Rift between BBC, Channel Four widens

Newscast accuses Beeb of wasting public money

LONDON -- Relations between Britain's two government-owned broadcasters, the BBC and Channel Four, just got a lot testier.

The tiff escalated Tuesday night after a news report on Four's flagship newscast accused the BBC of wasting public money on program launches.

The report said the BBC had spent 45,000 pounds ($70,000) launching the show "Merlin" to press and buyers at a top London venue and had spent 118,000 pounds ($183,000) launching three other shows: "Little Dorrit," "The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency" and "The Passion" this year.

Four's news arm requested the figures under the Freedom of Information act, which allows info to be sought from public organizations.

BBC insiders have reacted with outrage at the report, which they say is "par for the course" and "something you have to do" when it comes to promoting major drama.

"We do it, ITV do it, Channel 4 do it," a senior BBC source said. "When you are launching a major international drama you can't do it for peanuts in a church hall."

A spokesman for the BBC said the broadcaster had cut back the number of its launches to a handful a year.

Four has defended the news report, saying the BBC was spending "public money" while Channel 4 had to operate a commercial business.

A Four spokesman dismissed suggestions that CEO Andy Duncan knew of the report as "completely ridiculous" and stressed that Channel 4's news division was "completely independent" of Four management.

Amid difficult financial circumstances Four is seeking financial support of 100 million pounds ($165 million) a year and is expected to hear the outcome of a series of government regulatory reports on its future.

Anxious to protect its own guaranteed income of 3.5 billion pounds a year, the BBC has offered a range of digital technology and resource-sharing to Four that it says will benefit its fellow pubcaster to the tune of $180 million a year, though that offer has been spurned by Four's Duncan.
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