Belfast Telegraph

BBC competitive scheduling bar 'being mulled by Government in charter review'

The BBC is on a collision course with the Government over reported moves to bar it from showing popular shows at peak viewing times.

Culture Secretary John Whittingdale is being widely tipped to include a bar on the broadcaster going head-to-head with commercial rivals as part of the review of its charter.

He is due to publish a White Paper within weeks that will set out a tougher new regime as part of a proposed deal to grant a new Royal Charter to safeguard the service for another 11 years.

ITV has complained about licence fee payers' money being used to wage a ratings battle with it and other advertising-funded channels.

But a source at the BBC said the public would be "deeply concerned" if it was forced to move programmes such as Strictly Come Dancing, Doctor Who and Sherlock from prime time weekend slots.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport said no final decisions had been taken about the White Paper but a number of Sunday newspapers carried reports of an expected move to block competitive scheduling.

Commercial rivals would be further protected by restrictions on the BBC's on-air advertising of its own programmes across its networks, it was reported.

The salaries of stars could also be forced into the open - the Mail on Sunday said - but published in bands rather than by actual sums given to each.

Mr Whittingdale has said that the charter is looking at whether the broadcaster should continue to be "all things to all people" or should have a more "precisely targeted" mission in terms of its output.

He has previously expressed concerns about the BBC's flagship news bulletin being broadcast at the same time as ITV's.

The Mail on Sunday quoted a Government source saying it would be " obvious when ITV had a flagship programme they were hoping to get high ratings for and where it would be unfair for the BBC to take it on head-to-head".

A BBC source said however: "Let's see what the White Paper says.

"The BBC doesn't aggressively schedule, but we do show programmes at the times people want to watch them.

"Research has shown that an element of competition drives up quality across the industry and the public would be deeply concerned if the BBC's ability to show programmes such as Strictly, Doctor Who, and Sherlock, at the times convenient to them were taken away.

"It would be odd to make it harder for people to find and watch the programmes they have already paid for."

An 11-year extension would please BBC bosses who have argued strongly that renewal should be brought out of sync with the general election cycle to lessen political pressures.

Shadow culture secretary Maria Eagle said: "John Whittingdale is behaving as if he were running the BBC - he is not. This kind of meddling in day to day scheduling decisions would be a completely unacceptable interference in the independence of the BBC. Labour will fight it all the way.

"The public will wonder why the Government is interfering with the BBC, and why they are trying to dictate when they can schedule hugely popular programmes like Strictly Come Dancing.

"The results of the recent public consultation show the public value the BBC's independence and that they want it to carry on doing what it has been doing. What have the Tories got against the BBC?"

A DCMS spokesman said: "Government will be setting out its plan on the BBC Charter in a White Paper in May.

"The Secretary of State has made it clear on a number of occasions that the Government cannot and indeed should not, determine either the content or scheduling of programmes."