Page last updated at 20:51 GMT, Tuesday, 8 July 2008 21:51 UK

Do BBC bosses deserve top dollar?

By Torin Douglas
Media correspondent, BBC News

BBC bosses answer your questions

It is a perennial debate when the BBC annual report comes out - how much should its top executives be paid and do they deserve their increases and bonuses?

It overshadows all other discussion, even though the report is packed with facts and figures about the past year in broadcasting.

In recent years, the BBC has tried to sidestep the issue by slipping out the pay figures a few days ahead, so the media can then concentrate on the rest of the report.

The last BBC chairman, Michael Grade, tried to defuse the row by capping executive bonuses at 10% of salaries. As a result, this year's bonuses are a good deal smaller than those three years ago, when figures of 60,000 and more were routine.

But that has not stopped the rows. This year they have been fuelled by the fact that discussion about pay has been entwined with the debate over job losses and editorial failures.

The chairman of the BBC Trust, Sir Michael Lyons, and the director general, Mark Thompson, have found themselves defending the decision to award executive pay rises and bonuses despite a year of job cuts and phone-in scandals.

Why, they were asked, did Jana Bennett, director of BBC Vision, see her pay package rise by more than 100,000 when her department was involved in last summer's editorial lapses?

Thousands of BBC staff are being forced into making life-changing decisions about their futures whilst the people at the top continue to feather their nests
Gerry Morrissey

Why did she get a bonus of 23,000, when she had been criticised - and the controller of BBC One, Peter Fincham, resigned - over the editing of a trailer involving the Queen?

The answer? Partly because she had been given extra responsibilities when the BBC was restructured, and partly because in many other ways the BBC had an excellent year.

Mr Thompson said there had been outstanding programmes, including the drama series Cranford and the comedy Gavin & Stacey.

There had been new services such as the "phenomenally successful" iPlayer and high definition television.

And the BBC now reaches 95% of the population each month - a slight increase, despite all the extra competition.

He suggested that this might put pay to the gloom-mongers' view that, in the digital world, traditional television viewing faced inexorable decline.

As for the bonuses, Mr Thompson said some executives - including Ms Bennett - had had their bonuses cut by 40% as part of the BBC's robust response to the serious editorial lapses.

He said that, in turn, had restored the audience's trust in the BBC after it had been "severely tested".


Union leaders were predictably outraged by the rises - and the fact that, with the exception of Mr Thompson, the BBC directors had accepted their bonuses.

Gerry Morrissey, of the broadcasting workers' union Bectu, said: "Thousands of BBC staff are being forced into making life-changing decisions about their futures whilst the people at the top continue to feather their nests."

Mark Thompson
Director general Mark Thompson said trust in the BBC had been tested

MPs on the Culture, Media & Sport committee, who interrogated the BBC chairman and director general about the report, were equally scathing.

The Tory MP Nigel Evans said he was "staggered" that Jenny Abramsky, who is shortly retiring as director of audio and music, would draw a pension of around 190,000 a year - more than the prime minister's salary.

Mr Thompson replied that she had had an exceptional career, serving the public for 39 years, and throughout that time she had been paying into a "bog standard final salary scheme". She could have earned much more if she had accepted offers from the commercial sector.

And, he might have added, she would certainly have faced far less criticism.

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