“Bloated” BBC – again

In the wake of Brand/Ross affair David Cameron has hit the front page of the Sun with a piece basically supporting the BBC but calling for eventual cuts in the £139 licence fee and an end to excrescences like Jonathan Ross’s £16 million three year contract. He also takes a punt at top BBC salaries.

“ While we are at it — on the kudos of the BBC — why on earth is the director-general paid over £800,000 a year? More than 50 people at this great public institution get more than the Prime Minister.”

People can easily work up a lather about this mixed in with jealousy – I do – but how great is the damage caused by recent rows? I know this isn’t the biggest subject in the world, yet the Beeb website took over 11 million hits on it last week compared to 3.5 million on the financial crisis and slightly less for the US election. Cameron is that rare bird for a top politician, someone who has actually worked in TV, in Carlton the old ITV London company. He therefore has first hand knowledge. About those salaries and on competing with the regional press, I agree with him. And also on the essential matter of the Beeb’s basic good value.

It isn’t much consolation to know, as BBC chief Mark Thompson reminded Andrew Marr yesterday that Andy Duncan the head of C4 got £1.2. million last year, particularly as every head of C4 except the founder Jeremy Isaacs has also been a top BBC executive. (Weakest Link question: Who was Andy Duncan’s predecessor? * Answer at the end)

Steve Hewlett , media commentator and ex-editor of Panorama assesses the fall-out shrewdly.

The Brand/Ross debacle couldn’t have come at a worse time. Pressure is already increasing on the licence fee, currently at £139 after a lesser than asked for rise above inflation, in order to pay for the technical costs of digital switchover by 2012. Ofcom the industry regulator are pressing for a share of this to go to the publicly owned C4.

The Beeb also faces the problem that support for it declines the further north you go. To try to remedy this, they’re decanting to the regions, above all to Manchester and trying to match up spend to the size of the local population. Northern Ireland’s current affairs “ centre of excellence” will get a boost and in religion. I recall many years ago the great TV critic of the Sunday Times Maurice Wiggin referred to BBC NI as “ the region with the stain glass lens.” That was before the troubles.

* Mark Thompson

  • Ann

    Theres a couple of things I would like to say re your post Brian. Firstly, like Mandelson on the yacht, the BBC is out of touch with those it serves. Can you imagine the effect on a labour voter, who believes in the fundamentals of labour being represented by a party with Mandelson in it rubbing shoulders with the wealthy elite. Its a similar case to the bbc. Here we have state sponsored broadcasting, that costs you and me and even pensioners out there a hefty enough tax every year while the bosses get these HUGE salaries, which are so out of touch with most of the viewing public.

    I read in your post a defence of the BBC? Is that acurate? I’m wondering why defend public broadcasting at all. If the brand ross affair had happened in any commercial broadcasting company, they’d been out the door so fast it would have made your head spin. For example the talksport presenter who was sacked over what he said about Boris Johnson, and that was in the approximately the same time as the Brand/Ross affair although it was overshadowed by it.

    The ‘region of the stained glass lens’ is still highly under represented in drama programmes, and most other regions fare only a little better. Evidence of it lies in the London accents we hear rather than the broad Belfast or Glaswegian of so much of the BBC’s viewing public.

  • It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it

    Big salaries is dangerous terrain for Posh Boy David Cameron (PBDC) – presumably he has not forgtotten that he is leader of the Tories. There must be multiple inconsistencies and unfairnesses in the rate of pay in many areas – and not just in the public sector – and he is inviting comment on his lack of interest in the other aress.

  • Ann

    I disagree with Mark Thompson that the BBC acted quickly, three days is not quick. It took this long, since on the night in question after the Brand show, only two complaints had come in, that had to grow to almost 30,000 before the BBC finally dealt with the matter. Thats much too long.

    I do agree with Cameron on one thing though the BBC costume dramas are the best, no one competes with them on that, because no one could.

  • Big Maggie

    Evidence of it lies in the London accents we hear rather than the broad Belfast or Glaswegian of so much of the BBC’s viewing public.

