pounds 450,000 salary deal for Channel 4 chief

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Media Correspondent

Michael Grade yesterday became one of the highest-paid executives in British television after securing a new pounds 450,000-a-year contract that will see him remain as chief executive of Channel 4 until at least 2000.

The five-year deal, approved at a board meeting on Monday night, represents an emphatic rejection of recent criticism of the station's programme output under Mr Grade.

Sir Michael Bishop, chairman of Channel 4, said that the salary increase of more than one-third was a recognition that the station was achieving its highest-ever levels of advertising share and ratings. He emphasised that the deal had not been prompted by a call on Mr Grade's talents from a rival broadcaster.

Describing Mr Grade as "the outstanding broadcaster of his generation", Sir Michael added: "As we are a business which earns its own revenue ... I decided it's absolutely imperative that you pay the market rate for the most outstanding and qualified people to run it."

Mr Grade's new salary represents nearly double the pounds 264,630 earned last year by John Birt, director-general of the BBC. Of the most senior ITV company executives. Nigel Walmsley, chairman of Carlton, was paid between pounds 305,000 and pounds 350,000 last year, while the group chairman, Michael Green, picked up pounds 636,518, including a pounds 207,000 bonus. But comparisons are difficult because, unlike Mr Grade, many executives benefit from generous share options which bolster the basic package.

The board had been keen, Sir Michael said, to send out "the strongest message possible of our confidence" in Mr Grade and his team of commissioning editors in the face of vicious criticism in certain quarters, not least the Daily Mail, which branded Mr Grade "Britain's pornographer-in-chief".

Yesterday, Mr Grade said that he had "the finest job in television".