Britain’s Public Accounts Committee, a Parliamentary oversight group, has strongly criticized the BBC over severance packages paid to senior execs that in the three years to December 2012 totaled £25M ($40.8M). “There was a failure at the most senior levels of the BBC to challenge the actual payments and prevailing culture, in which cronyism was a factor that allowed for the liberal use of other people’s money,” the PAC said today. The BBC is funded by a compulsory £145.50 license fee paid by British households on an annual basis. The committee called some of the justifications provided by the BBC “extraordinary.” The group particularly noted comments made by former BBC director general, Mark Thompson, who is now president of The New York Times Company, when he appeared before it in September. Thompson “claimed that it was necessary to pay his former deputy and long-term colleague Mark Byford an extra £300,000, not because the BBC was obliged to, but to keep Mr Byford ‘fully focused’ instead of ‘taking calls from head hunters’,” the PAC noted. In 2010, Byford was paid two years’ salary, half of it in lieu of notice, and was retained and paid for eight more months. The spokeswoman for the New York Times provided that paper with a statement from Thompson that reads in part: “Severance payments for senior managers working for public organizations are inevitably unpopular and controversial. The sole reason for making these payments was so that the BBC could rapidly reduce the number of senior managers and make far larger savings on behalf of the public… Despite some inflammatory language in the PAC report, there is absolutely no evidence of any wrongdoing by anyone at the BBC in relation to these severance payments.”
New BBC director general Tony Hall, who succeeded George Entwistle after he lasted only 54 days on the job and was forced out over a series of scandals that erupted in late 2012 (and was given a controversial £450,000 payout), has moved to cap severance pay at the broadcaster. The PAC says it welcomes the changes and agrees with Hall that the BBC had “lost the plot” in its management of severance payments in recent years. PAC chairwoman Margaret Hodge said the payments had put the BBC’s reputation at risk. The stinging rebuke comes at a time when the BBC has been making some headway in rebuilding its tarnished reputation after the late 2012 crises that included child sex abuse revelations surrounding Jimmy Savile, and editorial missteps at flagship news program, Newsnight. Read More »
Biddy Baxter Set For Honor At British Academy Children’s Awards
BAFTA will present TV producer and writer Biddy Baxter with its Special Award at this year’s British Academy Children’s Awards on November 24. The award recognizes an individual’s outstanding contribution to children’s media and the entertainment industry. David Attenborough will make the presentation to Baxter. She first joined the BBC in 1955 as a radio studio manager, later becoming the producer of Listen With Mother and School Radio’s Junior English programs and then of BBC Television Children’s Programmes. She was editor of kids show Blue Peter from 1962-88, receiving 12 BAFTA nominations and winning two statues during her tenure. In 2003, she founded the John Hosier Music Trust to provide scholarships to enable talented but impoverished music students to undertake postgraduate studies.
TrustNordisk Sells ‘Ragnarok’ To China, India, Other Territories
TrustNordisk has concluded further deals on its Norwegian action-adventure pic Ragnarok. The film previously sold to Magnolia in the U.S. and has added China (Melting Culture Ltd.), Indonesia (Pratama Film), Spain (Artwood), Brazil (Mares Filmes LTDA) and Thailand (IPA) to its list of territories. It premiered at Fantastic Fest in Austin and was released locally on October 4. It is currently the top local film of 2013 at the Norwegian box office. Ragnarok stars Kon-Tiki’s Pål Sverre Hagen as an archeologist obsessed with the Oseberg Viking ship. … Read More »
Former BBC director-general, and current CEO of The New York Times Company, Mark Thompson, was grilled by British MPs today over severance packages paid out to senior execs towards the end of his time at the public broadcaster. The BBC is being scrutinized for making £25M in exit payments, some said to be in excess of contractual obligations. Public accounts committee chairwoman Margaret Hodge contended that today’s hearing was not to “bash the BBC,” rather it was designed to “get to the truth.” By the end, she had called the session “a grossly unedifying occasion.”
