BBC defends executives' bonus awards

The BBC‘s Director-General today defended the decision to award pay rises to the corporation’s executive directors despite a year of job cuts and phone-in scandals.

Mark Thompson waived his own right to a bonus because of the “scale of disruption and uncertainty” facing BBC colleagues. But nine executive directors did receive bonuses in 2007/08, according to this year’s annual report.

BBC Vision director Jana Bennett took a total rise of more than £100,000 including her bonus and other benefits, but Thompson said her bonus had been cut because of the fakery scandals involving some BBC TV shows. He defended the rises, saying that across the board they were less than other broadcasters received individually outside the BBC.

“BBC executive benefits are set at a much lower level than most of our equivalents,” he said. “When you actually get out into the external world, some potential candidates almost roll on the floor laughing when you talk about potential levels of pay.”

It was decided that bonuses should be cut by up to 40 per cent in areas where there had been issues with phone lines or troubles involving the Queen documentary, he said.

Thompson said trust in the BBC had returned to previous levels despite a dip following the phone-in scandals.

Last year, the BBC suspended all its phone-in competitions after faked phone-ins were revealed in shows including Comic Relief and Children In Need.

The BBC was fined £50,000 for a faked competition winner on Blue Peter and the show was forced to apologise after the results of a poll to name the show’s cat were changed by staff.

Last year, executive directors at the BBC waived their bonuses, heading off criticism of their pay deals at a time when jobs have been axed across the corporation.

Thompson denied the phone-in scandals had influenced his decision not to take a bonus this year, saying it “didn’t enter my head”.

He said: “I felt this year, as I have in previous years, that the scale of change, the scale of disruption and uncertainty in the BBC, meant that it would not have felt right taking a bonus. It was a personal decision.

“I certainly wouldn’t rule out taking a bonus in further years.

“Just the rate and scale of change, I know what that means to my colleagues. As the leader (of the BBC) I have got a particular responsibility to understand that.

“BBC executive benefits are set at a much lower level than most of our equivalents.”

He said he recommended that his colleagues received bonuses, adding: “It was certainly a year when we encountered some problems but it was also a year of considerable achievement.”

He said “in areas where there had been issues, in particular the issues in relation to the editorial lapses around telephone lines” it was felt that there should be a “significant discount to the bonus to reflect what had happened”.

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