Three days after the toughest Budget in memory, the BBC revealed that 117 of its executives are paid more than the Prime Minister's £142,500 salary. This figure excludes the £229m a year the Corporation pays to its highest paid stars, whose remuneration it refuses to disclose. In one publicly funded organisation there are probably several hundred people paid more than David Cameron.
During his Budget speech, George Osborne indicated that, apart from the NHS and international development, government departments would suffer swingeing cuts to their budgets of around 25 per cent. By contrast, the BBC can look forward to a couple of years of modest growth. On 22 May Ed Vaizey, the Tory minister for media and the arts, suggested that the coalition Government intended to shelve Tory plans to freeze the licence fee, and was no longer minded to make the Corporation tell us what it pays its stars.
In other words, while a meat cleaver is taken to the rest of the public service, and overpaid civil servants are named and shamed, the BBC is spared, and sails on regardless. Last week it emerged that the broadcaster's commercial arm, BBC Worldwide, will pay bonuses to staff this year despite the public sector pay freeze. And there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that it continues to throw money around as it did in the heady days of the boom.
The Corporation dispatched some 400 staff to cover last week's three-day Glastonbury festival, about the same as in 2009. A mere 292 people have been sent to the World Cup in South Africa, many more than by ITV, which admittedly has not distinguished itself. The BBC has spent £1m constructing a special studio in Cape Town where managers and ex-players burble on endlessly against a backdrop of Table Mountain in return for undisclosed, but no doubt considerable, fees.
At this point in the argument the BBC's cheerleaders customarily say that the broadcaster does an excellent job for what costs the licence payer less than 50p a day, and we should leave it alone. But one could defend on similar grounds other areas of government expenditure that are being subjected to cutbacks. Since the BBC is funded by what amounts to a mandatory tax, it is difficult to see why it should enjoy exemption. Besides, 50p is a significant sum to the poor, many of whom are about to become poorer.
Mark Thompson, the BBC director general, paid more than £800,000 a year of licence payers' money, would say there have been economies. There have been a few, with some low-paid staff being made redundant, and others soon to be shunted off to Salford. But the bun-fight goes on for the more fortunate. Seemingly indulged by the Con-Lib coalition (to which, we should note, it has extended generally sympathetic coverage) the BBC miraculously – and unfairly – escapes the austerity measures about to be experienced by the rest of the public sector.
All aboard for Murdoch's party
A brilliant story appeared last Monday in Richard Kay's Daily Mail column. (I should mention I write a column for the Mail, and know Mr Kay well.) The piece concerned a party thrown by the media tycoon Rupert Murdoch to celebrate the 10th wedding anniversary of his son James, who runs the Murdoch empire in Britain and Europe, and it was accompanied by revealing telephoto lens photographs.
And, my, what a party! According to the Kay column, "a boat ferried guests from the Villa d'Este hotel on the edge of Lake Como – named by Forbes magazine as the finest hotel in the world – to a beautiful palazzo for dinner". The guest list included some people you might like to meet, and others you might not. Apart from the 79-year-old media mogul and his third wife, Wendi, there was James, his sister, Elisabeth, and her husband, Matthew Freud, invariably described as a "PR guru". Also present were the supermodel Claudia Schiffer, Kirsty Young of Desert Island Discs, and the hotel magnate Sol Kerzner. Frances Osborne, wife of the Chancellor, was also at this fantastic bash – perhaps ill-advisedly, suggested the Mail, only a few days before George Osborne's austerity Budget.
Here was our media aristocracy caught at play. One can be sure that the Murdochs, who have made a fortune out of prying into other people's lives, were not overjoyed to have their party publicised. On the principle that "dog does not eat dog" the Mail very seldom writes about Mr Murdoch's private goings-on. This time it could not resist.
Why the reticence over Morgan's past?
The showbiz figure and former editor of the Daily Mirror Piers Morgan finally married his long-time girlfriend, the journalist Celia Walden, last Thursday. The Sun devoted fewer than 50 words to the private ceremony at the bottom of page 13. The Mirror, by contrast, "splashed" with Morgan's wedding, and cleared page 11.
Yet there was something odd about its breathless coverage. The paper did not mention, even parenthetically, that Morgan had been its editor for nine eventful years. He was portrayed only as a television star. It was bit like describing Gary Lineker as the presenter of Match of the Day without adding that he was once England's striker.
Why didn't the Mirror claim a chunk of Morgan for itself? It is very perplexing. The paper can't have assumed its readers knew his identity as a former editor. Was it shy of reopening an old can of worms? After all, Morgan was involved in an insider dealing scandal, and forced to resign after publishing bogus photographs that purported to show British soldiers torturing Iraqis. I wish I could get inside the heads of executives who don't mention that Morgan was once editor of the paper that now celebrates him.