    I agree with just about everything you said. But accents no. What we’re seeing/hearing is the spread of so-called Estuary English, which began in London but has been picked up by just about everybody who wants to be on the inside twack in the meeja. I’ve even heard toffs and Oxbridge dons having a go at it. Whatever happened to the ‘BBC English’ I knew in my childhood with broadcasters dressing up—even for the radio!

  • Ann

    One other thing about the Ross affair, the BBC are paying Jonathan Ross’ production company compensation due to the cancellation of his shows due to his involvement in the prank calls fiasco.. I find that incredible. The BBC tells the viewing public it is suspending Ross without pay and then pays his production company compo due to cancelling his shows. That should not be happening.

    Maggie you are most likely right, can you imagine the main evening news from london delivered by a man from strabane? lol.

  • George

    Dermot Murnaghan grew up in Northern Ireland. He just never acquired the accent.

  • billiejoe_remarkable

    This is a politician with a particularly sharpened appetite for opportunism sensing a public mood and jumping on a media bandwagon.

    The BBC compounds its own mess with poor judgment and arrogance. Endless references by presenters to a “storm in an teacup”, for example. There were 30,000 complaints. That’s a fair sized teacup.

  • Barnshee

    “Andy Duncan the head of C4 got £1.2. million last year”

    Who paid the salary?
    The advertisers– no advertisers -no salary. Advertisers will not offend THEIR paymasters -joe public– who might dump on a product if a program offends them.

    Who pays for the BEEB — again poor old joe public who sadly can`t dump the licence fee when offended.

    End the licence fee –end the problem– make the BEEB a subscription service (LOL)

  • joeCanuck

    Wash your mouth out Ann. I grew up in Strabane.
    Where did you get your undoubtedly posh accent?. Malone Road?.

  • iluvni

    How many balls-ups does Thompson have to preside over before he walks the plank?

  • DavidD

    Over the past few weeks vast swathes of the population have seen their savings and (personal) pension funds decimated and worse. Others face the prospect of unemployment. The circumstances following the Brand/Ross affair have highlighted the salaries, job security and pensions available for those at the BBC. Yet so isolated and cosseted are the employees of the Corporation that they seem genuinely astonished when their antics are brought into question. The news and current affairs programs on BBC consist of one set of Islingtonians holding ‘discussions’ with another set of Islingtonians within parameters set by Islingtonians. The unfortunate members of the public hear their traditions ridiculed and their values traduced by pompous, self-important, ageing adolescents who affect contempt for those outside the magic circle. All this is bad enough but demanding, on pain of imprisonment, that each owner of a TV must pay £139.50 per annum for the privilege of listening to and watching the drivel served up just adds insult to injury.

  • I would like those people who use the PM’s salary as a ceiling to outline any jobs they think should be allowed earn more, in the public or private sectors. After all, there are no formal qualifications to be PM, and the manner by which you get to be promoted to that post wouldn’t pass many Human Resources tests.

  • Brian Walker

    Ann, You’re shooting the messenger. Yachtgate was a news story, the BBC didn’t put them there. DavidD who do you suggest should take part in political discussions? People standing around water coolers round the UK? The UK is highly centralised and the BBC along the rest of the media have a duty to report how it’s actually run. Beyond that, they have a duty to reflect opinion and experience throughout the UK and where appropriate, anywhere in the world. I can tell you they’re completely neurotic about the Islington gibe. I suspect you’re too fond of it to give it up easily. But that’s why they’re spending scores of millions decentralising as described – eg moving 5 Live to Manchester – a network that’s notably non-Islington, already I suggest. They also have new rules about using out-of-London examples of the story at issue, credit crunch, youth behaviour etc. and covering the Scotland, Wales and NI variants of English experience and government policies. On the “cosseted” point I wouldn’t get carried away. BBC staff salaries average around 35-40K, it’s a very young staff.

