BBC questioned about links with Lonely Planet

A cross-party group of MPs is preparing to grill the BBC about its links with recently acquired travel publisher Lonely Planet, as part of a wide-ranging probe into the broadcaster's growing commercial ambitions.

The culture, media and sport select committee is understood to be concerned that the BBC might be overstepping the line between editorial and advertising after the Lonely Planet travel editor appeared as a guest on a number of shows since the purchase last year.

The committee will look into the claims as part of its investigation into the BBC's business activities, run through subsidiary company BBC Worldwide, when it returns from the summer recess at the beginning of October.

The Lonely Planet deal, which saw BBC Worldwide take a 75% stake in the publisher, has been criticised by rival travel publisher Time Out, whose chairman and founder Tony Elliott told an Edinburgh TV Festival audience that his company "haven't got a prayer of competing" against the new outfit.

According to the Daily Telegraph, the Lonely Planet travel editor, Tom Hall, was invited to appear as a pundit on the BBC business news programme 'Working Lunch', 'BBC Breakfast', Radio 4's 'Today' programme and BBC Radio FiveLive.

The BBC's editorial guidelines state that "it is essential that the integrity of BBC programmes or other editorial output is not undermined by the commercial, business or financial interests of any programme makers, journalists, or presenters.

"There must never be any suggestion that commercial or financial interests have influenced BBC coverage or the subject matter of programmes or the choice of items."

The select committee has invited parties with an opinion on the BBC's commercial work to submit evidence before October 6. It is understood that hearings will follow soon after, with a final report published towards the end of the year.

The group, which has just completed a lengthy review of how media ownership impacts on news coverage, is chaired by the Tory MP for East Chelmsford, John Whittingdale.

He told the Telegraph: "There is a growing concern that the distinction between the BBC's commercial activities and their licence fee-funded activities is becoming increasingly fuzzy."

The investigation will look into the BBC's broad range of commercial activities, which spans overseas format sales, merchandising and magazine publishing, and the potential risks to the corporation's reputation, licence fee payers and commercial rivals.

The BBC Trust said it looked forward to helping the committee with its inquiry: "The Trust sets clear policies and guidelines with which the BBC must comply."

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