Plans by the British Broadcasting Corporation to expand its free online education service have been met with a salvo of protest and threats of legal action by a consortium of online educational publishers.

“Our industry could be decimated,” says Dominic Savage, co-chair of lobby group Digital Learning Alliance, claiming that the BBC’s proposed £150 million online learning venture could cost its members millions of pounds in lost revenues. “We have deep concerns about our members' ability to compete with a similar service that is offered for free. There is a serious risk of substantial job losses.”

Tessa Jowell, minister for culture, media and sport, has invited views on the BBC's plans. These include the launching of a wide range of interactive online learning materials in support of the school curriculum – a move that requires ministerial approval to comply with the BBC charter.

The software companies – among them such needy supplicants as Pearson, Granada and Reed Elsevier – are mulling legal action against the BBC to force the public disclosure of an independent report from investment bank NM Rothschild. Commissioned by the Department for Education, this examines the likely commercial impact of the BBC's plans.

• Elsewhere, Beeb-bashing is also flavour of the month with the Independent Television Commission’s demand that the BBC should be subject to the same financial penalties as commercial broadcasters if it fails to toe the regulatory line.

This, says the ITC in its submission to the bill’s joint scrutiny committee, would be an appropriate way of disciplining the publicly-owned broadcaster if it loses its self-governing status when the Communications Bill become law in 2003. Says the watchdog: “[We have] learned from experience that standards are most effectively set with the backing, if necessary, of sanctions.”

But many believe this would be a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul, with licence-payers’ money shunted sideways from the BBC to the Treasury. Not so, maintains the ITC: the money raised from fines could be used to set up an industry training fund to support young people eager to make a career in broadcasting.

Data sourced from:; additional content by WARC staff