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BBC wars with ITV over pubcaster role

UK pubcaster the BBC has slammed commercial rival ITV, rebuking a number of claims made over the running and structure of the organisation.

Adam CrozierDebate of the future of the BBC is raging as concerns over its budget, public service remit and relationship with government are highlighted ahead of charter renewal next year.

ITV CEO Adam Crozier (pictured) yesterday told a government panel that closing “very distinctive” youth-skewed channel BBC Three was a mistake, and again complained that BBC One was being “aggressively” scheduled against ITV.

Crozier suggested merging BBC Two and BBC Four, closing international channels, reducing management overheads and selling its London headquarters would make better savings.

“When there are general calls for more efficiency there is a habit to trot out a number of things people wouldn’t like to see closed and threaten to close them when there is a whole list of things, some of which I mentioned may be right some of which may be wrong, that could be done to save a lot of money,” Crozier told the Commons Culture, Media Sport committee.

BBC director of policy James Heath said that while the pubcaster recognised ITV’s call for it to be more distinctive, he did not “recognise the problem diagnosed… Regulation of the BBC must be effective but not prescriptive and paralysing. Regulation shouldn’t tell us how to do our job, rather than the job we should be doing.”

Heath claimed ITV wanted to “freeze the BBC in aspic with very detailed regulations”, which could lead to “a real danger that you end up with a diminished BBC”.

He also claimed it was actually ITV scheduling against the BBC, and used the ITV’s decision to strip I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here across its primetime slots last week to demonstrate the BBC was more distinctive.

Against a previous ITV call for the BBC to be banned from acquiring any international formats, Heath said: Perhaps this proposal should be re-named: ‘The BBC can’t have these programmes, because ITV wants them’,” and added it would “reduce competition in the programme supply market”.

ITV recently poached ratings winner The Voice from BBC One after acquiring the format’s creator, Talpa Media, earlier this year.

He also claimed that using the expected £30 million freed up by closing BBC Three as a linear channel to fund more high-end BBC One drama was justified.

He added that while ITV’s advertising revenues had increased and profits risen by “more than 550% since 2009 to over £700 million in 2014”, investment in high-end original UK content had reduced over the same period.

“With the BBC’s funding under pressure in real terms, ITV faces less of an incentive to invest,” said Heath.

“Does ITV want the freedom to continue this investment trend in key genres like drama, while at the same time constraining the BBC’s ability to respond? Far from crowding out commercial investment, we need a strong BBC as the cornerstone of PSB and the main driver of investment across the system.”

Crozier’s testimony was scathing about the debate around the BBC, calling for “calm” ahead of charter renewal.

“In many ways we have had a very, very odd public debate so far where as soon as anyone raises their head above the parapet to begin that debate it is sort of shouted down with ‘we’ll close BBC Two, we’ll get rid of Strictly, you don’t want us to be popular’. I don’t think anyone has suggested any of those things,” he said.

“Everyone needs to just calm down and have a proper debate about how do we ensure that that public money, a great deal of public money, is properly and wisely spent over the next five to ten years.”

However, he criticised government plans that include potentially selling off the UK’s other public service broadcaster, Channel 4, claiming: “Anything that impacts negatively on their remit would have to be very carefully looked at. We are big supporters of Channel 4; they are really important part of the ecology of the UK market.”