BBC digital channel 'to be home of arts on TV'

Autumn schedule reveals major shake-up for flagship programmes as Greg Dyke is accused of 'ghettoising' and 'burying culture'
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The Independent Online

Greg Dyke's controversial plan to move arts programming from BBC1 and 2 will move a step forward today.

Greg Dyke's controversial plan to move arts programming from BBC1 and 2 will move a step forward today.

BBC Knowledge, one of the broadcaster's digital channels, will announce an autumn schedule dominated by televised theatre performances, arthouse films, music and literature. The move is seen, and feared, by critics as the beginning of the ghettoisation of arts programmes.

The autumn schedules announcement by Liz Cleaver, the controller of BBC Knowledge, will show that the digital channel is becoming the home of arts television. It is also a clear indication that Mr Dyke is determined to go ahead with the shakeup of mainstream BBC programming despite warnings from the Commons' Culture Select Committee that it would diminish the corporation's statutory commitment to public service broadcasting. John Tusa, a former head of the BBC World Service and now the managing director of the Barbican Centre, who has consistently denounced Mr Dyke's plans, accused him of wanting to "bury culture - clearly a dirty word in BBC strategy circles - in the distant regions of the unwatched BBC digital channels." He added that this would "ghettoise arts programming."

At the Edinburgh Television Festival next week, Mr Dyke is expected to spell out his plans for a new configuration of BBC television with BBC1 becoming a general entertainment channel, BBC2 accommodating serious programmes including Panorama, the digital channel BBC Choice becoming the youth channel BBC3, and the digital channel BBC Knowledge becoming BBC4, an arts and education channel.

He has already argued in a document to the BBC governors that BBC4 would revitalise interest in high culture as if it were a "virtual Tate Modern."

This would mean that BBC Knowledge, or BBC 4, will not be providing extra arts programmes, but the bulk of the BBC's arts output.

Chris Smith, the Secretary of State for Culture, and Gerald Kaufman, the chairman of the select committee, are known to be deeply worried by the plan. Critics fear audience figures would be reduced, which would, in turn, have an adverse affect on programme budgets.

BBC Knowledge's new schedule includes programmes which stress its move to become the network's arts channel. Extended music coverage next month will include a day devoted to British Music. And to mark the anniversary of the birth of Aaron Copland, the US composer and pianist, there will be an exclusive broadcast from the Barbican Theatre in London.

A special exhibition opening this autumn at the Tate to commemorate the work of William Blake will be accompanied by a programme celebrating his life and work - the sort of programme that has until now been standard BBC2 arts fare.

Asked whether BBC Knowledge had now become BBC4, Ms Cleaver said: "There's a huge amount of discussion going on internally and all decisions have not yet been made. So I am developing an intelligent channel which is arts and culture based in the widest sense. Certainly there will be more performances, and I have achieved my dream of having far more film and theatre."