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EDITIONS
Thursday, 5 December, 2002, 16:07 GMT
BBC news channel told to change
BBC News 24
BBC News 24 provides coverage 24-hours-a-day
A government report into BBC News 24 has praised improvements made to its service - but said it must become "distinct" from its rivals.

Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell will impose tough new conditions on the 24-hour news service to give it a "clearer sense of direction".


The BBC governors need to deliver a clearer remit for News 24 - one that will produce a high quality public service

Tessa Jowell
Culture Secretary
She endorsed a report by former Financial Times editor Richard Lambert that said there needed to be greater emphasis on public service.

Mr Lambert praised its overall output, adding the decision to launch the channel, which covers news from the UK and around the world, in 1997 was "justified".

But he outlined areas where he thought the service could be improved.

The BBC's head of news, Richard Sambrook, welcomed the report and said the corporation would study its criticisms carefully and set out proposals in the next few weeks.

Commercial broadcasters had complained that the BBC should not be allowed to spend so much money on a channel that directly competed with Sky News and the ITV News Channel.

Sky News political editor Adam Boulton
Sky News is BBC News 24's biggest rival
Its audience has been growing, however, with viewing figures up by 1.1 million from a year ago, to a weekly figure of 3.6 million viewers in multichannel homes.

Mr Lambert's report said: "The channel is not yet as good as the BBC claims it is, or as good as it could be."

The report also said:

  • News 24 provides "high quality" coverage of international events
  • But it usually covers too many of the same world stories as Sky News
  • Coverage from the UK regions has improved, but could be better
  • It covers more business stories than its rivals - but coverage could be "sharper"
  • Viewers think its sport and entertainment coverage is worse than Sky News
  • The BBC should consider bringing in more big-name anchors
  • More light should be shed on how the service is funded

The channel still has great potential for growth and innovation

Richard Sambrook
BBC head of news
The BBC endorsed the parts of the report that said the channel "has a very important part to play in public service broadcasting" and its performance was "satisfactory in all areas, and better than that in some".

The report also stated that "the channel has also improved the BBC's whole approach to newsgathering".

Ms Jowell will now ask the BBC governors to focus on the promises they gave about the channel.

She said: "Richard Lambert's report has persuaded me that the BBC governors need to deliver a clearer remit for News 24, one that will produce a high quality public service rolling news service."

'Great potential'

When the channel launched in 1997, the BBC promised it would provide broader and more varied news agenda than its rivals, with more news from around the UK.

Richard Sambrook said: "We are very pleased by Richard Lambert's support for News 24 and we welcome his suggestions for improvement.

"We believe that the channel still has great potential for growth and innovation and it has always been our ambition to develop the channel further to meet the audience need for BBC News around the clock."

He said viewers would soon be able to see changes for themselves.

"You will see more high-profile international coverage, more regional coverage, and - in Richard Lambert's words - we're setting News 24 into the broadsheet position, as against the more mid-market Daily Mail position of Sky News."

According to Mr Lambert's report, the two channels are "neck and neck" in the ratings.

Recent figures from industry research body Barb suggest Sky News is attracting more viewers than its BBC rival, although in terms of reach, News 24 did overtake Sky for part of the summer.

Authority

Rolling news costs
BBC News 24: 48.1m
Sky News: 35m
ITV News Channel: 'well under 10m'
Source: Lambert report - DCMS
In his report, Mr Lambert was heavily critical of the original News 24 concept and style.

He quoted one insider who said the original set "looked like a car crash in a shower room", and that the short-sleeved presenters did not have the necessary authority.

Mr Lambert also said that while it was difficult to make firm comparisons with its rivals, the BBC should publish more information about the channel's running costs.

BSkyB welcomed the report, saying it was "long overdue".

It claimed the report "accepts Sky News's criticism that News 24 has been too imitative in copying many of our innovations rather than developing a distinctive service of its own".

However, it added: "Sky News has always welcomed competition from the BBC."

The BBC must respond to the report by the end of February and revise the channel by the end of April, taking on board the recommendations.

Ms Jowell will wait until she sees the BBC's response before deciding whether to insist on further details about the channel being included in the corporation's annual report.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Richard Sambrook, Director of BBC News
"It is more important for the BBC to be right than getting it first"
See also:

05 Dec 02 | Entertainment
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