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BBC promises to focus on current affairs

The BBC is placing current affairs programmes at the heart of its schedule, after calls for the broadcaster to re-establish itself as the "standard setter" for public service television.

The corporation is launching two new documentary strands in peak times and is boosting the number of hours devoted to current affairs shows. Arts programmes and rural affairs are also to be made more prominent, the BBC revealed today in its third annual statement of programme policy.

The statement follows a warning last week from Ofcom, the media watchdog, in its first overview of public-service broadcasting, that "specialist programming on topics such as arts, current affairs and religion was increasingly pushed out of peak viewing hours".

The BBC said in its statement, The Year Ahead: "Editorially, in 2004-2005 we will increase the prominence of current affairs on BBC Television." BBC1 intends to show an extra 10 hours of current affairs programmes including the Real Story, presented by Fiona Bruce, which is broadcast at 7.30pm in the evening, and a new set of one-off documentaries.

"This year will see the channel continue to extend its range and depth in every genre, in particular with an increase of 10 hours on our current affairs commitment," the statement said.

BBC1 is also looking at new ways to attract audiences to existing programmes, including Question Time, which will be revamped with shows focusing on single issues, and themes for specific days and seasons.

Following on the heels of its acclaimed season which looked at children in care, BBC1 is launching a new series that will investigate childhood issues.

The channel is also raising consumer issues to the top of the agenda, with two new series, Brassed Off Britain, which will investigate customer service, and Should I Worry About?, which will provide viewers with unbiased information on public health topics such as mobile phone radiation.

BBC 2 is launching several new documentary series investigating subjects that include terrorism, disability, parenting and mental health.

The channel is continuing with its new analysis series If..., which looks at the decisions that need to be made to safeguard against future disasters. The BBC's governors said If... "embodies a renewed commitment to major current affairs in peak time".

There are also plans to build on the Newsnight brand, extending the programme beyond its current late-night slot and producing more one-off shows, similar to a recent special about Iraq.

Radio 2 is increasing its focus on the arts over the next year, with a new two-hour Friday night arts show, The Green Room, hosted by Mariella Frostrup, and more than 100 hours of arts programming.

The countryside is also being pushed up the corporation's agenda. BBC1 is extending Countryfile from 30 minutes to one hour, while BBC News 24 plans to make more use of local reporters to increase its focus on rural affairs.