Parliamentarians Slam BBC for Stars' Pay Secrecy

24 January 2008

LONDON: The House of Commons' most improbable hybrid, the Culture, Media and Sport select committee, comprises eleven members (six Labour MPs, three Conservative, one Liberal-Democrat and one Plaid Cymru). With little in common politically, they are united only in their anger with the BBC.

The cause of this unusual unanimity?

The BBC's ongoing refusal to tell the committee how much licence-payers' cash it pays in fees to a sprinkling of on-screen talking heads.

The committee's anger came to light in its review of last year's BBC Annual Report and Accounts, published Tuesday..

Giving evidence to the committee in 2007, BBC Trust chairman, Sir Michael Lyons, BBC director general Mark Thompson, and finance director Zarin Patel remained zip-lipped as to the individual amounts paid to high-profile faces.

In a later written submission, the BBC again withheld that information, claiming its release into the public domain would "cause commercial prejudice to the BBC" and breach confidence.

The broadcaster, however, was far less coy when it came to lifting the veil on the amounts paid to its other employees and senior executives.

Commenting on this anomaly, the committee's report observes: "It was not clear why the BBC Trust differentiated between costs for talent and off-screen employees ... It was also unclear why issues of data protection only applied to actors and presenters and not the BBC's trustees and executive board."

Harrumphed the politicos: "We hope that in future years the BBC will provide a more robust response which makes clear where accountability lies for particular issues, and that the BBC takes advantage of its new governance arrangements to take a more constructive approach to responding to parliamentary scrutiny."

But bluster though it might, the committee has no power to force the BBC to come clean.

Currently, the BBC's supervisory trust is conducting a review of talent costs and will publish the results later this year. It is not known how detailed these will be.

Meantime, only nomad Uzbekistanis without access to the internet won't know that omnipresent talk show host Jonathan Ross enjoys a three-year deal reportedly worth £18 million ($35.2m; €24.12m).

And breathing down Ross's neck on route to the bank is jovial Irish presenter Terry Wogan, reportedly earning £800,000 per year or £25.64 per minute of airtime for his two-hour weekday show.

Data sourced from; additional content by WARC staff