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Last Updated: Saturday, 2 December 2006, 14:00 GMT
BBC pay deals may be examined
Jonathan Ross
Jonathan Ross reportedly signed a 6m deal with the BBC
The pay deals given to top BBC entertainers such as Jonathan Ross could be examined by the government's spending watchdog.

The National Audit Office may be asked to assess whether the large salaries are value for money for the public.

Director general Mark Thompson said he would not object to the new BBC Trust, which will replace the governors in January, commissioning such a report.

The Trust is able to commission two "value for money" reports each year.

The watchdog could be asked to carry out the "benchmarking" assessments, which aim to assess value for money for viewers and listeners, any time after January, a BBC spokeswoman said.

Entertainment programming, relatively speaking, is inexpensive programming compared with say drama
Peter Fincham, controller of BBC One

Earlier this year critics warned that BBC pay rises for the corporation's bosses and multimillion-pound deals for presenters such as Mr Ross risked triggering media "super inflation".

Shadow culture secretary Hugo Swire told MPs that reports of the pay deals risked damaging public support at a time when the BBC wanted more money.

Deal questioned

The corporation is asking for its licence fee to be raised to 180 by 2013.

Several MPs went on to question the reported 6m deal signed with presenter Jonathan Ross.

However, the corporation would neither confirm this deal, nor comment on stories suggesting he earned 540,000 a year for his weekly three-hour Saturday show on BBC Radio 2.

Peter Fincham, controller of BBC One, said the cost of an entertainer was often a relatively small part of the overall budget.

He said that entertainment programmes were cheaper than dramas to make.

Mr Fincham told BBC Five Live: "There's often a lot of focus on the salaries paid to entertainment presenters.

"Entertainment programming, relatively speaking, is inexpensive programming compared with say, drama, where the cost per hour of a big glossy drama might be substantially more than the cost per hour of an entertainment programme even if that programme is presented by one of the top entertainers."

Rises defended

The BBC's annual report in the summer showed director general Mark Thompson was paid 619,000 last year, even after declining his bonus.

At the time, former BBC chairman Michael Grade defended the executives' pay rises saying they had come because salaries had fallen way behind the middle range of the market.

However, Mr Swire said a government-backed report by consultancy PKF said average BBC costs per employee were towards the higher range of average earnings.

And between 2002 and 2004, Sky, ITV and the average top 100 radio and television companies were paying less than the BBC.

Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell previously said it was for the BBC alone to decide what to pay staff.

She said the new BBC Trust would help represent licence fee payers' interests.

Charter review

The current charter runs out in December and its replacement - which will be finalised later this year - will run until 2016.

Mr Ross came under fire in July after a TV interview with David Cameron in which he asked the Tory leader if he had ever fantasised over Lady Thatcher.

The corporation received 360 complaints in the week after Mr Cameron appeared on BBC One's Friday Night With Jonathan Ross.

Former Conservative minister Lord Tebbit branded the interview "obscene", though Mr Ross defended himself, maintaining he had asked "a perfectly valid question".

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