Ross claims he is worth '1,000 BBC journalists'

When Jonathan Ross stood up at an annual comedy awards ceremony and quipped, "I'm worth 1,000 BBC journalists", there were chuckles. Yesterday though, few people were laughing at the Corporation's headquarters.

Over the next three years journalists face swingeing cuts in news and current affairs. Ross, meanwhile, is set to pick up a reported 18m. There was little effort to disguise anger about the comment in the corridors of Television Centre. And on air, there was a long pause after the comment was reported by Radio 4's Today programme.

Ross's gag, made while he hosted the British Comedy Awards, has incensed members of the BBC who face losing their jobs as part of a six-year plan to streamline the corporation and shed 2,500 positions.

And yesterday support was forthcoming from industry representatives. Jeremy Dear, general secretary of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), condemned the joke as "obscene" and said it opened up the emotive debate over how much the BBC valued its quality journalists.

"Jonathan Ross's comments were obscene at a time when thousands of his fellow BBC colleagues are facing losing their jobs," said Mr Dear. "While it may be a joke to him, the reality is not a laughing matter to those who have the axe hanging over their heads.

"It also brings into question the BBC's priorities, which should be about quality news and journalists, first and foremost, but is not really reflected in salaries. They seem to think that having one light entertainment presenter is better than having 600 broadcast journalists."

Last month, representatives of the joint BBC unions (Bectu, the NUJ and Unite), voted unanimously to ballot for national strike action following the BBC's decision to push ahead with plans for compulsory redundancies. The corporation's director general, Mark Thompson, has proposed to slash 2,500 jobs. Further compulsory redundancies are threatened in BBC Scotland and the World Service. The BBC Trust has launched an investigation into presenters' salaries. Mr Dear said he hoped the its conclusions might lead to some changes, but added: "Given some of the comments by the Trust saying they have to match the market salary, whether it will lead to radical change I just don't know."

Ross also aimed barbs at ITV, which broadcast the show. He made a reference to the phone vote scandal that tainted its reputation this year. Ross said: "This show is coming to you from the glittering heart of the bogus phone vote district."

Because he's worth it?

Jonathan Ross's salary is 18m over three years or 6m annually. Per annum, one Jonathan Ross equals:

* 200 broadcast journalists from London (at basic average salary 30,000).

* 400 regional broadcast journalists (at basic average salary 15,000).

* 315.8 library clerks/assistants (at grade three, basic salary 19,000).

* 227.7 producers and directors (at grade five, basic salary 26,353).

* 181.3 graphic designers (at grade nine, basic salary 33,094).

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