BBC3 gets serious with promise of hard news show

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BBC3, the corporation's new channel for young people, hopes to shed its lightweight image with a serious news show that will be an early evening version of Newsnight.

The 30-minute show, aimed at viewers in their 20s and 30s, will be launched in April by the digital channel, which has been criticised for its poor current affairs coverage.

Stuart Murphy, BBC3 controller, said the half-hour programme would attempt to analyse the way that big stories were reported by disparate media. "It will be about the news machine as well as the final product that comes out of the news machine," he said.

The show would allow for a level of analysis that "pushes towards Newsnight", he added. "Twenty and 30-year-olds get their news from lots of different sources."

The programme, to be called The 7 O'Clock News, will have well-known guest presenters to present news on specialist subjects. An anchor for the programme has yet to be appointed.

Mr Murphy said: "Hopefully it will have more bite and will allow us to grow talent for the Newsnights of this world."

He said that the audience for Channel 4 News, with which it will coincide, was "not as young as you would think". But Channel 4 News questioned whether the new BBC service was an appropriate use of the licence fee.

Martin Fewell, deputy editor of Channel 4 News, said: "They have obviously woken up to the fact that seven [o'clock] is a good time for news but it seems an odd way to spend their licence fee to run up against a programme that performs an important public service role in that slot already.

"The whole point of the digital channels BBC3 and BBC4 was that they were supposed to offer something different and more choice." Mr Murphy admitted that his channel, which has a budget of £97m and a remit to make ground-breaking programmes that otherwise would not be made, did not have a reputation as a source of news.

He said: "News is going to be one of the really challenging areas for BBC3; it [20s to 30s] is predominantly a news-avoiding audience."

When BBC3 launched last February, Mr Murphy was forced to introduce more current affairs into the schedule by Tessa Jowell, the Culture secretary, who threw out the channel's initial proposal because she said it did not meet its public service remit.

Ms Jowell is set to review the public service output of all the BBC's digital services, each of which is now preparing a submission for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport.

BBC3's approach to news has been characterised by its 60 Seconds bulletins which are broadcast on the hour and aimed at people who would not normally watch current affairs programmes.

A more substantial programme, The News Show, initially presented by Julian Worricker, had disastrous ratings, sometimes failing to register any viewers with the official audience monitoring body Barb.

It was replaced in August with a 15-minute news programme called The 7 O'Clock News, whose presenters, Sangita Myska, Ben McCarthy, Tazeen Ahmad and Sevan Bastajian, will continue to work for the revamped news service.

Last November the station decided to drop Liquid News, which was intended to be a defining show for the channel.

Liquid News began life on BBC Choice (the channel that preceded BBC3) but suffered a tragedy when its presenter Christopher Price died at the age of 34 in April 2002. It will be replaced by the revamped news show in April.

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