Monday 24 October 2016

Top BBC stars 'will have to reveal salaries under reform plans'

Published 11/05/2016 | 13:31

Damian Lewis said 'ideologically the Conservative Party will always have a problem with an organisation like the BBC'
Damian Lewis said 'ideologically the Conservative Party will always have a problem with an organisation like the BBC'

Top BBC stars including Chris Evans, Gary Lineker and Graham Norton will reportedly be forced to declare how much they earn under plans outlined in the Government's White Paper on the future of the broadcaster.

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The change will mean that top talent earning more than the £450,000 paid to the BBC's director general will have to disclose their salaries in a Government bid to improve transparency over how the licence fee is spent, The Guardian reported.

This is likely to include some of the biggest names on television, including Top Gear host Evans, Match Of The Day presenter Lineker and chat show host Norton.

Culture Secretary John Whittingdale is expected to announce a substantial overhaul of the way the BBC is governed when he outlines his White Paper on Thursday.

He has already said that the issue of diversity will be "central" to the proposals but has denied claims he wants to prevent the BBC from screening popular shows at peak viewing times.

After being summoned by Labour to answer questions in Parliament, he said that the proposals in the final document were the "result of one of the largest and most open consultations ever conducted".

Responding to a question from David Lammy (Tottenham), he said: "Appointments to the board is something that obviously is made clear tomorrow.

"What I can say to you is the importance of diversity is something which is central to the White Paper, in terms of those who work for the BBC, those who appear on BBC programmes and indeed those who watch BBC programmes."

The paper is also expected to address suggestions that the BBC Trust be abolished and the corporation regulated entirely by media watchdog Ofcom as part of a proposed deal to grant a new royal charter to safeguard the service for another 11 years.

However, the corporation will not be forced to sell its lucrative stake in UKTV, the portfolio of commercial channels that earns it around £80m a year, according to the Radio Times.

It had been speculated that the Government was considering forcing the BBC to sell off its 50% stake in UKTV, which owns 10 channels including Dave and Gold as well as catch-up service UKTV Play, but that is not expected to be included in the new plans.

Another area of contention between the BBC and the Government is the question of "top-slicing" the licence fee, which would see the BBC forced to hand over a portion to commercial rivals in areas such as children's television, according to The Guardian.

Mr Whittingdale said that media reports ahead of the White Paper's publication have ranged from "complete fantasy" to "quite well-informed", adding: "But certainly not informed by me or my department."

Shadow culture secretary Maria Eagle told MPs: "(Mr Whittingdale) has been displaying seemingly implacable hostility towards the BBC during the charter renewal process.

"He's also been avoiding Parliament. He's had to be dragged to this House after weeks of almost daily leaked briefings to the media.

"He's not come willingly to Parliament. He seems intent on using his brief sojourn in office not to strengthen the BBC but to diminish it, not to seek value in it but to denigrate it, not to enable it but to control it.

Ms Eagle said the appointments process for the BBC's unitary board must be "demonstrably independent of Government".

She also said: "Today we read in the newspapers that (Mr Whittingdale) intends to re-write the BBC's mission. He's wrong to do so and we will oppose any such revision.

"He is seeking to turn the BBC away from a mission which has succeeded brilliantly for 90 years, of which the public approves.

Professor Brian Cox has joined an already long list of famous names who have spoken out against reported proposals.

He tweeted: "Whittingdale is testing my patience. BBC 'Impartiality' can't be judged by a board with majority of government appointed members. Dear God."

Damian Lewis has echoed his support for his Wolf Hall director Peter Kosminsky and co-star Mark Rylance, who launched a passionate defence of the BBC at the recent Bafta TV Awards.

"They said two different things, but they were both saying the same thing: essentially, allow it (the BBC) to flourish and let's not have too much governmental involvement," he said.

Sherlock star Andrew Scott voiced his opinion as he urged the Government to leave financial concerns out of decisions made about the broadcaster.

The actor, who played Moriarty in the hit BBC adaptation starring Benedict Cumberbatch, said: "I really hope the question of finance is left out as you can't make decisions about what the public should be allowed to watch based on how much money you think it's going to make for shareholders. Long live the BBC!"

On Tuesday a senior peer urged Mr Whittingdale to publish the paper while Parliament is sitting, rather than trying to "sneak it out".

Lord Lester of Herne Hill, the Liberal Democrat QC, wrote to Mr Whittingdale calling on him to publish his plans while politicians and peers can scrutinise them.

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