It was the sort of meeting at which many a disgruntled licence fee payer would have enjoyed being a fly on the wall. Some of the biggest name presenters of the BBC were summoned this week by the Director General, Mark Thompson, and warned to expect a salary cut as part of the Corporation's efficiency drive.
On one level, it is welcome that the BBC is waking up to some hard economic realities. It is pretty clear that it has overpaid for the services of certain presenters and performers in recent years. And now that the commercial UK broadcasting sector is suffering in the recession, the market price for many of them will have fallen back. If the BBC did not use this opportunity to modify the contracts it offered during the boom years it would be accused of wasting public money.
Yet the sense of satisfaction that many will feel at the sight of some of these high-profile performers being brought down to earth should not be allowed to blind us to the BBC's other financial faults. It is not only presenters who are on high salaries at the Corporation. The management tier of the BBC is notoriously bloated and overpaid. A Freedom of Information request earlier this year revealed that more than 330 senior managers take home six-figure salaries. These managers were informed in January that pay will be frozen and bonuses suspended until 2010, but there has been no suggestion of a pay cut here. Has the market for broadcasting managers really held up that much better than for presenters?
More significant still is the manner in which outposts of the BBC's empire are using the funds of the licence fee to crush smaller commercial broadcasters and publications. The real financial scandal at the BBC is not Terry Wogan's pay, but the Corporation's ownership of the likes of Lonely Planet.
We should be pleased that the BBC is finally making some effort to live in the real economic world, but if Mr Thompson imagines that throwing a few populist bones to the public will lessen scrutiny of the other ways in which the Corporation misuses licence payers' money and distorts the media market, he needs to think again.Reuse content