ITN in surprise defence of BBC's News 24 channel

BBC News 24: "big investment"

ITN has given the BBC its full backing over the contentious issue of its 24-hour rolling news service.

Former Financial Times editor Richard Lambert was asked by the Government to examine the whole remit of BBC News 24 and its place in the market. He has taken submissions from interested parties and is expected to deliver his findings next month.

In stark contrast to BSkyB, ITN has told Lambert that a rolling news channel is a natural and correct move for the public service broadcaster. But ITN has slammed the corporation in other quarters, accusing it of breaching its own rules on fair trading.

In a missive to Media Secretary Tessa Jowell, ITN chief executive Stewart Purvis outlined areas where he believes the BBC has broken its own rules on fair trade.

They include free distribution of BBC World in the US and charging below market rates to supply BBC World to the Heathrow Express train service. They also point to tailored broadband news services the BBC has supplied to websites free or at huge discounts.

An ITN spokesman said: "ITN has no difficulty with BBC Worldwide entering any commercial market it likes. The board of governors is either unable or unwilling to enforce the commitment and this is clearly a job for Ofcom."

BSkyB has complained that the news channel has not lived up to the BBC’s pledge to offer a quality service not already available in the marketplace; that its vast budgets meant rival services could not compete on a level playing field and that offering News 24 free to cable operators forced Sky News to cut its prices by 80 per cent.

BBC News 24 launched four years ago and it is extremely unlikely that Lambert would attempt to dismantle the service.

Martin McNamara

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