The BBC should not be publishing Lonely Planet guides

by Eamonn Butler (1 September 1 2008)

Disappointed at the last licence-fee settlement, BBC executives have been striving to boost the Corporation's commercial income instead. And in the process they have been annoying rather a lot of businesspeople.

Private-sector online content providers have been complaining at the unfair competition posed by the BBC's huge, tax-subsidized website. And now Tony Elliot, the founder of listings magazine Time Out and its associated travel guides, is livid at the Beeb's acquisition of rival travel guide publisher Lonely Planet through its commercial arm, BBC Worldwide.

When taxpayer-funded corporations start competing with private companies, the danger of unfair competition is obvious. Public funds are intended for public purposes. If private providers can do the same job - or better - the state should stick to its knitting and let them get on with it. We don't need a state-backed magazine publisher any more than we need state supermarkets.

BBC Worldwide wields a great brand, the BBC name seeming to guarantee both accuracy and quality. And perhaps because of that, it is booming, with profits last year of £118m on a turnover of £916m.

But it is properly a commercial enterprise and should be privatised. Of course, if the new owners wanted to keep the BBC brand - and overcome charges of living off something that rightly belongs to taxpayers - they would have to pay generously for it.

Let's start the bidding at £2bn, though it's probable that the final price would be a lot higher than that.

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