In a submission to the official BBC Online review, Independent Television News (ITN) has called for more restriction on the BBC’s commercial activity.

ITN objects to the expansion of BBC Online services - including the recent content deals with MSN Nordic and Terra Lycos - which it says present an increasing threat to their commercial news services.

Former Trinity Mirror chief executive Philip Graf is conducting an extensive, formal review of the BBC's online services. Commercial broadcasters were invited to submit their concerns to the review by 24 November, and Mr Graf is expected to announce his findings in the new year.

"We don’t have a fundamental objection to the BBC operating in the online market," said Sophie Cohen, director of corporate affairs for ITN.

"It should be able to fulfil its public service remit - but without limiting the commercial sector’s ability to grow."

In 1999, ITN launched a commercial mobile phone text messaging news service with Orange providing five daily news bulletins to subscribers. The BBC then arranged a similar service with rival mobile phone firm Cellnet - but provided news content for free.

"It made the whole business model ineffective - and if we can’t sustain the model then we can’t grow," Ms Cohen said.

ITN has similar concerns about the video news market. In a recent deal with telecoms firm Hutchison, ITN became the first UK firm to provide video news content for mobile phones.

"It is an attractive market and presents a significant business opportunity for us," she said.

"But if the BBC moves into the market, it is likely that we will lose business."

Commercial broadcasters argue that plurality of services is essential for a healthy, competitive marketplace.

"When they are providing news directly to public, such as BBC News Online and their WAP services - then there is no problem," said Ms Cohen.

"Third party news provision is a commercial area. There need to be much more clearly defined boundaries."

ITN also states that the BBC does not provide a detailed breakdown of its online activities.

"It would be useful if the review could explore how the BBC digital budget is divided up - how much is spent on core public services and how much on more contentious commercial areas," Ms Cohen said.

"If they want to be more commercial, rather than just spending money, then it has to be on a level playing field.

"They should plough that commercial revenue back into the organisation."

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