Mercenary Mentality

By Vestey, Michael | The Spectator, July 23, 2005 | Go to article overview

Mercenary Mentality


Vestey, Michael, The Spectator


The corporate greed of the City has now spread to the BBC, judging by the BBC's annual report, which reveals the salaries and bonuses of executives. The director-general Mark 'Biter' Thompson now earns £459,000 a year and his deputy Mark Byford £351,000 plus a bonus of £92,000 - a total of £457,000 with benefits. Does anyone think that Jana Bennett, the director of television, is worth £334,000 a year, bonus included, when last week there wasn't one single BBC 1 television programme I, and no doubt many others, wanted to watch? Thompson, incidentally, refused his bonus of £135,000 at a time when he's making redundancies, so I sincerely hope he and his family don't suffer too much hardship from this selfless gesture. The BBC is not a company; its unique status puts it in the public sector paid for by a compulsory tax, the licence fee, a guaranteed income whatever it does.

What, one has to ask, is a 'performance' bonus for those high up at the BBC? It can't be for making better programmes. Journalists who go to Iraq and risk kidnapping or beheading gape at these bonuses awarded to people sitting safely behind desks in London; the bonuses alone far exceed their annual salaries. It sounds like a cosy management racket to me. When the BBC tries to compete with commercial television to boost its ratings, it usually follows ITV into making programmes for the underclass. At the moment it is slightly higher-minded as it's desperate to see the renewal of the BBC charter next year and is bending over backwards, straining horseshoe shaped, to do everything the government wants it to do. The BBC chairman Michael Grade justifies these high salaries with the usual rubbish about how vital it is to attract the most talented to compete with wealthy private-sector rivals. This myth began with the John Birt era.

Birt, pained at discovering that after the gravy train of London Weekend Television he was only being paid something over £100,000 a year for being director-general, persuaded the board of governors to increase massively salaries for senior executives. His pay quadrupled over the years, and so did that of others. This is one of the things that made him different from any previous director-general: he was in it for the money. A media pundit on Today last week said that no one would turn down a job at the BBC such as, say, head of drama because the salary wasn't high enough. What does he know? The BBC chairman thinks people would. When I joined the BBC in 1970, I took a pay cut because to me - and for most of the people I worked with - it was a privilege to be part of what was then the world's greatest broadcasting organisation. …

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