Liddle praises BBC's £100 incentive for 'cash for honours' stories

The former editor of the BBC's Today programme has applauded the corporation's controversial decision to offer journalists extra money for stories on the police investigation into the "cash for honours" controversy.

Rod Liddle's comments followed news this week that an email had been sent to BBC political journalists and producers offering them £100 for a new angle on the honours story. The offer has since been withdrawn.

Liddle told Press Gazette: "It does surprise me and cheers me up enormously — it is exactly what they should be doing. Journalists who do break original stories deserve incentives. If the BBC is doing this, I think it is absolutely terrific — it almost restores my faith in the BBC."

Cash bonuses for specific stories were something that Liddle said he had never heard of during his time at the BBC. However, he said that when he was editor of the Today programme, journalists who broke original stories would receive a bigger bonus at the end of the year.

He said: "I find it difficult to see what the problem is — the whole point of journalism is to tell people something that they don't know and might not have expected. Therefore breaking stories — particularly important political stories such as this one — is hugely important to the very nature of the job. "In a way, it's odd that you wouldn't be rewarded for it. I would have probably thought that the fee was too low."

Although the corporation has, in the past, awarded staff for breaking stories on News 24, it is believed that this is the first time that a cash incentive has been offered for a specific story.

Charlie Beckett, director of journalism institute Polis and former programme editor at Channel 4 News, said: "This has all the appearances of a joke. If it is not a joke, then it does send a message about BBC Westminster's enthusiasm to nail the Government on this story. It is highly unusual, if not unprecedented, for bonus payments to be made to BBC staff for stories."

Following the revelations, Labour's general secretary, Peter Watt, wrote to the BBC director general Mark Thompson arguing the bonus scheme "cannot do anything other than distort the judgement of your news journalists".

Watt said that, according to BBC guidelines, the corporation's news judgements must not be influenced by "political or commercial pressures, nor by any personal interests".

Gary Smith, editor of the BBC's political news department issued the email, but the corporation said that no action had been taken against him and it insisted that the offer of a cash bonus was a one-off.

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