'Astonishment' over BBC's 147 PR staff

Figures uncovered by Press Gazette revealing that the BBC employs nearly 150 PR staff have been greeted with astonishment.

The news comes after the Pollard Review into the corporation revealed how the BBC press office "enlisted the help" of PR firm Brunswick during the Jimmy Savile scandal, after it became “overwhelmed” by enquiries.

Miles Goslett, one of the first journalists to report that Newsnight had dropped its investigation into Savile, said the fact that a publicly-funded body with so many PR staff outsourced work was “outrageous”.

A Freedom of Information request submitted by Press Gazette has revealed that the BBC employs 147 people in its communications department.

Goslett said: “The question is, do they feel that among those 147 communications employees there are deficiencies, or do they think that they had to hire a private firm in this context because their own press office was somehow contaminated by the way it had dealt with the Savile issue?”

He highlighted a part of the review in which it was revealed that former head of communications James Hardy said he would “drip poison” about journalist Meirion Jones.

Goslett continued: “Is that really what we expect them to be saying about senior staff who were only doing their job, and were trying to get out a story that they’d spent a lot of time and public money investigating?

“Is that really appropriate? I think it’s outrageous.”

Conservative MP Robert Halfon said it was “astonishing” that the BBC employed so many communications officers while cutting back on programming.

Halfon, who actively campaigns for the corporation to be more publicly accountable, said: “I think the public might choose more Formula 1 over 150 communications experts… The public must be allowed to decide how that money is spent every year.”

On the outsourcing of communications work during the Savile scandal, he added: “The Pollard Review has cost millions of pounds so it’s just unbelievable, given that they have all of these communications people, that they need to go to an outside PR company.”

UPDATE: 14/01/13. 4.15pm. 

The BBC has provided the following statement:

“Every week the BBC Communications division handles several thousand enquiries relating to its television, radio and online output at a regional, national, and international level.  The team promotes a wide range of programmes such as Panorama and Strictly Come Dancing in newspapers, magazines and broadcast media.  I

In addition there is a Corporate team that responds to a huge array of queries about the Corporation itself.  There is also an Internal Communications team for staff matters and the Public Affairs team that liaises with politicians nationwide.  The division is vital for keeping licence fee payers informed about the BBC’s content and how the organisation is being run.”

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