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BBC John Whittingdale UKTV

Government reportedly planning 'smash-and-grab' raid on BBC over UKTV sale

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By Rebecca Stewart, Trends Editor

April 17, 2016 | 3 min read

Culture secretary John Whittingdale is set to spearhead a "smash-and-grab-raid" on the BBC and plans to force the broadcaster to sell its £500m share in UKTV according to senior government media sources.

The Sunday Times reports that a government insider confirmed plans to influence the BBC to sell its stake in UKTV, which owns 10 TV channels including Dave and Gold, are "being looked at," with the government wanting half of the proceeds to go to the treasury.

UKTV channels generate a large stream of revenue for BBC Worldwide – the broadcaster's commercial arm, which supplements its licence fee income of £3.7bn.

Additionaly, Whittingdale wants the corporation to give £100m of its annual budget for local news and children's TV to outside suppliers, which would then be given slots on the group's networks.

The new measures will be outlined by the minister in a white paper next month, but Downing street has allegedly stipulated that decisions about the BBC licence fee will not be made by Whittingdale alone but with the help of the prime minister.

The culture secetary is currently being urged to relinquish his responsibilities relating to regulation of the press, in light of accusations that he may have been inclined to adopt a laxer stance than might otherwise have been the case, following a six month relationship with a brothel worker. Pro-privacy group Hacked Off has slammed news editors over the story for what it sees as a perceived attempt to suppress reports about the relationship because they were blackmailing him.

BBC2's Newsnight broadcast details of the relationship last week, revealing that four newspaper had investigated the details over the past two years but had not published.

Further reports published today (17 April) accuse the cabinet member of allowing another former girlfriend and page 3 model to view confidential goverment papers, something his spokespeople have denied.

Insiders told the Sunday Times that Whittingdale’s new measures had not been influenced by the controversy. “John was appointed to be tough on the BBC. That was the point,” one said.

The culture department stated it would not comment on “speculation," while the BBC said: “While the BBC has not seen any drafts of the white paper, these proposals do not reflect the discussions we have had with government.”

BBC John Whittingdale UKTV

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