BBC expenses: Still nothing to write home about 

17 July 2009

BBC Expenses – there’s more! (Guardian – Organ Grinder)

BBC Expenses Scandal? It just doesn’t add up (Peter Preston, Observer, 28 June)

Live commentary on the latest round of releases of BBC executive expenses is all very well, and congratulations to the Guardian for presenting the information so innovatively, but without context it’s pretty meaningless.

How much do ITV (or even Sky) spend on their talent? This is surely just as important, and without it we have no way of knowing whether the kind of expenditure indicated in the article is in line with industry standards or not. As the man says, “More Daily Mail outrage or a footnote to a story that’s already past its sell-by date?” from where I’m sitting, it looks squarely like the latter.

If you want to keep your celebs on board you not only need to offer them at least as much as the opposition, you need to look after them. It looks as if that’s exactly what’s going on here, and there is only cause for complaint were the BBC to be way out of line – which I suspect it is not. And quite honestly, the same surely goes for executives. Right now, we simply can’t tell.

Now, one could argue that the BBC shouldn’t be competing with commercial companies for celebrities and ratings, and instead should be using its budget to create and commission high-quality factual programming and programmes that “need to be made”. Well, I would support such a move, but there would, I’m sure, be an outcry from the usual suspects (ie the competition, mainly, and its followers) that because the ratings for such programmes were poor, the BBC didn’t deserve the licence fee. Such a situation is plainly of the lose/lose variety.

Unless the BBC is given a clear mandate to specialise in programming of a public service nature, as Lord Reith put it, “to inform, educate and entertain” – programming that has to be innovative, of the highest quality, and of a sort that the commercial companies cannot, or will not, make – and the Corporation as a whole is taken out of the ratings rat-race, then there will always be criticism.

Either it will be suggested that the BBC is spending too much on celebrities and programming that commercial companies are already covering perfectly well, or the BBC will be making stunning programmes which in far too many cases few people will watch, and that will be seen as a failing of the Corporation and not of anything, or anyone, else.

Overall, I must say, I am entirely happy with what I get from the BBC for my licence fee, and I have no problem with paying it every year. The Corporation is still the best broadcaster I am aware of; its online services are second-to-none; and I watch and listen to BBC channels far more than any other stations despite the breadth of content available from all over the world via the Net. I don’t mind paying for what I get.

I also trust the BBC to use the funding wisely – and judging by the results, by and large, I believe they do.

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