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Tuesday, 7 December, 1999, 14:38 GMT
BBC bosses defend 24-hour news
Chris Smith: Not ruled out the possibility adverts on BBC Online

BBC chiefs have defended investment in 24-hour news as a "correct strategic decision" before an influential committee of MPs.

The chairman of the BBC's board of governors, Sir Christopher Bland, said the publicly funded broadcaster had to keep up with viewing habits.

"In the reasonably medium term - not the long term - licence fee payers and viewers will choose to consume news in different ways than they do at present," he told the Culture Select Committee.

"Less and less will they in 10, 20 years' time switch on to the One, the Six and the Nine. Quite a lot still will but increasingly people will seek news where they want it.

"They will seek it not only through television but also via the internet."

I have to say it does sadden me sometimes that services of BBC Online are used so extensively by people abroad
Culture Secretary Chris Smith
Earlier, the committee heard Culture Secretary Chris Smith say he had not ruled out the possibility of allowing BBC Online to carry adverts to fund its service.

He said at present he still thought it should be publicly funded, but he acknowledged this might be hard to maintain, particularly because it was widely used by people in other countries who do not pay the licence fee.

"I have to say it does sadden me sometimes that services of BBC Online are used so extensively by people abroad and particularly by news organisations abroad who use it as a quarry for their own material," he said.

"If we can find a way of distinguishing in the way in which the service is provided between to users at home and users abroad that would be extremely useful to find. I have not yet found such a way but is certainly an issue I've been applying my mind to."

BBC director general Sir John Birt later said he was against advertising to fund the online service as a matter of principle.

He told MPs that in a short space of time the internet would be the means of delivering broadcasts and therefore advertising could be a "real strategic threat".

The culture secretary told the committee he broadly backed the BBC's expansion into digital and online, but said the corporation had to keep its primary objectives in mind.

"The search for new fields to conquer should not in any way distract the BBC from its core responsibility of providing good quality programmes and services to viewers here at home and what is also important is that search for fields to conquer shouldn't be done at the expense of the licence payer."

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See also:
02 Dec 99 |  UK Politics
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