Friday, March 20, 2009

'Painful' BBC Cuts to Hit Top Talent

By Vicky Shaw, Press Association Media Correspondent
BBC director-general Mark Thompson outlined plans today to slash .400 million in "painful cuts and reductions" from the corporation's budget.
The cuts to balance the books would range from freezing senior management pay to the amount paid to the corporation's top talent.
Mr Thompson also defended the licence fee, saying that the idea that the creative industries needed further investment reductions made little sense.
Mr Thompson's speech to the Changing Media Summit in London comes in the same week that Tory leader David Cameron said that the Conservatives would freeze the BBC licence fee for one year in response to the recession.
Mr Cameron challenged the Government to match his pledge, which he said would provide a lead in showing how taxpayer-funded institutions can "deliver more for less".
He said he wanted to see the BBC prosper and succeed but in the current tough economic climate, all public institutions had to show that they can "live within their means" and the compulsory fee of .139.50 a year for a colour set should be frozen for one year.
Mr Thompson said today that the idea that the BBC was swimming with cash was out of step with current times.
He said: "Later this morning I'm discussing the BBC's budget for the next three years with the BBC Trust.
"Even given those savings, the impact of the likely falling-away of household growth, the collapse of the commercial property market and pressure on our commercial revenues mean that without further significant reduction in our spending plans we would exceed our statutory borrowing limit within two years. "So we will be proposing a budget which includes a further .400 million of painful cuts and reductions in expenditure, from freezing senior manager pay and withdrawing discretionary bonuses to the amount we pay top talent."
He said the BBC did not face the same scale of financial challenge as some of its commercial colleagues, "but the picture of a BBC swimming with cash and people and able to make additional savings at the drop of a hat is simply out of date".
"We will protect programmes and services over the next few difficult years. "As far as we can, we will also protect jobs and our investment in independent production and in the digital future.
"We can only do those things because we began the difficult process of reform nearly five years ago. And even so the economics are tight."
The BBC has faced controversy in the past over the pay of presenters such as Jonathan Ross, whose earnings have been estimated at around .6 million a year. Mr Thompson said the BBC is not immune to job losses - including 7,200 jobs which have gone over the last four and-a-half years and 1,200 still to go. He said this was a "bigger programme of restructuring and redundancy than has been announced by any other broadcaster, public service or otherwise".
The director-general described the licence fee as a unique privilege with advantages and responsibilities. He described the fee as "an integral and critical element in investment in the creative industries and specifically in creating content". The Government is currently looking into the future of public service broadcasting as part of its forthcoming Digital Britain report.
The BBC has already announced various ways in which it is looking to partner up with other broadcasters, including sharing facilities.
Mr Thompson continued: "More than a third of the licence fee goes straight out of the BBC each year in external contracts with independent producers and other suppliers. "Most of what remains pays directly for creative talent and creative content from Comic Relief to Newsnight.
"The idea that what this country's creative industries need now is a further reduction in investment is not one that makes much sense to me.
"And yet the broader challenge - is the BBC going to stand by, secure in its own funding, while much of the rest of British media faces the abyss, or is the BBC going to take tangible, measurable steps to partner, to support, to share some of its advantages with other broadcasters and media players? - that broader challenge is a fair one and one that the BBC must answer."
He continued: "I believe though that a BBC which visibly helps support and strengthen the rest of UK media, a BBC for whom success is not just about its own programmes and services but about the success of the whole sector in the country but also around the world: I believe that such a BBC will not be weaker, but stronger."
(Dave Alpert/ABC News, Los Angeles via Rachel Baughn)