The BBC could fall into Cameron’s trap

The BBC needs to take care not to sleepwalk into another disaster. Its top people are behaving as if has nothing has changed in the climate of public accountability in the last couple of weeks and that the recession is just a minor blip. It needs to think up – fast – a much cannier response than the positioning of its chairman in advance of a Conservative-sponsored Commons vote later today on a motion to freeze the licence fee. The parallels with the badly wounded House of Commons are all too evident. MPs of all parties may be looking for a bigger, juicier scapegoat than the Speaker for their own sins. Traditionally the BBC is all too prone to fall into traps set by politicians. Remember Hutton? Conservative media spokesman Jeremy Hunt’s case sounds moderate and sensible – (what’s wrong with the Tories these days?) – as he argues that it’s ” not appropriate for the BBC to take an inflationary rise in the licence fee at a time when prices are falling,” adding that “the corporation must be “responsive” to economic circumstances.” This argument easily takes priority over the BBC chairman’s puny claim that its independence might be under threat, and his underlying fears that it might have to share part of the licence fee with Channel 4. The BBC is aware that David Cameron cut his teeth as PR director for the now-defunct ITV company Carlton, and is much more media savvy than his predecessors. He knows where lots of bones are buried and has been homing in on the inflated size of top BBC salaries.

To have 50 people paid more than the Prime Minister is saying something.’

(Gordon Brown’s salary is £189,994. BBC director general Mark Thompson was paid £816,000 last year) My declaration of interest is very modest. The BBC pension fund relates only very indirectly to the licence fee and doesn’t affect my pension pot and yes, I’m just a bit jealous.

What the BBC needs to do – quickly – is to accept a freeze and cut the costs not only of notorious contracts like Jonathan Ross’s but those top executive salaries. They should begin by stop dragging their feet on top salaries disclosure. If they don’t shift position, Cameron in power would find a way to do it for them, ignoring their squeals about independence. Just twenty four hours after the MPs allowances crisis reached its climax, the BBC would be wise not to react like MPs in denial of the glaringly obvious – but hey, maybe today’s BBC still suffers from tin ear too.

  • “Jeremy Hunt’s case sounds moderate and sensible – (what’s wrong with the Tories these days?) – as he argues that it’s ” not appropriate for the BBC to take an inflationary rise in the licence fee at a time when prices are falling,” adding that “the corporation must be “responsive” to economic circumstances.””

    Too right Brian. In private, The Conservatives have stopped even pretending that they aren’t gunning for the BBC. All of these ‘reasonable’ demands for accountability and restraint ‘to set an example’ are ones that aren’t made of their rivals, and the result will be predictable.

    The BBC’s biggest problem is that the people who are paid to defend it don’t have a long-term stake any more. Thompson will walk into a comparable job whatever happens. Sir Michael Lyons is a joke as the Chair of the BBC Trust and has shown himself unwilling to defend the corporation in any way.

    No-one in the BBC is prepared to put their name and reputation alongside a strategy that is designed to take on their rivals in the press and in Westminster. Organisations like that die – and when this one does, it will be a real shame.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    Abolish the licence fee and stick it on tax – or alternatively privatise the BBC and set strict quality guidelines for TV companies to follow or they lose their broadcast licence in this country.

    The BBC has set the standards for the TV industry in many areas – its work here may now be done.

  • New Blue

    Sammy I find myself agreeing with you.

    How strange……

  • Exactly, the Westminster edifice is rotten and wood worm has eaten into the body politic and has infected our whole way of life.

    more here
    http://www.organizedrage.com/2009/05/westminster-edifice-is-rotten-and-has.html

  • fin

    the money should be linked to the production of local soaps, dramas, documentaries, films etc with money recouped from their sale. The time is right as other stations are producing quality british material on a par with the BBC. Channel 4’s 1066 2 parter this week was outstanding

  • iluvni

    A BBC thread…

    ok, in case they are reading at BBC NI…

    Stop inflicting that ‘Lets Talk’ bollocks upon us instead of showing ‘Question Time’.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    New Blue,

    re. Sammy I find myself agreeing with you.

    having previously praised you for being a reasonable man, I feel, strangley enough, that it is reasonable for me to praise your judgement – on this issue.

  • willis

    Brian

    “They should begin by stop dragging their feet on top salaries disclosure. If they don’t shift position, Cameron in power would find a way to do it for them, ignoring their squeals about independence. Just twenty four hours after the MPs allowances crisis reached its climax, the BBC would be wise not to react like MPs in denial of the glaringly obvious – but hey, maybe today’s BBC still suffers from tin ear too.”

    Sadly you are quite correct. Even worse has been the mocking tone of some of the reports. Perhaps the humble journos are throwing fuel on the fire knowing that it will be the execs who suffer.

  • Brian Walker

    Interesting though that in the debate itself, Conservative criticisms of the BBC were very mild. Little sign of the old venom and few mentions of those whopping salaries.