines under fire

MPs have attacked the BBC for damaging its commercial rivals in magazines, book publishing and television.

The culture committee said: ‘We believe that the balance has tipped too far in favour of BBC Worldwide’s expansion and we look to the BBC Trust to correct this.’

Buying Lonely Planet in 2008 came in for particular criticism. The BBC announced its own review in November last year after these attacks.

Remedies suggested by the MPs include:

  • Greater supervision of the BBC’s commercial activities.
  • Referring activities with a value of £30m to the BBC Trust, rather than the present £50m.
  • Removing the chief executive of BBC Worldwide from the BBC board.
  • Auction spin-off activities from programmes to commercial activities.
  • A proportion of the licence fee should be made available to Channel 4 to support its public service programming.

The attack comes at a time when the BBC may be in a weak position: the recession is damaging its commercial rivals while its £3.5bn annual revenue through the licence fee is protected; and the Russell Brand / Jonathan Ross fiasco lost it a lot of sympathy.

However, the BBC is the only British media company that has the ability to operate on a worldwide scale. Most UK magazines, for example, are controlled by German, US or French companies. Revenue made from commercial activities is fed back into making programmes.

The BBC lost its monopoly on programming information in the late 1980s. To address this, it established a magazine publishing arm through buying Redwood Publishing, which launched most of today’s BBC-branded titles. Since then, the BBC has had its ability to advertise its commercial activities on its channels limited and was forced to sell Eve to Haymarket in 2004 and reduce its activities at Origin.

BBC Magazines profile

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