    Barnshee, subscription is indeed an alternative but it would fundamentally change the BBC’s character. If audiences seriously dwindle it could come to that but it has little political or industry support. The prevailing view is that the BBC despite flaws is world class, one of the view things British to reach that level. (cue anthem, maestro). Something like its present scale is needed to compete with US programming.

  • The Raven

    May I suggest that those who find the Stasi-like activities of TVL pay http://www.tvlicensing.biz/ a visit? Most entertaining! It’s undergoing a bit of a re-fit at the moment, but save it in your favourites and come back in a few weeks time.

    By the way, I took the decision to get rid of the TV sometime ago, and therefore the £139 fee that comes with it. I find my internet connection – which I was paying for anyway – suffices.

    If they abolished the licence, would I get it back in again? I have to say, hand on heart, I don’t know if I could be bothered!

  • dodrade

    “Maggie you are most likely right, can you imagine the main evening news from london delivered by a man from strabane? lol.”

    It’s not the main evening news, but I believe Declan Curry, the Working Lunch presenter and former BBC Breakfast business reporter is from Strabane.

  • jone


    Just off the top of my head; locally the CEO of Translink gets paid more than the PM…Catherine Mason will get £210k this year for running what is more or less a monopoly.

    In his last year at Viridian Patrick Haren trousered a neat £775,300; I don’t know what the current guy Patrick Bourke gets but that seems rather a lot for running a monopoly which provides an essential service to quite a small number of people.

    The local head of the civil service has to struggle by on £140,000. But once they’ve retired with a nice pension they can go and make some decent wedge in the private sector such as Gerry Loughran who took chairmanships at Phoenix Gas, Grafton Recruitment and Partenaire (the consortium who made an unsuccessful bid for the Workplace 2010 contract) and a directorship at Allied Irish bank

  • Nomad


    I’m pretty confident that if you are using your PC for itunes downloads, BBC iPlayer, illegal tv downloads or related you are still required to pay the licence fee. I don’t think a TV is required anymore.


    I’ve been thinking long and hard about your claim that the BBC produces “world class” output. While there is undoubtedly many examples of this, I also don’t think it’s demonstrated too often. Generally I think the output is fairly average, often only slightly better than the other terrestrial channels, and often abysmal.

    I think it is bloated. It is actively wasting money in too many ventures (BBC Three, BBC Four etc), which the Mark Thompson has alluded to also but not yet done anything about.

    The news is comprehensive, but frequently lacklustre, occaisonally toothless- a result of the WMD/government dispute? It seems to mainly cover news other institutions discover. With The Times and the Mail it’s direct competition now, they seem far more responsive to digging things up.

    I don’t have strong feelings about executive pay, but I do on the presenters salaries.. Anything over 1 or 2 million pounds a year strikes me as obscene when the public is often paying for this semi-directly. I guess I’ll get over that though.

    I realise that my thoughts on the quality of output are pretty personal, but I wonder how many people have to agree before it is changed. Any commercial provider (Sky) can produce awful content from home makeover shows to low level gameshows. The BBC could and should be spending more time on the political process at a lower cost. I was in Belgium a couple of weeks ago and the TV stations there spent a lot more time per day covering their many parliaments. RTE does a weekly show on the European parliaments, as well as the Dail. With voter apathy so prevelent in the UK the BBC should take some of its millions and direct it at informing and not pandering to everyone at once- jack of all trades, master of none etc.

    This is of course personal, but I know many more agree with me. Dr Who, Planet Earth, Robin Hood, the Proms, Newsnight. All great- but the filler in the middle seems to be in very poor health.

    In America, the stations that seem smaller seem do a better job quite often- CBS, ABC, CSpan, NPR etc. The BBC is so big and relevant I find it hard to articulate my thoughts on this. I’m happy to be ignored, but only if I am alone.

