Brussels checks on BBC channel

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The Independent Online
THE European Commission is investigating the BBC's News 24 cable television channel after complaints from Rupert Murdoch's BSkyB that it is using state funding to distort competition.

The revelation comes a day after Mr Murdoch made a scathing attack on the service in a speech in Birmingham. He claimed that the service was putting his Sky News channel in "jeopardy" because cable operators could get it for free and as a consequence were dumping his news channel.

A spokesman for Karel Van Miert, the competition commissioner, said there was a "case pending" against News 24 as part of a wide investigation into the financing of public broadcasters in Europe.

Broadcasters in France, Italy, Spain and Germany have also complained that public broadcasters are distorting competition whilst receiving aid.

A BBC spokesman said: "We understand Sky lodged this complaint several months ago. This is really a matter for the Government. However, the BBC is confident that the complaint will be turned down."

News 24 has been a source of controversy for the BBC because it has taken licence-fee money out of the news budgets of other programmes, but can be seen by only a few million people with cable television.

John Birt, director-general of the BBC, persuaded ministers to go ahead with the service because it was originally meant to launch as a digital TV service. The delay in launching digital TV in the UK meant News 24 had to use cable temporarily.

Cable companies have to pay Sky News to be allowed to broadcast the channel and the cable companies in turn charge their subscribers.

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