In a typically self-congratulatory way, the BBC Director General, Mark Thompson, heralded yesterday's publication of executive expenses by the Corporation as signalling a new era of openness. But this was no virtuous gesture by the BBC, but a belated response to a series of Freedom of Information requests.
We also need to bear in mind that what was released yesterday was not the full picture of how the Corporation spends licence-payers' money. There was no publication of the salaries of the BBC's big-name performers. Mr Thompson argues that disclosure of this information would create "a real danger that talent would migrate to broadcasters where confidential information about how much they are paid will not be disclosed". But with commercial broadcasters slashing budgets, where exactly are these stars going to migrate to?
Even given the information withheld, the expenses charged by senior managers at the Corporation in recent years look excessive. Was it really appropriate for the Director General to claim more than £3,000 for flights when he was called back early from two holidays?
Did Eric Huggers, the director of future media and technology, really need to stay in a luxury hotel and hire a dedicated driver while on a business trip to Las Vegas? Should these executives be spending more than £1,000 a month of public money on lunches, hospitality and taxis? And is it justified for senior BBC executives to have access to a lavish bonus incentives scheme? But, in a sense, pay and expenses are a distraction from a more significant BBC financial scandal. At a time when private media outlets are feeling a painful financial squeeze, the BBC, thanks to its guaranteed £3.5bn licence fee revenue, is as robust as ever; it is even seeking to expand.
These lavish managerial expense claims are another indication of a Corporation that has grown obscenely divorced from the commercial realities of the sector in which it operates. Mr Thompson would do well to recognise that, unless this gap begins to close, the pressure for the Government to cut the BBC down to size will only grow stronger.