Lyons: BBC can't be forced to give up Worldwide

The BBC Trust has questioned the legality of Ofcom’s proposal to give a stake in BBC Worldwide to Channel 4 to ease its funding concerns.

Chairman Sir Michael Lyons said he was surprised by suggestions by the media regulator that BBC Worldwide was an asset that could be offloaded on to other media groups to help pay for their public service output.

The role of the BBC’s commercial division is one of the elements being considered by Ofcom as it carries out its wide-ranging review into the future of broadcast journalism.

“The wording of the possibility of transferring BBC Worldwide to Channel 4 was extraordinary,” Lyons told the Broadcasting Press Guild lunch earlier today.

“My understanding of Worldwide’s status is it’s a subsidiary of the BBC. It’s owned by the BBC.

“Worldwide belongs to licence fee-payers – not Ofcom and not the Government. My understanding is it can only be changed by statute.”

Lyons also questioned the effectiveness of a system where Channel 4 would fill the gap left by ITV’s receding public service provision.

“I am sceptical about any suggestion that Channel 4 can suddenly take its place. Indeed, I question the scale of expectations being placed on Channel 4 full-stop.”

Ofcom is currently consulting on its proposals for the future of PSB and is expected to make a final statement in the new year.

The culture secretary, Andy Burnham, has also said that the PSB review will be one of the items on his agenda from January.

“Andy Burnham has been very clear,” Lyons said. “If the secretary of state says it’s urgent it’s best to assume that it is.”

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