British gov't backs Ch. 4-BBC merger

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The British government has thrown its support behind a planned merger of Channel 4 and the commercial arm of the BBC, a move that could herald a major shake-up in the U.K. broadcasting landscape if it goes forward this year.

In Thursday's long-awaited Digital Britain report, Communications Minister Stephen Carter said Channel 4 needs to broaden its public purposes and be placed at the head of a new public-service entity suited to the digital and broadband age.

"At the heart of this new remit should be strong commitments to international and national news, current affairs, documentaries and film, with the prospect of introducing programming for older children and news for the nations," he said.

Carter said it "made sense" to begin by looking at combining public-sector bodies Channel 4 and BBC Worldwide, but added that the government will look at a range of partnership options before delivering a final blueprint for the broadcaster's future in June.

Channel 4 has said it will need an extra £150 million ($206.4 million) a year in funding by 2012 to maintain its public-service broadcasting output.

CEO Andy Duncan welcomed the government report.

"We're delighted our preference for partnership with BBC Worldwide is again identified as the most sensible starting point," he said.

The report also called for accelerated broadband penetration in the U.K. and warned Internet service providers that they will face legal action if they fail to deter illegal file-sharing. (partialdiff)
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