BBC Puts Brave Face on Government's Online Review

05 November 2003

The BBC is putting a brave face on the upcoming review of its online services by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, hailing it as a "golden opportunity" to demonstrate its merit.

Or so claimed Ashley Highfield, BBC director of new media and technology, in his address Tuesday to parliamentary talk shop the Westminster Media Forum. The imposed review will, he said, enable the BBC to "define our role in the future of online".

And in a direct reference to the meltdown in relations with the Blair administration over the BBC's reportage of the war on Iraq and the Dr David Kelly affair, Highfield insisted that that the corporation does not regard the review as a "punishment for our past wrongdoings."

The BBC's myriad online activities (it boasts the UK's most popular single website) have infuriated commercial rivals - among them US-owned News International which controls around 37% of British newspaper readership (The Times, Sunday Times, The Sun and the News of the World) - who argue that the state-owned media giant competes with their own activities.

But the BBC's online services, Highfield contended, have an "increasingly important role to pay in helping to create a 100% connected, digital Britain". He cited its flagship site, which is visited by over ten million people every month - equivalent to 43% of Britain's population.

Highfield warmed to his theme: " We are supporting a new and fragile industry, in a TV/Radio/Online, tri-media way, that only the BBC can make happen," he said.

"I want to state that to my mind, beyond doubt, through providing the kind of compelling content I have just mentioned, we have absolutely met all the requirements of the original terms of consent laid down for us by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport in 1998."

Data sourced from:; additional content by WARC staff