Parliament urges BBC to come clean about top salaries

A cross-party group of MPs has renewed its calls for the BBC to publish further details of the amount it pays to its top talent, including presenters and star journalists.

The Commons media select committee, chaired by Tory MP John Whittingdale, said in its final report into the BBC’s 2007/08 accounts that more transparency was needed from the corporation.

The BBC provided a breakdown of the salaries of its 744 senior managers in its annual report, which has been scrutinised by the committee.

It revealed that 13 staff earned more than £250,000 a year, with a further 26 receiving between £190,000 and £250,000. The majority of senior managers were paid between £70,000 and £130,000.

“We welcome the efforts made by the BBC to increase transparency through the publication of the numbers of senior management in various different salary bands,” the committee said in its report yesterday.

“However, we continue to believe that the same requirement should be applied to BBC ‘talent’, whether they are employed directly or under contract.

“We welcome the undertaking of the chairman of the Trust to give this further consideration.”

The BBC this week announced a pay freeze and no bonuses for its senior management until at least July 2010. It is also cutting the amount paid to some of its top talent.

In an email to staff yesterday morning, BBC director general Mark Thomson said: “I recognise that this is a tough message. However we believe it is the right decision for the BBC to take in these difficult times.

“The directors and I have discussed this very carefully and concluded it is not appropriate to award an increase in pay or award a bonus this year to the senior managers of the organisation – but that we should continue with a modest pay review for the majority of the BBC’s employees.”

‘Arrogant’

The media select committee also criticised the “arrogant” and “wholly inappropriate” PR handling of the Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross affair that engulfed the corporation last October.

Ross was suspended for three months for his role in the lewd phone messages left on the answerphone of actor Andrew Sachs – but his return was confirmed to the press before the BBC Trust had completed its investigation.

“The decision by the BBC to announce on Radio 2 that Jonathan Ross would be back on air immediately after his three-month suspension, despite the fact that the Trust had yet to approve the BBC’s action, was premature and wholly inappropriate,” the committee said.

“It suggests to us an arrogance on the part of the BBC in apparently assuming that the Trust would not seek to alter the BBC’s ruling.

“As the chairman of the Trust himself accepted, the announcement should not have been made until after the Trust had approved the action.”

The MPs added: “We also find it bizarre that the Trust should then issue its own statement suggesting that Jonathan Ross would face no further sanction ahead of its own meeting to consider the matter.

“This was the last in a series of major errors of judgement from the BBC relating to this matter, which started with the broadcast itself and was compounded by the unacceptable delay in acknowledging its inappropriateness and issuing apologies.”

“We trust that all concerned will learn the appropriate lessons and that the Trust chairman’s declared intention to make sure that there is no recurrence is fulfilled.”

The BBC Trust said in a statement that it welcomed the committee’s comments and would submit a full response “to all of its conclusions and recommendations”.

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