'Ratings War Ban Could Hit Top BBC Shows'

The BBC could be forced to move programmes such as Strictly Come Dancing, Doctor Who and Sherlock from prime-time slots to avoid clashes with rival shows, according to reports.

Culture Secretary John Whittingdale is said to be planning a crackdown on "competitive scheduling" as part of a proposed deal to grant a new royal charter to safeguard the BBC for another 11 years.

In a white paper due to be published later this month, Mr Whittingdale is being widely tipped to include a bar on the corporation going head-to-head with commercial broadcasters.

The Mail on Sunday 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."

Culture Secretary John Whittingdale

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.

"Research has shown that an element of competition drives up quality across the industry and the public would be deeply concerned if the BBC's ability to show programmes such as Strictly, Doctor Who, and Sherlock, at the times convenient to them were taken away.

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

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

Commercial rivals would be further protected by restrictions on the cross promotion of BBC shows and the salaries of stars could also be forced into the open, the Mail on Sunday said.

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 in terms of its output.

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

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