Thompson was among seven witnesses providing testimony to the committee today, along with BBC Trust chairman Chris Patten. Patten had earlier said he was unaware of some of the payments and that he was “shocked and dismayed” that a £1M payment to Thompson’s former deputy director general Mark Byford in 2010/2011 exceeded his contractual entitlement. Thompson has maintained that the Trust had been kept well-informed. He said his mandate at the time of the Byford payment was to reduce the corporation’s payroll from the top. He characterized it as “value for money” and said he had been under “ferocious pressure” to cut costs. “I do not think we lost the plot, I do think we had done several important things to begin to control payments,” he said, noting that steps taken during his tenure led to a cost-savings at the BBC of £35M. The matter is of some concern to the British public given that it funds the broadcaster via a license fee of £145.50 per year. Read More »
BBC Trust chairman Chris Patten quoted Charles Dickens today in reflecting on the corporation’s last year: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” he said. Patten made the remark in presenting the BBC’s annual report for the year ended March 31. He was specifically referring to the ups and downs of 2012/2013 which included highs like coverage of the summer Olympics and lows like the Jimmy Savile sex abuse scandal. Speaking of the Savile crisis and of editorial troubles at flagship news magazine Newsnight, Patten said, “The BBC seriously let down both itself and license fee payers. Trust in the institution took a hit as a result, although it has begun to recover.” The fallout from the Savile scandal was costly in more ways than one. It was revealed that the broadcaster spent about £5M on investigations in the wake of the crisis while payments to outgoing execs also jumped. Talent remunieration dropped a little over 1%, but executive pay rose from $2.56M to £4.13M, per The Guardian. Those execs include former general director Mark Thompson who left in September 2012 to be CEO and president of The New York Times Co., and George Entwistle who left in November after just 54 days on the job amid the Savile revelations. Entwistle alone receieved £470,000 in severance plus £107,000 in legal fees. The corporation … Read More »
New BBC Chief Says “Best Days Lie Ahead”
Today was the first day on the job for the BBC’s new director general, Tony Hall. The broadcaster’s former head of news returned to the Beeb after more than a decade as CEO of the Royal Opera House. The organization he confronted today is in far different shape than it was when he left. After going into crisis mode last October when the Jimmy Savile sex abuse scandal broke open, the BBC was rocked by the mishandling of a Newsnight report that mistakenly identified a senior politician as an alleged pedophile. Those events led to the resignation of former director general George Entwistle after only 54 days on the job. Mark Thompson, Entwistle’s predecessor, left in September to become CEO of The New York Times Company and under his watch austerity measures were put in place after the license fee that was frozen until 2017. Two major unions went out on strike at the BBC last Thursday in protest over what was referred to as “a modern-day BBC sweatshop” along with bullying claims at the company. Hall made a handful of appointments prior to starting at the BBC, but has yet to name a head of news or head of television. In an email to staff today, he said, “With imagination and hard work, the BBC’s best days lie ahead of us.” Read More »
The BBC this morning published 3,000 pages of interviews and correspondence related to the Jimmy Savile sex abuse scandal and the 2011 shelving of a Newsnight program that would have revealed the late host’s alleged crimes. The documents include few earthshattering revelations, but are laced with internal criticisms and email chains that provide a window onto the workings of the venerable broadcaster whose armor has been severely dinged in the past several months as a result of the combined crises. (Read the full report here.)
The documents, provided by the Pollard Inquiry into the handling of the Newsnight affair, include testimony from key witnesses like Newsnight anchor Jeremy Paxman, whose evidence has been the focus of much scrutiny given its criticisms of management. He told interviewers that the Pollard Inquiry was being conducted in a “ridiculous fashion” and called the BBC’s behavior regarding the Newsnight report “contemptible.” He further said he’d been surprised by then-editor Peter Rippon’s response when Paxman wanted to pursue the Savile investigation after learning that rival ITV was about to air its own exposé. According to Paxman, Rippon said “I just can’t do this.” Paxman contends the use of the word ‘can’t’ was “very, very unusual… and I didn’t say, ‘What do you mean ‘can’t'? Someone has told you that you can’t, or you physically can’t face it?’” Paxman says he now believes it was a mixture of both. (The BBC said yesterday that Rippon would take over a newly-created post as editor of the BBC online archive). Paxman added that Savile’s behavior was “common gossip” around the corporation, although much of his testimony has been redacted. The BBC said today that 3% of the overall information has been blacked out “for a very limited number of legal reasons.” Read More »
In an effort to defend their jobs and stem what they consider the compromise of quality journalism and programming, members of the National Union of Journalists working for the BBC went on strike just after midnight local time on Monday. The 24-hour walkout comes as workers are “angry and frustrated at the poor decisions being taken at the top of the BBC” regarding staffing and layoffs. The public broadcaster has been tightening its belt since revenues were cut drastically through 2016 due to a freeze on the TV license fees that help support it. According to the union, 7,000 jobs have been shed since 2004 and another 2,000 cuts are expected. The BBC has also been hit by scandals related to the flagship Newsnight program which resulted in the resignation of former director general George Entwistle late last year amid what’s been termed “one of the worst management crises in the BBC’s history.” Entwistle’s replacement, Tony Hall, comes aboard in March. Already last week, Hall caused some controversy with his appointment of a former Labour Party minister to a highly-paid senior position. Scheduling was due to be disrupted throughout the day across the BBC’s radio and TV properties with news and talk shows replaced by reality reruns.
