`Fat cat' strike disrupts BBC radio

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The Independent Online
BBC RADIO programmes were disrupted yesterday as thousands of journalists and technicians went on strike over big pay rises for BBC bosses.

The World at One on Radio 4 and Radio 5 live news bulletins were forced off the air. On Radio 1, Newsbeat was reduced to five minutes from 15, and the World Service was disrupted, with Britain Today and Newshour failing to appear.

The broadcast trade union Bectu said that 10,000 employees supported the three-hour strike, while management put the figure at 2,500. Union members pointed to the pounds 387,000 salary of the BBC director-general, Sir John Birt, which increased by 9 per cent last year and had risen by 416 per cent in 10 years.

The BBC bosses' salaries also came under attack at the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee of the House of Commons. Derek Wyatt MP asked the BBC chairman, Sir Christopher Bland, why most members of the board of management earned more than pounds 200,000 a year, a salary similar to that of the Governor of the Bank of England.

Sir Christopher said the salaries were broadly in line with those in the broadcasting market, pointing out that the chief executive of the smaller Channel 4, Michael Jackson, earns more than Sir John.

Bectu is demanding that next year executive awards are made at the standard pay increase given to the rest of BBC staff.

A spokesperson for the BBC said that the board of management's basic pay increases were already at general levels, and that extra pay rises were for "outstanding performance and new responsibilities". The new responsibilities of the director-general might be less than clear to many observers but, said the spokesperson, they were mainly to do with the introduction of digital television.

If so, he is unlike most employees who have a duty written into their contracts to work with new technology. Studio managers, for instance, are grappling with new digital equipment for no extra money.