Why you will not learn much from BBC3

New 'public-service' television channel will only broadcast a tiny number of educational programmes, report Michael Shaw and Karen Thornton

EDUCATIONAL programmes will make up only a tiny fraction of the output of a new public-service BBC television channel.

They will represent only 1 per cent, or around 30 hours, of the 3,200 hours annual output on the digital "youth" station BBC3.

Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell this week finally gave the go-ahead to BBC3, which will be aimed mainly at 25 to 34-year-olds.

The Government had rejected the corporation's proposals for the channel a year ago because they did not make it "distinctive" enough from commercial stations and did not include enough public-service programming.

But Ms Jowell said this week she was satisfied that revised plans for the channel showed it would broadcast more arts, music, science and education programmes.

She said: "I am determined BBC3 should be a distinctive public-service channel that is not competing with what is already there in a vigorous market-place. The negotiations have led to the toughest set of conditions ever issued in giving the green light to a TV channel."

One of the conditions set by the Government is that the channel should broadcast at least 30 hours of education programmes each year. Most if its output will be drama and entertainment. BBC3 spokeswoman Jane Fletcher defended its approach to education. She said: "As we are only transmitting from 7pm to 4am, 30 hours is quite a large commitment.

"It is unusual for a broadcaster to try to make education programmes for the kind of audience we will have. They will be pitched at the over-25s, so I'm not sure if they will be appropriate for schools."

She added that the channel, which replaces BBC Choice, did not know what kind of education programmes it would broadcast because it has only just started the commissioning process.

Other commitments BBC3 has made include ensuring that 80 per cent of its programmes are commissioned specifically for the channel, that 90 per cent are made in Europe, and that it broadcasts at least 50 hours of music and arts shows each year.

The channel's pound;97 million annual budget will be reviewed after two years and may be cut if it has broken the Government agreement.

Despite Ms Jowell's assurances, the move has again prompted accusations that the BBC is invading commercial territory. The corporation has already infuriated the British Educational Suppliers Association with its proposals to deliver free on-line curriculum materials, a move that the association says threatens to undermine the market for its members' products. Dominic Savage, the association's director-general, said BBC3 would similarly undermine existing providers with a big youth audience, such as Channel 4.

Mr Savage said: "If BBC3 were going to be a proper public service, one would expect the educational content to be substantially greater.

"I have a fundamental objection to the fact they have got approval for BBC3. But we would far rather see them using a proportion of the money they plan to spend on the digital curriculum on educational programming for BBC3."

BBC3 will be launched next year on the free-to-air digital service Freeview as well as digital satellite and cable.

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