Incoming BBC director general Tony Hall has named James Purnell as director of strategy and digital and has expanded Tim Davie’s BBC Worldwide role. Meanwhile, former head of news, Helen Boaden, is going back to radio. The shifts come as Hall prepares to take over at the head of the broadcaster in March. He does so following the late-2012 sex-abuse and editorial scandals that plagued the corporation and resulted in the resignation of former director general George Entwistle after only 54 days on the job. (The moves also come one day after it was revealed that civil claims have been filed against the BBC on behalf of 31 alleged victims of late host Jimmy Savile.) Hall today said, “I am building a senior team that will define the BBC and public service broadcasting for the next decade. It will be a team that is made up of outstanding talent from outside the BBC combined with the best people from within.” He noted that more changes are to come in the next months, notably the appointment of a new head of news and a new director of BBC Television.
Boaden, who stepped aside in November amid an inquiry into the controversial cancellation of an investigative report by the BBC’s flagship current affairs program, Newsnight, later returned to her post but will now segue out of the division, becoming director of BBC Radio. She was formerly a controller of BBC Radio 4. Read More »
A day after it faced harsh criticism in a review of its response to the Jimmy Savile/Newsnight crisis, the BBC has taken a lambasting from British lawmakers over a severance payment to former director general George Entwistle. The Public Accounts Committee of Parliament slammed the pubcaster for a “cavalier use of public money” when it agreed to pay Entwistle £450,000 ($714,000) upon his November resignation, twice the provisions in his contract. Entwistle resigned amid furor sparked by the BBC’s handling of the Savile sex scandal and questionable editorial decisions made at flagship current affairs program Newsnight. “Public servants should not be rewarded for failure. But that was exactly what happened when the BBC Trust paid off [Entwistle],” the committee said. In response, BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten again defended the move to swiftly resolve Entwistle’s severance, telling BBC Radio 4 today, “The legal advice we had is: if we fought, we would have fetched up a bigger bill.” He also called the committee’s report “shabby.” The committee said it has asked for an official examination of the BBC’s severance payments and benefits for senior managers which have totaled over £4M to 10 people since 2010.
UPDATE, 4:50 AM : A review into the cancellation of a BBC Newsnight program that would have revealed allegations of rampant sexual abuse by late BBC personality Jimmy Savile has been released. In the report, overseen by former Sky News chief Nick Pollard, are strong criticisms of the BBC Trust along with senior BBC executives past and present. The review (read it here) found that the BBC response to the scandal that blew open in October when rival ITV aired a program outlining allegations against Savile, was “chaos and confusion.” Pollard said, “The efforts to get to the truth behind the Savile story proved beyond the combined efforts of the senior management, legal department, corporate communications team and anyone else for well over a month.” Former BBC director general George Entwistle and BBC1 controller Danny Cohen didn’t look hard enough at the issues at the time the Newsnight report was shelved in late 2011 and tributes to Savile aired on BBC1, the review found. This was especially in light of emails that had been sent to Entwistle and Cohen, but apparently not read, that mentioned a “darker side” of Savile. Newsnight editor Peter Rippon is to be replaced but head of news Helen Boaden’s October offer to resign was not accepted and she will return to work tomorrow. Her deputy, Stephen Mitchell, resigned just after the Pollard report Read More »
BBC Worldwide president and managing director of sales and distribution, Steve Macallister, will exit the commercial arm of the pubcaster on March 31. The move comes as BBCWW is shifting the management of sales and distribution to the regional level. Macallister joined the company in 2007, growing headline sales to £292.7M in the last fiscal year. BBCWW handles about 50,000 hours of BBC and independently-produced content including such series as Doctor Who, Top Gear and Teletubbies. As part of the restructure, Helen Jackson has been named chief content officer. Paul Dempsey recently took over as interim BBCWW CEO until Tim Davie can assume the post in March. Davie is currently acting director general of the BBC, having stepped up when George Entwistle resigned in November.
