/ 26 April 2006

Rivals cry foul over BBC’s website plans

Rupert Murdoch’s media conglomerate on Wednesday accused the BBC of using taxpayers’ money to build a ”digital empire” that would compete with commercial rivals.

The BBC, which receives about £3-billion a year in public funding, has announced plans to relaunch its website to incorporate more user-generated content such as blogs and video, as well as developing new broadband portals in areas including sports, music, health and science.

James MacManus, an executive director of Murdoch’s News International company, accused the state-funded BBC of ”blatantly commercial ambitions” and seeking ”to create a digital empire”.

”Our view is that can only damage the development of commercial digital media,” MacManus said.

”This is being done with public money,” he told The Associated Press. ”It really is outrageous.”

The BBC says it hopes its new site will attract unsigned bands hoping to showcase their music — one of the key successes of MySpace.com, the social networking site recently bought by Murdoch.

”We have one of the best websites in the world, but it’s rooted in the first digital wave,” BBC director general Mark Thompson told staff on Tuesday. ”We need to reinvent it, fill it with dynamic audiovisual content, personalise it, open it up to user-friendly material.”

He said in the new world of ”BBC Web 2.0,” audiences would become ”participants and partners”.

Rival broadcasters have long complained that the BBC uses public money to fund types of programmes supplied by commercial operators, abandoning a public-service remit in a chase for viewers.

The BBC currently is seeking to renew the licence fee — currently £131 a year — that it receives from every television-owning household in Britain. The government is considering the broadcaster’s request for increases that would take the fee to £180 by 2013.

MacManus said News International will lobby the government to appoint an independent regulator to oversee the BBC. — Sapa-AP