BBC chief denies BBC Worldwide sale talk

Says both would suffer without commercial relationship

LONDON -- BBC director general Mark Thompson has hit out at suggestions that the pubcaster's commercial division should be sold off, less than a week after it emerged that BBC Worldwide was on a list of government-owned assets being prepared for possible sale.

"Reports that the BBC is already preparing for a partial flotation are simply untrue," said Thompson, writing on the Mediaguardian website Tuesday.

"Indeed, a change is not inevitable or even necessarily desirable at any point in the future."

Thompson argued that BBC Worldwide could not flourish without the integral relationship it enjoys with the pubcaster, which gives it a first-look agreement to distribute BBC programming, launch BBC-branded global channels and license and produce such global formats as "Dancing With The Stars."

"Without the BBC brand, BBC intellectual property and the ability to deliver international BBC services, Worldwide would only be worth a fraction of its present value," Thompson argued.

"And a BBC stripped of Worldwide would not only fail to capitalize on its present opportunities, but would struggle to maintain international visibility and relevance."

The director general's forthright comments were made as the U.K. government comes under increasing pressure to sell off state-owned operations and business in a bid to bring down the U.K.'s credit rating-straining public debt.

Last week the Treasury published a document detailing a range of public assets that were being prepared for sale, and included BBC Worldwide as an annexe to the report, signaling that its sale was being actively considered.

However, such a move could not happen without the agreement of the BBC's oversight committee, the BBC Trust. So far, BBC Trust chairman Michael Lyons has insisted that no sale is currently planned, but has said he will keep an "open mind" on the possibility.

A sale is also unlikely in the near future, as with a U.K. general election looming in the spring, the necessary changes to the BBC's Royal Charter required by a sell-off would likely fail to get the necessary Parliamentary time for approval.

However, after the election, which has to take place by June 2010 at the latest, both the current government and the opposition Tory party will come under pressure to balance the nation's books, and a wholesale asset sell-off could be launched.