The BBC has been ordered by the British government to redefine the role of its online services.
The demand by Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell follows an independent review into BBC websites published today.
The report, commissioned by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), says some sites do not match the BBC’s public service remit.
Websites such as fantasy football, games sites and “what’s on” listings were not distinctive enough from commercial alternatives and do not follow the BBC’s public service remit.
Today’s report by Philip Graf, chairman of the Press Standards Board of Finance, is part of a probe into all new BBC public services following their launch.
It calls for a “precautionary approach” to BBC Online investment.
The BBC should not take new online proposals forward if there is a “close call” between the public service benefits and the costs of the initiative, it says.
Mr Graf’s report says that the remit and strategic objectives of BBC Online, which was launched in 1998, should be clearly defined around public objectives.
It recommends that two BBC governors should be expert in new media and competition law.
The report says that at least a quarter of online content, excluding news, should be supplied by external and/or independent suppliers by the time the current Royal Charter expires at the end of 2006.
BBC Online should prioritise news, current affairs, education and information which is of value to the citizen, the report says.
Mr Graf said there were indications that BBC Online may have an adverse impact on online competition.
Ms Jowell has given the BBC’s board of governors until the end of October to make a full response to the review.
This will include a redrafted version of BBC Online’s remit, together with a statement of how the BBC intends to involve the independent sector.
Ms Jowell said: “It is now up to the governors to respond on how they plan to redefine the purposes and aims of BBC Online, so that they are more closely aligned to the public service remit of the BBC.”
Mr Graf said: “There is clearly great public affection and appreciation of BBC Online, so I hope that, in their interest, my conclusions provide constructive input to both the BBC and to the DCMS’s Charter Review.”
The review also found that the BBC’s role in the development and promotion of new technology needs to be more clearly defined.
It says the BBC should explore how it can work more effectively with the rest of the online community.