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History Channel seeks to expose secret BBC deal

LONDON - The History Channel is seeking to expose a secret agreement between the broadcaster and the government that lifts the limit on the number of commercial digital channels it can operate.

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UKTV, a joint venture between the BBC and Telewest's programming arm Flextech, operates UKTV, UK Gold, UK Style, UK Food and UK Horizons. The most recent has been the launch of UK History, which has angered the History Channel.

Geoff Metzger, managing director of the History Channel, objected to UKTV's plans for the channel because he said it has already launched eight channels -- the maximum number of commercial channels the licence-fee funded BBC is allowed to operated.

However, according to a report in The Times, Metzger now claims that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport lifted the eight-channel ceiling in 2000 in a secret deal.

He is said to be seeking legal advice to try to obtain the full details of the agreement between UKTV and the government. UKTV has refused to provide the information because of "commercial confidentiality".

At the time of UK History's launch, the BBC said: "While there has been press coverage of debate between UK History and the History Channel, there were no issues (regulatory or otherwise) preventing Wednesday's launch of UK History.

"As we confirmed on October 7 2002, UK History forms part of a joint venture between BBC Worldwide and Telewest, which has been fully approved by Department for Culture, Media and Sport."

At the time of writing, no one at the DCMS was available for comment.

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