Inevitably today’s announcement that the BBC Trust will not be seeking an increase in the Licence Fee is being denounced as a success for the corporation’s commercial critics and rivals.
As with any story about the Beeb, the recent mistakes, excesses and culpability of the management cadre are conveniently ignored in favour of broad brush attacks on Ministers and commercial broadcasters such as Sky.
But let’s pause long enough to acknowledge that the BBC’s finances have been in play ever since the corporation’s bosses mishandled the reputed £6m a year pay deal for Jonathan Ross.
When first asked about accuracy of the figure, the BBC opted not to correct or qualify the story with the facts (as presented by some BBC insiders) that the deal was a production fee covering all output, preferring instead to adopt the arrogant stance of ‘we don’t comment on presenter salaries.’
It’s possible to draw a direct line between that decision and every other story about BBC finances, including today’s announcement. In short that stance was a disastrous mistake which, according to some reports, will now cost the BBC £144m per year.
We shouldn’t too easily skip past the fact that voices within the BBC insist this reduction will lead to on-screen changes without even a single word about reducing the headcount among a bloated, and extraordinarily well-paid, management class.
Why should the effects of this freeze be felt by viewers in the shape of more repeats or lower programme budgets rather than the 300 manager-level staff earning more than £100,000pa?
Viewers should see, hear and feel the effects of a lower total Licence Fee take only after there’s been wholesale structural changes which deliver genuine reductions in overheads.
Afterall, the purpose of the Licence Fee is to make world-class content not provide lavish salaries, pensions and expense accounts for the Director-General and his team of grandly titled execs.
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