Brit gov’t eyes BBC World revamp

Plan could mean cash for loss-making network

LONDON — The U.K. government is considering backing a TV version of the BBC World Service, the pubcaster’s global radio network.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office plans to revamp BBC World, the pubcaster’s commercial international TV news channel. It came late to the cable and satellite market and relies on advertising revenue. It lost £15.3 million ($24.1 million) in 2001-02 and would benefit from an injection of public cash.

The government-funded BBC World Service is the most listened-to international radio broadcaster in the world, though auds fell 3 million last year to 150 million listeners. Network broadcasts in 43 versions, particularly targeting crisis areas such as Africa.

Dennis MacShane, the FCO minister responsible for World Service funding, told Monday’s Guardian newspaper that BBC World and the license-funded BBC News 24, the pubcaster’s domestic TV news channel, could eventually be merged.

“It’s absurd that News 24 is funded out of the license fee while BBC World has to be funded from advertising,” he said. “We have to see how they could come together.”

The BBC wants the two news TV services to continue separately.

Plan to break even

“The BBC is committed to BBC World as a commercial entity and has a business plan that will see it move towards break-even by 2005-06,” said a World Service spokeswoman.

It is waiting, however, for government permission to fold BBC World into a new global news division under BBC World Service head Mark Byford.

Any major changes, however, will have to wait until 2006, when the BBC’s charter comes up for renewal.