In a three-hour session this morning, BBC Trust chairman Lord Chris Patten and acting BBC director general Tim Davie answered questions about ongoing troubles at the broadcaster. This was the same panel that grilled George Entwistle in October, two weeks before he was forced to resign as director general. Patten’s and Davie’s turns were somewhat less fraught, although Patten was often taken to task by one BBC-averse MP. Both Patten and Davie owned up to a “bad journalistic error” that led to the running of a recent Newsnight report that falsely implied former Margaret Thatcher adviser Lord McAlpine was a pedophile. However, Davie said he thought cancelling the 60 Minutes-like flagship program would be an “overreaction.” Disciplinary hearings are currently underway with the dozen or so people involved in the report. Read More »
BBC Worldwide Appoints Interim CEO
As the BBC regroups amid its ongoing crises, a game of management musical chairs is playing out. Paul Dempsey will take over as interim CEO of BBC Worldwide beginning next month. Dempsey, who is currently managing director for consumer products at BBCW, will oversee the division until Tim Davie takes over as CEO in March. Davie became interim director general of the BBC when George Entwistle resigned earlier this month, but had previously been named to follow outgoing BBCW CEO John Smith who leaves in December. Tony Hall is to become the official BBC director general in March. Dempsey joined BBCW in 1998 as UK sales director and has since held posts that include managing director of BBC Audiobooks and director of BBCW’s audio & music business. Read More »
Lord Tony Hall has been chief executive of the Royal Opera House since 2001. He was also the BBC‘s head of news and current affairs from 1996-2001. His appointment to the BBC’s top job comes just 12 days after the resignation of former BBC director general George Entwistle amid ongoing crises at the venerable broadcaster. When Entwistle stepped down, BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten promised he would waste no time in naming a new chief and although Hall is a former BBC employee, his appointment falls in line with speculation that a new director general would come from outside the corporation’s current staff. Patten today said Hall was “the right person to lead the BBC out of its current crisis” and that his journalism experience would be “invaluable as the BBC looks to rebuild its reputation.”
Related: UPDATE: Latest Fiasco At BBC Turns Up The Heat On Incoming New York Times CEO
Hall, who will take over from interim director general Tim Davie, will be receive an annual salary of £450K, the same that Entwistle was paid. He is currently also deputy chairman of Channel 4 Television, a post it is presumed he will now have to abandon. In a statement, Hall said, “I believe passionately in the BBC and that’s why I have accepted Lord Patten’s invitation to become Director General. This organisation is an incredibly important part of what makes the United Kingdom what it is. And of course it matters not just to people in this country – but to tens of millions around the world too. It’s been a difficult few weeks – but together we’ll get through it. I’m committed to ensuring Read More »
Outsider Expected To Replace George Entwistle At BBC
Speculation about who will replace George Entwistle as director general of the BBC is growing in the UK. BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten has promised the selection won’t be as drawn out as it was when it came to naming Entwistle in the first place. While some editorials have suggested the likes of BBC head of news Helen Boaden, who is on sabbatical owing to her own involvement in the corporation’s Jimmy Savile scandal, The Guardian suggests that Patten will favor outside contenders, even if the ongoing crisis might make the job look a little unattractive. Entwistle’s shock resignation after just 54 days as director general came earlier this month, as the BBC’s current affairs program Newsnight became embroiled in a second child sex scandal after the Savile affair, when it made false allegations against former Margaret Thatcher adviser Lord McAlpine. He got £185k worth of damages from the corporation last week. The Telegraph now reports he is planning a £500k a suit against rival broadcaster ITV for revealing his identity in an interview with prime minister David Cameron. – Joe Utichi Read More »
Joe Utichi contributes to Deadline’s UK coverage
