Government report backs C4-BBC tie-up

The government has given its backing to a Channel 4 tie-up with BBC Worldwide in its Digital Britain report. Commuications minister Lord Carter re-iterated the views expressed in Ofcom’s public service broadcasting review last week calling for Channel 4 to be at the heart of a “new entity”.

In his Digital Britain report, published today (January 29), the communications minister notes that Channel 4 has called for renewed public support after claiming it faces a £150m annual funding gap from 2012.

The report does not make a firm recommendation on Channel 4’s future, but says that any new body would have “public service at its heart” and that it “makes sense to begin by looking at public sector bodies Channel 4 and BBC Worldwide”.

He adds Channel 4 will “continue to be the broadcast licensee” within such an entity and that “in addition there would be Five and ITV focused on original UK content”.

Carter says that Channel 4 is still a strong brand, but the growth of different content sources meant its “place in the world has shifted” and that its purposes needed to be “reinvented and broadened.” He recommends that the broadcaster’s new remit should be to concentrate on international and national news, current affairs, documentaries and film, and opened up the prospect of it moving into news for the nations for the first time.

On regional news, the report suggests a partnership between the BBC and ITV could form an “evolutionary path to a sustainable future until such time as broadband-delivered local news could become an effective substitute.”

However, it warns that Ofcom’s idea for ITV’s regional news slots to be opened up to third parties could require additional public funding, which “might be difficult to justify in current circumstances”.

The report says the regional newspaper industry can become involved in the debate over the future of local public service news broadcasting and the government will invite the Office of Fair Trading, Ofcom and other interested parties to conduct an exploratory review across the local and regional media sector and make appropriate recommendations about the future of news provision.

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