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Rival cries foul as BBC announces major Web site relaunch
[April 26, 2006]

Rival cries foul as BBC announces major Web site relaunch

By JILL LAWLESS Associated Press Writer
The Associated Press

Rupert Murdoch's media conglomerate on Wednesday accused the British Broadcasting Corp. of using taxpayers' money to build a "digital empire" that would compete with commercial rivals.

The BBC, which receives about 3 billion pounds (US$5.3 billion, euro4.3 billion) a year in public funding, has announced plans to relaunch its Web site to incorporate more user-generated content such as blogs and video, as well as developing new broadband portals in areas including sports, music, health and science.

James MacManus, an executive director of Murdoch's News International company, accused the state-funded BBC of "blatantly commercial ambitions" and seeking "to create a digital empire."

"Our view is that can only damage the development of commercial digital media," MacManus said.

"This is being done with public money," he told The Associated Press. "It really is outrageous."

The BBC says it hopes its new site will attract unsigned bands hoping to showcase their music -- one of the key successes of, the social networking site recently bought by Murdoch.

"We have one of the best Web sites in the world, but it's rooted in the first digital wave," BBC director-general Mark Thompson told staff on Tuesday. "We need to reinvent it, fill it with dynamic audiovisual content, personalize it, open it up to user-friendly material."

He said in the new world of "BBC Web 2.0," audiences would become "participants and partners."

Rival broadcasters have long complained that the BBC uses public money to fund types of programs supplied by commercial operators, abandoning a public service remit in a chase for viewers.

The BBC currently is seeking to renew the license fee -- currently 131 pounds (US$234, euro188) a year -- that it receives from every television-owning household in Britain. The government is considering the broadcaster's request for increases that would take the fee to 180 pounds (US$320, euro260) by 2013.

MacManus said News International would lobby the government to appoint an independent regulator to oversee the BBC.

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