Report: New BBC cash grab is coming

The commercial arm of the BBC could be forced to sell off its share in UKTV and give the money to the Government, according to reports.

Culture secretary John Whittingdale wants BBC Worldwide to sell its share in the company that runs channels including Dave, Yesterday, Really, Drama and Gold and hand over half the proceeds, expected to be around £250 million, to the Treasury. Mr Whittingdale also wants to take £100 million from the BBC's budget for children's and local news programmes. "Outside suppliers" would take control of the BBC local news output, with slots allocated to them on the national channels, according to a report in The Sunday Times.

There are concerns over who the Government would choose to run local news programmes on the BBC. Critics says that local news production could end up in the hands of local newspaper groups, reducing the amount of choice among local news providers, especially given the newspaper industry's involvement in some local TV stations, the decline in the amount of local news on some commercial radio stations and restrictions on the amount of local news the BBC can provide online, leaving ad-infested local newspaper sites as the only alternative.

They also point out the apparent cozy relationship the Culture Secretary has enjoyed with the press, with newspapers staying silent for several months about a relationship with a prostitute, claiming reporting it would infringe his private life, but then pushing for an injunction to be overturned so they can report about a celebrity affair.

The proposals are due to be set out in a White Paper linked to BBC Charter Renewal to be released next month.

The report in The Sunday Times coincided with a report in The Observer, which reported the findings of a recent survey that showed the government is not trusted by a majority of voters to protect the BBC during the forthcoming renewal of its charter. A YouGov survey for the campaigning organisation 38 Degrees found, according to the paper "that distrust of the government about its BBC reform plans is strongest among those aged over 60, the group most likely to be Tory supporters."

Already cuts of £800 million a year are scheduled to be made, mostly as a result of the cost of free over 75s licences being passed to the BBC, with the future of several BBC services under threat.

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