Reality bites for BBC as TV listings dumb down

THE BBC is facing mounting pressure to increase the quality of its programming after it was revealed the broadcaster now screens more reality and copycat shows than a year ago, despite its pledge to drop such "ballast".

One year after the government warned the "dumbing down" must stop, an analysis has revealed there are more property, bargain-hunting, make-over and derivative programmes now than in the same period last year.

The government is expected to publish its white paper on the future of the BBC and its licence fee on Tuesday, reiterating its demands that the corporation beefs up

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"high-quality, challenging, original and engaging" programming.

In the past seven days, there have been nearly 34 hours of shows such as Car Booty and Homes Under The Hammer as well as Just The Two Of Us - attacked by critics as a "cheap and cynical" singing version of the successful Strictly Come Dancing.

In the same week last year there were just over 32 hours of similar shows, suggesting BBC director general Mark Thompson has failed to meet his promise last year to ditch low-quality "ballast".

Lord Fowler, the chairman of the House of Lords select committee on the BBC charter review, said: "It is very disappointing that more progress has not been made. Some of the best BBC programmes are among the best in the world but it's a pity that some of that enormous reputation gets spoilt by the, frankly, second-rate stuff."

Tory MP Philip Davies, a member of the culture select committee which has probed the BBC's charter, said: "The BBC has a decision to make. It either wants to be a public service broadcaster and gain all the benefit from a licence fee or decide it's in direct competition with the commercial channels and stand on its own two feet.

"When you look down the TV listings you see the BBC trotting out the same stuff you can find on any other channel."

The biggest culprit is the daytime schedule, which features about four hours of low-cost lifestyle programming.

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On Saturdays, Just For Laughs is a hidden-camera show modelled on ITV's long-running hit You've Been Framed.

David Turtle of TV pressure group Mediawatch said: "This continual round of bland property shows and makeover programmes barely appeals to the lowest common denominator."

Media commentator Anthony Smith placed blame squarely on the shoulders of TV executives. He said: "TV is getting itself into a serious situation in this country in that it isn't conforming to the broadcasting legislation set down for it.

"The people who run British television tore up their remits several years ago and pay little attention to what parliament wants them to do.

"TV is in the hands of those to whom the remit is an obligation rather than an aspiration.

"I met with BBC executives this week and they were very light-hearted about the whole thing. They aren't bothered about the cultural obligation."

A corporation spokeswoman said BBC1 was reducing lifestyle programmes "in peak time" and stressed the increase in drama. She said: "Taking a snapshot of one week will not be representative."