Last week Mark Thompson, Director General of the BBC, used his keynote speech at the Edinburgh TV Festival to attack Sky for not investing enough of its vast earnings in developing British programmes. He also highlighted the overwhelming dominance of British media by Rupert Murdoch, who in addition to controlling Sky, owns half the country's newspapers, a situation prevented by media regulations in countries like Australia and America.
Sometimes when I'm abused by colleagues, the Mrs or random kids in the street, I obsess about it for about six hours before thinking 'Ah that's what I should have said.' The DG must have been stewing for a whole year before unleashing his speech, as it was basically a come-back to James Murdoch's criticism of the Beeb in his Edinburgh speech back in 2009.
Murdoch Jnr's beef focused on the BBC monopolising news and giving too much of it away free online, throttling independent journalism. James' last point about independence was somewhat undermined by the reporting of the clash of the media titans: his critique of the corporation was extensively covered by the BBC whereas Thompson's attack on the Murdochs didn't merit a mention in The Sun, The Times, The News of the World or on Sky.
The ongoing tussle is particularly relevant now as the government is about to start licence fee negotiations with the BBC. The Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt has indicated that harsh times are ahead for an organisation that the government believes is bloated and wasteful, saying recently that: "The BBC has to live on the same planet as everyone else." It's a shame for supporters of the BBC that a cherished institution has made itself vulnerable to these sorts of accusations by wildly splashing cash all over the senior management and grabbing the sort of final salary pensions that are wild fantasy for most people. Mark Thompson pulled in £647,000 last year but at least we know what he does;
Jana Bennett gets £406,000 for being the Director of BBC Vision, which means she does what exactly? Mark Byford is the Deputy Director General and gets £459,000 but according to Private Eye is known as 'Bypass' as no-one includes him in any decisions. Special mention must go to Alan Yentob, who could be called 'Dreamjob' because as Creative Director of the BBC he swans about making documentaries (which can be quite good) and then having big licence payer-funded parties. He gets £340,000. Imagine what their pensions are worth! We can only hope they all die young and so some of the licence fee goes on actually making TV.
Despite all this most people still love the BBC and realise it represents great value for money. It costs us about 40p a day and so it's not much more than buying The Sun, but we get loads of great radio, TV and websites. It's safe to say nearly everyone in the country, even berks like Daniel Hannan MEP (who refuses to pay his licence fee), are accessing BBC services on a daily basis and, unlike a Sky subscription, you don't have to sit through ads as well. However the top brass have undermined the BBC. They linked their wages to some vague notion of what they may have earned in the private sector, a formula which a) is entirely false (I mean who is going to pay Mark Thompson more than he's on now, broke ITV?) b) does not take into account the other benefits of working in the public sector like increased job security and c) cash shouldn't be your motivation for getting into journalism or broadcasting anyway.
BBC execs have taken a tiny pay cut but must go further in order to preempt the government dismantling an organisation which still defines Britain positively in the eyes of the world and provides us with moderate, unbiased information sources. I mean, have you ever watched TV in America, especially the news? Well that could be our fate if the government uses profligate pay as an excuse to hobble public service broadcasting and pays the Murdochs back for their support during the election.