BBC website should be shut down, says Tory frontbencher

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The Independent Online

The Shadow Culture Secretary, John Whittingdale, called yesterday for the BBC to close down its website, which includes some of the most visited internet pages in Europe.

"It is not clear why BBCi is on the Net when, by and large, the same services are provided by commercial operators. He thinks the BBC should only provide services that no one else does," said a spokeswoman for Mr Whittingdale.

Mr Whittingdale's call suggests the BBC will face heavy criticism from the party's "independent review" of the corporation's future, under the chairmanship of the former Channel 5 (now Five) chief executive David Elstein. Mr Elstein has described the licence fee as less fair than the poll tax.

Meanwhile, the Government has launched its own investigation into the BBC's online activities, under the former Trinity Mirror chief executive Philip Graf. He refused to comment yesterday.

Mr Whittingdale's suggestion, though not yet official party policy, has led to speculation that the proposal might appear in the next Conservative manifesto. His spokeswoman would not comment when asked whether the plan would be popular with voters. The BBC site receives 1.2 billion "hits" every month - 9.1 million people in Britain access it monthly.

His proposal was greeted with interest by rival news website operators, some of which suffer heavy losses. Tim Faircliff, operations director of Telegraph.co.uk, said the BBC site should be allowed to stay open but "we would like to have a level playing field". In particular, there should be a clampdown of cross-promotion of the website on radio and television.

The BBC said Mr Whittingdale was "entitled to his views".

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