  • Llamedos

    If my company supplies a customer badly by servicing their on going made to order materials badly. We would loose the business, be left with the work in progress on our hands, the credit insurers would not want to know, and we would lose a substantial investment in design and tehnology not to mention product development and a capital intensive sampling programme. I.E. we would possibly deservably due to circumstances under or not under our control to be up the creek without a paddle. The BBC from the very top to the bottom need to take this on board pretty pronto overwise it will be curtains. Also if the holy rollers want a channel they should finance it not the licence holders we’ll soon have every religion demanding air time. The Tower of Babel would manifest itself in this modern age. Incidentally my wife has just completed a 5000 piece jigsaw of Breugel’s vivid rendition of the said tower. It took 18 mmonths.

  • Ann

    Ann, You’re shooting the messenger.

    Brian I was drawing an analogy. I do agree with DavidD on this, he is echoing the remarks of Andrew Marr that there is a large number of people out there who think the BBC is bloated, swaggering and needs its wings clipped.

    Dermot Murnaghan grew up in Northern Ireland. He just never acquired the accent.

    Is Dermot BBC, I thought he was sky.

  • The Raven

    I’m pretty confident that if you are using your PC for itunes downloads, BBC iPlayer, illegal tv downloads or related you are still required to pay the licence fee. I don’t think a TV is required anymore.”

    Nomad, the Beeb is currently trying to get legislation worked up to that effect. A TV licence is NOT required for a PC, unless it has a TV card. I do not, so I do not worry.

    iPlayer is not subject to licence either.

  • Rhetorical question?


  • Harry Flashman

    Why are BBC 1, BBC 5 Live, Radio 1 and Radio 2 (in its current manifestation) funded by public money? What services do they provide that could not be provided by a commercial operator?

  • Gregory Carlin

    “I know this isn’t the biggest subject in the world, yet the Beeb website took over 11 million hits on it last week compared to 3.5 million on the financial crisis and slightly less for the US election. ”

    Well if you want a dark heart story, a niche on the net in Croatia, no advertising, no nothing, just word of mouth, would blow that to hell in two days, and guess what they’re providing?

    “May I suggest that those who find the Stasi-like activities of TVL pay”

    The STASI did a TV thing for me


  • Brian Walker

    nomad, Good for Belgium and RTE. Small point you don’t seem to have noticed. The BBC has an entire channel and website, BBC Parliament devoted to live coverage of the Commons, recorded coverage of the Lords, committees and all the devolved Assemblies. Plus review programmes. I contributed quite a bit of it myself. Overall you might relax a bit and ask – why do I actually want the BBC to be cut back?
    Is it a sort of intellectual competition with orthodoxy? D Cameron has offered some support but if you read him carefully you’ll see his cutbacks are quite minor.

  • Nomad

    “Overall you might relax a bit and ask”


    I have had a conversation with you about this, changed my views on the topic where I agree with you, and made just one post on the topic here. You do make an extremely persuasive case. I have an opinion which you don’t seem to think has an ounce of validity, which is fine, but it doesn’t make for a very interesting discussion. I find your tone pretty condescending and intolerant. I do enjoy BBC Parliament very much. I, like most people though, don’t have access to it for much of my TV viewing, and don’t think BBC Parliament should be the sole place for this kind of programming. On Sky at least, it seems a little obscure. I have no desire to intellectually compete with orthodoxy. I should learn to conform totally I guess.

    Anyway, I’m off to “relax”. I’m done with this.

  • Brian Walker

    nomad, If you’re still there… I’m sorry you find me condescending, I really don’t think I am. I’m making my case on the basis of facts and evidence. I do think people in Slugger often make an argument for the sake of it. You may well not be one of them. As Ive told you, the BBC have plenty of critics, so you’re not alone.

  • Nomad

    I am still here.. not debating the BBC anymore, but still reading.

    While I see where you’re coming from with many people posting here, perhaps you could keep a blacklist of sorts instead of suspecting everyone of arguing for the sake of it. When emailing you before you began the topic I showed you more deference than I would many people as I have enjoyed reading your posts. When I first started coming to Slugger it seemed a lot more collegial and tolerant. These days, you are right about so many posters (hopefully not a majority though) which has scared me away on occasion. Perhaps I do enjoy challenging intellectual orthodoxy and Slugger is a great place for that. It’s not a newspaper and I enjoy it as such.