Leading article: No laughing matter

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The Independent Online

In his defence of the bonuses paid to BBC executives, the director general of the corporation, Mark Thompson, yesterday resorted to humour.

According to Mr Thompson, rival television executives "almost roll on the floor laughing when you talk about potential levels of pay". It is a twist on the familiar argument about the need to pay the salaries necessary to attract the "top talent" in the market place.

There is a strong argument to be made for allowing the market to determine salaries, even in the licence-fee funded BBC. But, unfortunately for Mr Thompson, that is not the issue here.

The issue is an executive bonus system at the corporation that seems to bear scant relationship to the actual performance of its employees. Take, for one example, Jana Bennett, the director of BBC Vision.

Last year, Ms Bennett took home an extra £130,000, including a £23,000 bonus, despite being criticised in an independent report into a documentary trailer, which falsely implied the Queen had stormed out of a photo shoot.

Ms Bennett, the report found, had demonstrated "a lack of curiosity" when she should have dealt with the problem. If £130,000 is the reward for such a mistake, what incentive is there to do things differently in future?

The BBC ought to pay the market rates for its staff. But with this risible bonus system, the corporation is merely rewarding failure and wasting the money of licence-fee payers. And there is nothing in the least bit funny about that.