STAR 'to axe BBC service in May'

STAR TV is to drop its BBC World Service channel in favour of Chinese-language movies as early as May, sources said last night.

The BBC had only a few weeks remaining on its northern satellite beam, which extends from Hong Kong into China, South Korea and Taiwan.

It would continue to be shown ''at least in the medium term'' on the southern beam which goes from South Vietnam to the Middle East, the sources said. This would enable viewers in India, the World Service's biggest Asian audience, to continue to watch the service.

The BBC's channel is needed for STAR's first pay-TV channel, designed to compete with TVB International in Taiwan, which will show Mandarin movies.

Rumours about the BBC withdrawing from STAR have been rife since Rupert Murdoch bought a controlling interest in the pan-Asian network last summer at a cost of US$525 million (HK$4.05 billion).

During a visit to India last month, Mr Murdoch is reported to have said that, in the wake of a BBC documentary mentioning Mao Zedong's sexual inclinations, having the BBC on the network had become a liability.

A spokesman for STAR TV said ''we don't want to speculate on any of this''.