Page last updated at 16:14 GMT, Sunday, 2 November 2008

Stars to earn less, says BBC boss

Mark Thompson says the BBC acted "quickly" following the row over lewd calls

Stars may earn smaller salaries from the BBC in the future, its Director General Mark Thompson has suggested.

He said the public wanted the "best talent" but owing to the economic climate, the Corporation was moving towards a period of "retrenchment".

He also said the BBC must continue to be "brave and creative" following the Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand row.

Brand has resigned from Radio 2 and Ross has been suspended after making lewd prank calls to actor Andrew Sachs.

We take the business of not offending the public very seriously but we have duties of creativity as well
Mark Thompson

Jonathan Ross's 6m a year pay deal has always been controversial but following the phone row the salaries paid to big stars are back under the spotlight.

"I think we are heading towards a period where it is probably the case that we will be able to secure the best entertainment talent for less than we have been able to do in the last few years," Mr Thompson told BBC One's Andrew Marr programme.

He also said he hoped Ross would return to the BBC after the 12-week suspension.

Pay defended

He defended BBC directors' salaries, including his own, which several Sunday newspapers highlighted.

The News of the World criticised the salaries paid to the BBC's top management. Its Freedom of Information inquiry showed 50 executives were paid more than the prime minister's salary of 189,994.

Mr Thompson said he was paid "significantly less" than his opposite numbers at ITV and Channel 4, as were on-air presenters and other senior executives.

"Of course compared to many people's average pay they seem very substantial, but the public also want the controller of BBC1 to be the best possible person for that job," he said.

Following Ross and Brand's obscene phone calls about Sachs' granddaughter Georgina Baillie, there were more than 30,000 complaints to the BBC.

The director general said in the wake of this row the public would not expect the BBC to "transform and neuter" their favourite programmes.

"We take the business of not offending the public very seriously but we have duties of creativity as well."

Mr Thompson said: "The public wants the BBC to have high editorial standards, but at the same time they want exciting, original programming."

He said the BBC must have the courage to take creative risks but "within limits".

Response criticised

Mr Thompson also dismissed a story in the Sunday Telegraph that the Conservatives are planning to cut the licence fee after the controversy.

"I got a phone call from a senior member of the shadow cabinet last night to tell me that the story is not Conservative policy, and the story certainly didn't come from any of them, as it were," he said.

Mr Thompson was quizzed about the speed at which the BBC reacted to the row.

"Within three days we had essentially got to the bottom of what happened," he said.

"I would hope the public would feel that, given the level of outrage, the speed at which fundamental action was taken, compared to most British institutions, was quick and pretty responsive."

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