BBC offers public greater access to produce shows

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The Independent Online
THE BBC yesterday promised new services, including high street centres where community groups could make their own programmes, as it tried to convince the Government of the case for a levy on digital viewers.

The corporation, unsurprisingly, backed the idea of a pounds 1.99 monthly digital levy on viewers which would augment the licence fee. The levy, strongly

opposed by commercial broadcasters, was recommended by the government- appointed committee led by the economist Gavyn Davies. The consultation period on the Davies report ended yesterday.

Giving its response to the report, the BBC promised enhancements for existing channels and what director general Sir John Birt termed "exciting new services" designed to deliver the full benefits of the new technology to all licence payers.

Among these developments will be multimedia learning packages, including a bank of digital content to support the curriculum for all primary and secondary schoolchildren, and distinctive multimedia services for children at home. They would contain drama, information and entertainment.

The corporation also announced a chain of BBC Open Centres in high streets across the country. These will be bases where BBC staff working with local communities would make and broadcast local radio and local online services.

However, the BBC warned that the Davies panel's allowance of a 1.5 per cent a year rise in its income would only fund a third of its plans. Sir John said: "As Gavyn Davies says, the BBC has been on a financial diet for too long.

"There is a critical choice ahead: if we want the BBC in the next century which is a force for creativity, citizenship and learning in the life of the UK as it has been in this century, then the BBC needs significant buoyancy in its future revenues."

Raising the pounds 101 licence fee across the board was another option, the BBC's response said. "There are advantages and disadvantages to either option, and the decision must be for Government." In the same way, a decision on whether to extend concessionary licences to pensioners or other groups was also a matter for government, the BBC said.

Digital television will take over from existing analogue by 2010. ITV chief executive Richard Eyre yesterday said that he backed a strong BBC, but he rejected the digital licence levy and said the BBC had not made its case for a higher licence fee.

Mr Eyre said: "The BBC has an annual income from the licence fee alone of pounds 2.2bn and has not begun to persuade the public of a case for extra digital funding."

The licence fee depended on public agreement, he said adding that ITV believed there was more scope for programme investment within the BBC's existing budget.