BBC in deep doo-doo

Chris Forrester

The BBC is – not for the first time – in deep doo-doo. First up there’s a massive public backlash against the cash paid out by the Beeb to its star celebrity presenters. Then it is looking likely that the BBC might end up having to part-fund rival Channel 4. The third major dilemma – amongst plenty more – is its plans for Project Kangaroo, the BBC’s VOD broadband scheme.

Today’s problem is presenter’s pay. On-screen (and certain on-radio) talent have steadily teased their rewards to near-Hollywood levels. And while the UK press has been filled on a daily basis with stories of Members of Parliament fiddling their expenses, the MPs pay is nothing compared to the £6m a year paid to late-night TV host Jonathan Ross.

Ross managed to offend most of the nation recently with an on-air stunt that went badly wrong. A meeting took place Monday evening at BBC headquarters with around 100 of the broadcaster’s star performers, described as “grim” by some of those in attendance, where they were told that rates would need to be trimmed by up to 40%.

One celebrity said he thought they were attending a sociable summer glass of wine, adding that the meeting had come at a time of tough contract negotiations and the meeting turned into an “ambush”. “No one was left in any doubt at what they were getting at,” said the source.

The BBC has been criticised for demanding that government reveal the pay and expense claims of MPs, while at the same time it refuses to disclose the payments made to its staff and contract talent.

The BBC says its own employees are already on an 18-month pay freeze, and is looking to save £1.9m-worth of efficiency savings during this current licence fee period (usually 5 years), plus some £400m of additional cuts this year.