The ongoing crisis in the British media has drawn in a new player. As the BBC continues to sift through the scandals in its news division, rival broadcaster ITV is facing scrutiny from regulator Ofcom over one of its own news programs. ITV’s Today-style This Morning show will have to answer whether a recent interview with Prime Minister David Cameron breached the broadcasting code by failing to provide a “right of reply” to former Margaret Thatcher adviser Lord McAlpine when he was incorrectly linked to child sex abuse allegations, The Guardian reports. Host Phillip Schofield was forced to apologize after he confronted Cameron with a list of alleged perpetrators he had gleaned in “about three minutes” on the Internet, and the list was briefly made visible to the cameras. Read More »
EXCLUSIVE: The BBC-Cinemax series Hunted won’t go beyond its current freshman season after BBC One opted not to renew the espionage drama for a second season. But Cinemax is working with series creator Frank Spotnitz on a new incarnation of the show about spy Sam Hunter (Melissa George). “We are making plans with creator and executive producer Frank Spotnitz and star Melissa George to present a new chapter in the Sam Hunter mythology,” Kary Antholis, President, HBO Miniseries and Cinemax Programming, said in a statement to Deadline. “We are very pleased with what Hunted has done for Cinemax’s brand and are very excited about what lies ahead.”
Because of the project’s setup – BBC originally commissioned eight episodes from Shine-owned British production company Kudos Film and Television before Cinemax came on board as producer/U.S. distributor — I hear continuing the series in its current form proved impossible without partner BBC. That has led to Cinemax brass looking for another way to keep the premise and the Sam Hunter character alive while also assuming greater creative control. In a complex co-production agreement like the one on Hunted, it is hard for each of the partners to realize their vision for the show as decisions are often made by compromise. Additionally, for a pay cable network, doing a series with a public broadcaster like the BBC imposes certain restrictions on the content that could be featured. Read More »
BBC Probe: “Unacceptable” Journalistic/Management Failures
More senior BBC staff could leave the corporation as an internal report into the Newsnight fiasco that cost former director general George Entwistle his post draws damning conclusions. The investigation by BBC Scotland director Ken MacQuarrie concluded that “unacceptable” journalistic and management failures caused the broadcast of false claims against a senior political figure. Newsnight aired the allegations of child sexual abuse in its November 2 program, but didn’t name the man, later revealed to be Lord McAlpine. As a result, it didn’t offer the retired adviser to Margaret Thatcher a right of reply as BBC editorial guidelines mandated, and it was subsequently revealed that the victim had mistaken the identity of his attacker. “Basic editorial checks were not completed,” the report said. Read More »
UPDATE, 10:30 AM: New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. emailed staff today to welcome former BBC director general Mark Thompson as CEO of The New York Times Company. Thompson joins The Times just two days after his BBC successor resigned from the broadcaster amid ongoing editorial turmoil that has shaken public faith in the venerable company. Here is the text of Sulzberger’s message:
Mark will lead us as we continue our digital transformation, bolster our international growth, drive our productivity and introduce new technologies that will help us become better storytellers and enrich the experience for our readers and viewers …
That is what he did as director general of the BBC. His experience will be of great value to our company as we continue our pursuit of creating the highest quality journalism and the business results to support it.
All those who have met Mark, from staff members to our board of directors, admire his focus, meaningful expertise and appreciation for the long-term future of the Times Company.
Related: Latest Fiasco At BBC Turns Up The Heat On Incoming New York Times CEO
PREVIOUS, 6:48 AM: Former BBC director general Mark Thompson started work as CEO of The New York Times Company today, despite concerns of some Times journalists about his suitability for the job amid ongoing turmoil at the British broadcaster. ITV News grabbed the exec this morning as he was walking into the Times building where he said he believes that the BBC troubles “will not in any way affect my job, which I’m starting right now.” On the subject of the resignation this weekend of his BBC successor George Entwistle, he said, “Look, like many people, I’m very saddened by recent events at the BBC. But I believe the BBC is the world’s greatest broadcaster and I’ve got no doubt that it will Read More »