Relations between ITV and the BBC hit a new low after the commercial broadcaster accused its rival of threatening to axe popular services in order to shut down debate over its management.
ITV claimed that the closure of BBC3 as a television channel was unnecessary and said the BBC issued threats that Strictly Come Dancing could be abolished to prevent scrutiny of its use of the licence fee.
Adam Crozier, ITV chief executive, told the Commons Culture, Media and Sport committee that the BBC could achieve its savings target by making the organisation more efficient instead of closing services.
Mr Crozier said the BBC could save millions by selling its London headquarters, making a big reduction in management, closing international channels, buying technology off the shelf instead of making its own or merge BBC Two and Four along with Radio 4 and 5.
Asked by MPs if he believed that the corporation did not need to close BBC Three, he replied: “Yes. BBC Three was a very distinctive channel. It was operating and producing programmes that the commercial market place finds very difficult to do.”
Mr Crozier called for "calm" over the future of the BBC as its charter comes up for renewal. “In this day and age the idea that you can receive nearly £4 billion of public money every year and not expect there to be some kind of debate on what that might be spent on I think is not right,” he said.
He added: “In many ways we have had a very, very odd public debate so far where as soon as anyone raises their head above the parapet to begin that debate it is sort of shouted down with 'we'll close BBC Two, we'll get rid of Strictly, you don't want us to be popular'. I don't think anyone has suggested any of those things.”
ITV has accused the BBC of aggressively scheduling its programmes against its rival. But Mr Crozier said: “If they want to do their news at 10pm, let them do it.”
Mr Crozier said that every time the charter comes up for renewal the BBC declares that it will “focus on distinctiveness” but regulators have failed to enforce any real change. MPs were told the peak time content on BBC One was “little different” to ITV.
In a blog posted by James Heath, BBC director of policy, insisted the corporation's content was distinct from its commercial rivals. He wrote: “ITV is entitled to its own opinion, but not its own facts. My first response to the claim that BBC One is aping ITV and chasing ratings at all costs is: 'please watch the channels'.”
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