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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 November 2007, 10:02 GMT
Funding 'may bring BBC monopoly'
A child watching television
Financial pressure could jeopardise future children's programmes
There is a danger that the BBC will be the only provider of children's and regional programmes in future, a committee of MPs has concluded.

The Culture, Media and Sport committee said this was "unhealthy" and called for public funding for other broadcasters to increase competition.

But the BBC Trust said the principles governing use of the TV licence fee should be maintained.

The committee was examining the future for public service broadcasting.

It said the prospects for public service programmes were generally good.

"The market is likely to continue to provide the content that consumers want and to provide much of the content that is considered to be socially valuable," it said.

But it added that recent restrictions on advertising around children's shows will cut revenue for these shows and put new programmes in jeopardy.

Cost to public

The committee said that "without intervention", this would leave the BBC as the sole provider of children's and regional programming.

Public funding should therefore be made available to other broadcasters such as ITV, Channel 4 and Five, it concluded.

"The most appropriate source of public funds for public service content is either from the licence fee or from general taxation," the committee said.

"However, we do not believe that the overall cost to the public should be allowed to increase."

But not all the committee members were in agreement.

Labour MP Alan Keen said: "If the BBC licence fee is sliced up and shared among other broadcasters, it will be the beginning of the end for the BBC."

The worst fears expressed in the report are coming true
Producers Alliance for Cinema and Television

Responding to the report, the BBC Trust said: "The licence fee system acts as a safeguard for the BBC's independence, as a source for high quality, innovative and distinctive content, and a means by which the BBC can be called clearly to account.

"In any review of public service broadcasting funding it will be important to ensure that these principles are maintained."

The Producers Alliance for Cinema and Television (Pact), which represents independent television companies, said the committee's report highlighted the serious situation facing children's programming.

"The worst fears expressed in the report are coming true," a Pact spokesman said.

"ITV has withdrawn completely from commissioning, Five has cut shows for older children, Ofcom's recent report has concluded that investment has collapsed and that parents are seriously concerned, and the BBC's spend on children's is under threat."

Pact urged the government "to look at ways in which the future of children's TV can be protected by taking steps to intervene if there is a shortfall".

Last month media regulator Ofcom called for a national debate about the amount of children's programming made in the UK.

Digital criticism

MPs also criticised the BBC's decision to save digital channels BBC Three and BBC Four while cutting 2,500 posts.

"The case for the BBC having as many channels as it does at present has not yet been wholly justified," said committee chairman John Whittingdale.

The Mighty Boosh
Comedy series The Mighty Boosh has been a BBC Three success

BBC director general Mark Thompson set out his six-year plan for the BBC last month. It involved closing 2,500 posts, but with a number of new jobs being created, reducing the number of redundancies to approximately 1,800.

The BBC also said it would make 10% fewer TV shows by 2013, and sell its Television Centre complex in west London. It has already started to merge its television, radio and online newsrooms.

But Conservative MP Mr Whittingdale said on Wednesday that the BBC was "too quick to dismiss the option of reducing the number of channels".

A BBC spokesman said: "Closing a channel only saves money when you stop spending money on the programmes it shows - just closing the channel itself saves very little money.

"Having analysed our portfolio we believe we can use it much more effectively by making fewer but better programmes and giving audiences more opportunities to see them."

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