BBC Draws Taxpayer, Competitor Ire

Dennis Faas's picture

It's been revealed that one of Britain's leading websites spent more than $200 million of taxpayers' money last year, with commercial rivals complaining it's difficult to compete fairly. The website of the British Broadcasting Corporation ( is regularly among the most visited UK sites. Last December it attracted an estimated 16.5 million visitors, more than the average figures for sites such as eBay.

The BBC is an independent broadcasting group which runs television and radio stations. Neither its stations nor its UK website carry any advertising and most of its funding comes from a specific tax on everyone in the country who has a television set.

An independent review published this week found that the site, which includes news, lifestyle pages, local information and other resources, spent $220 million in the last financial year, almost 50% more than its allocated budget. (Source:

The report said this overspending was likely down to a lack of control among the extremely complicated management system.

The actual amount spent on the site is likely even higher; much of the news content is produced by journalists who also work for television and radio and are not necessarily counted in the online budget.

There's very little criticism of the content of the site, which is highly regarded by users and the media. Problem is, many commercial groups, particularly newspapers and broadcasters, think it's unfair that the BBC should be able to spend so much money without having to worry about selling advertising.

This week's figures further fuel a long-running debate about the threat the BBC's website poses to local newspapers which are trying to establish themselves online. Only last week, the head of a major publishing group complained to the British Parliament that a BBC project to produce 60 mini-sites each dedicated to a local area would hurt newspapers which couldn't afford to compete. (Source:

On the one hand, the funding system means the BBC site is able to offer a superlative service. On the other hand, many people back the principle that the Internet as a whole is better when there's more even-handed competition between rival sites.

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