BBC faces screen ‘ban’ over top shows at peak times

Popular shows like Downton Abbey could escape BBC competition. Picture: PA
Popular shows like Downton Abbey could escape BBC competition. Picture: PA
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The BBC is on a collision course with the government over reported moves to bar it from showing popular shows at peak viewing times.

Culture Secretary John Whittingdale is being widely tipped to include a ban on the broadcaster going head-to-head with commercial rivals as part of the review of its ­charter.

He is due to publish a White Paper within weeks that will set out a tougher new regime as part of a proposed deal to grant a new Royal Charter to safeguard the service for another 11 years.

ITV has complained about money from the licence fee being used to wage a ratings battle with it and other advertising-funded channels.

But a source at the BBC said the public would be “deeply concerned” if it was forced to move programmes such as Strictly Come Dancing, Doctor Who and Sherlock from prime time weekend slots.

The Department for ­Culture, Media and Sport said no final decisions had been taken but a number of Sunday newspapers carried reports of an expected move to block ­competitive scheduling.

Commercial rivals would be further protected by restrictions on the BBC’s on-air advertising of its own ­programmes across its networks, it was reported.

Mr Whittingdale has said that the charter is looking at whether the broadcaster should continue to be “all things to all people” or should have a more “precisely targeted” mission.

He has previously expressed concerns about the BBC’s flagship news bulletin being broadcast at the same time as ITV’s. A Sunday newspaper quoted a government source saying it would be “obvious when ITV had a flagship ­programme they were ­hoping to get high ratings for and where it would be unfair for the BBC to take it on head-to-head”.

However, a BBC source said: “Let’s see what the White Paper says.

“The BBC doesn’t aggressively schedule, but we do show programmes at the times ­people want to watch them.

“It would be odd to make it harder for people to find and watch the programmes they have already paid for.”

An 11-year extension would please BBC bosses who have previously argued strongly that renewal should be brought out of sync with the general election cycle to lessen political pressures.

A spokesman for the Department for ­Culture, Media and Sport said: “The secretary of state has made it clear on a number of occasions that the government cannot, and indeed should not, determine either the content or scheduling of programmes.”