Sunday, December 22, 2013

Jean Seaton shows scant understanding of the inner workings of the BBC in her recent Guardian article. At the time of Lord Hall's appointment to the director generalship of the BBC, Professor Seaton believed that being a member of the House of Lords was incompatible with his new role.

Ms Seaton starts her Guardian piece by acknowledging the recent criticism of larger-than-necessary payoffs by the HoC Public Accounts Committee. But, in trying to mitigate the damage, she distorts the truth - ironic in view of her association with The Orwell Prize.

Take this example ..
The real question is why did BBC salaries get so large? One issue were (sic) the non-executive directors, appointed from outside on to the executive board. These business people were supposed to be a solution but turned out to be a problem. The philosophy behind their appointment was that people from "outside" brought "commercial" realism to the BBC. But they did not seem to understand the actual business of public service, and they brought with them the 90s and noughties belief in, and casual acceptance of, gross salaries.
Of course the reason these people were brought into salary oversight was precisely because they were thought to be compliant when huge salaries are involved. This is the 'bonus culture' so encouraged by the banks, and enthusiastically embraced by BBC management for so long. People involved, like the Barclays Bank former chairman Marcus Agius, who told the Public Accounts Committee that he was entirely happy signing off on Mark Byford's payoff. He said "After sustained challenge and debate we were finally persuaded that, in the circumstances, it was the right decision on value-for-money grounds."

Ms Seaton seems to suggest that it was some terrible mistake that the executive board led to the excessive payoffs, rather than a much more likely deliberate policy to appoint people thus inclined to be helpful to management. After all, just think how few other people would have such an attitude. So it's not only the outside directors who didn't understand 'public service' but, more significantly, BBC management itself. Naturally Mark Thompson and Mr Agius continue to maintain the payoffs were justified completely. However the Public Accounts Committee concluded:
.. It is unacceptable for the BBC, or any other public body, to give departing senior managers huge severance payments that far exceed their contractual entitlements. .. Some of the justifications put forward by the BBC were extraordinary. For example, the former Director General, Mark Thompson, claimed that it was necessary to pay his former deputy and long-term colleague Mark Byford an extra £300,000, not because the BBC was obliged to, but to keep Mr Byford "fully focused" instead of "taking calls from head hunters". This increased Mr Byford's severance payment to more than £1 million.
The PAC went on to say that there was a failure at the most senior levels of the BBC to challenge the actual payments and prevailing culture, in which cronyism was a factor that allowed for the liberal use of other people's money. So the question arises as to what changes to the BBC's ethos will Lord Hall make? The omens are not good.

On 1st December 2011, both Nel & Hayley wore red ribbons on the 5pm edition of Newsround to mark World AIDS day. However, Graham Norton was censured very recently for wearing just such a ribbon. The BBC received numerous complaints that the Corporation was applying double standards. Some even suspect that homophobia accounts for the way Norton has been treated, especially as all his guests were wearing ribbons.

Hundreds of people wrote directly to Lord Hall, but despite a growing chorus of criticism Hall has shown a pathetic lack of concern. Last month he told BBC viewers: "I'm enjoying myself at the moment, and that's sufficient enough for me"

Tony Hall speaking to Jeremy Vine on Points of View last month

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