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 »
Thomas Bezucha Directing English-Language Remake Of ‘Priceless’
The Family Stone and Monte Carlo director Thomas Bezucha will helm the English-language remake of French romantic comedy Priceless for European film group uMedia. The original movie starred Audrey Tautou and Gad Emaleh and sold 2.15M tickets in France in 2006. Umedia’s remake has been greenlighted for production in early summer on the French Riviera. The story follows Alec, a shy and hardworking waiter at a grand hotel who is mistaken for a millionaire and seduced by a captivating American girl with expensive tastes. When Lauren discovers his true identity and limited resources, she takes off, but Alec pursues her along the Cote-d’Azur. When he ends up stranded and broke, he is saved by a wealthy woman-of-a-certain-age and finds himself kept in the same manner as Lauren, who coaches him on how the play the game as her feelings for him deepen. Pierre Salvadori directed the original which was sold internationally by Wild Bunch.
BBC Adds Howard Stringer Amid Corporate Changes
The BBC has announced a series of changes to transform how the corporation is run. At the same time, it has added former Sony chairman Howard Stringer as a non-executive director for a term of three years beginning January 1. The moves come a year after myriad crises began to plague the broadcaster including the Jimmy Savile child sex abuse scandal and the editorial missteps at flagship news program Newsnight. Among the changes are a 60% reduction in the number of pan-corporation management boards “so that senior managers will be able to make faster decisions and concentrate on running their teams and departments.” Decision making by multiple committees will shift to much greater personal responsibility, ensuring “there are no blurred lines,” the broadcaster said. “As a creative organization, individuals need to be able to take creative risks without fear, managers will not be penalized for brave, well-made decisions that were taken for the right reasons.” Speaking about the changes, director general, Tony Hall, said, “This is an important first step in making the BBC simpler and better run.” 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 »
The BBC said today that it is “appalled” that some of Stuart Hall’s crimes took place in connection with his work at the broadcaster. Hall was charged late last year with indecent assault and last month admitted 14 offenses against 13 girls from 1967-1985, the youngest aged 9. Today, he was sentenced to 15 months in prison. The 83-year-old former TV and radio host read regional news for the BBC in the 1960s and 70s and also hosted BBC One game show It’s A Knockout from 1972–1988. He reported on soccer for BBC Radio 5 Live until his arrest in December. The criminal investigation into Hall was separate from the Jimmy Savile sex abuse scandal that has plagued the BBC since last fall. (Hall’s lawyer reportedly told the court he had “all of 13″ victims compared to Jimmy Savile’s 1,300.) After the Savile revelations, focus turned to the culture and practices at the BBC in the 60s, 70s and 80s and whether a blind eye was turned to his behavior. The BBC is now conducting an inquiry into the era of Savile’s alleged crimes. It is also pursuing a detailed investigation into Hall’s conduct at the BBC. The Hall inquiry’s findings will be published as part of the Savile review later this year.
The BBC is in hot water again, this time over the handling of the Digital Media Initiative, a project to digitize archive content and make it easily accessible to production staff. The project was cancelled last month, but had already cost the broadcaster and taxpayers nearly £100M. Now, the Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) contends that it was misled over the status of the initiative during evidence given in 2011 by the BBC and its then-director general Mark Thompson. At the time, Thompson – who is now CEO of the New York Times Company – told the Committee, “There are many programs that are already being made with DMI, and some have gone to air and are going to air with DMI already working.” But at a hearing yesterday, Committee chair Margaret Hodge said, “We were told that there were bits of this system that were working, that you were using them. That wasn’t true. That just wasn’t true.” She has summoned Thompson to answer questions at a July hearing, The Guardian reports.
In a statement, Thompson said, “When I appeared in front of the PAC… I answered all of the questions from Committee members honestly and in good faith. I did so on the basis of information provided to me at the time by the BBC executives responsible for delivering the project.” Thompson has had a hard time leaving the BBC behind. Just as he was starting his New York Times Co. job in November, he was the subject of scrutiny from the flagship paper, and the British media, over the Jimmy Savile/Newsnight saga and was also interviewed for an inquiry into the scandal which erupted just after he left the broadcaster. Read More »
HBO Books Deals For ‘Behind The Candelabra’ Around The World
HBO Enterprises has lined up a number of international distribution deals for the recently premiered movie Behind The Candelabra. The Liberace biopic starring Michael Douglas and Matt Damon has sold to A Company Filmed Entertainment (Central Europe), ARP (France), DCM (Germany, Switzerland), Dutch Filmworks (Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg), Entertainment One (United Kingdom), First Distributors Ltd. (Hong Kong), Hollywood Entertainment (Greece), Lusomundo (Portugal), Medusa (Italy), Shaw Renters Pte Ltd. (Singapore), Ster-Kinekor (South Africa), Svensk Filmindustri (Scandinavia), United King Films (Israel), Village Roadshow (Australia) and Tohokushinsha Film Corporation (Japan). The first foreign theatrical release will be June 7 in the UK.
Related: ‘Behind The Candelabra’ Hits Near-Decade Viewership Record
BBC Gets 150-Plus New Sex Abuse Or Harassment Cases Since October
The BBC says it has received more than 150 new allegations of sexual abuse and harassment since the Jimmy Savile case broke in October. The UK pubcaster said 36 of the new accusations came from people who were younger than 18 at the time of the alleged abuse. The broadcaster would not comment on any specific cases — made by more than 80 people, about half of whom still work at the BBC — but it said in a statement that it was “appalled” by the allegations. “We have launched a series of reviews that aim to understand if there are any issues with the current culture of the BBC or the historic culture and practices from as far back as 1965,” the statement said, “to see what lessons can be learned to prevent this happening again.” Read More »
A review of internal practices at the BBC that was convened in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal has found that there have been 37 complaints of sexual harassment at the broadcaster in the past six years, but that current incidents are “rare.” Bullying and other forms of “inappropriate behavior” were found to be “much more prominent,” however. In response, the BBC said it would be overhauling its bullying and harassment policy and will also do away with gag clauses in BBC employment contracts.
The Savile crisis exploded last October, nearly a year after the longtime BBC celebrity TV host died. Since then there have been hundreds of allegations of child sex abuse lodged against Savile with some said to have occured on BBC premises. The report (read it here) calls the crisis “a period which shook the BBC to its core.” But according to the findings, it’s bullying that is the biggest current problem facing the broadcaster. Throughout conversations with nearly 1,000 staff members, the report found there was “a strong undercurrent of fear” Read More »
James Harding resigned as editor of Rupert Murdoch’s The Times neswspaper in December saying, “It has been made clear to me that News Corporation would like to appoint a new editor of The Times.” Reports suggested that Harding’s departure was the result of upset at The Times’ parent company over the paper’s somewhat critical stance during the phone-hacking scandal that had engulfed News Corp.’s UK press arm, News International. When Harding starts his new job as director of news and current affairs at the BBC on August 12, he’ll be joining another company that has seen its share of recent crises.
The BBC’s news division has been plagued by troubles in the past six months including the Jimmy Savile scandal, botched reporting at the flagship Newsnight program and walkouts by journalists. Its Panorama program is drawing fire this week over allegations that London School of Economics students were put in harm’s way during the filming of a documentary in North Korea. Read More »
After the drama that played out in the BBC‘s news division late last year amid the Jimmy Savile and Newsnight crises, the broadcaster has come under further fire regarding one of its news shows. The London School of Economics believes some of its students were endangered during a recent trip to North Korea on which a team of undercover BBC journalists filmed a documentary for the Panorama program. The LSE and its students union have demanded that the BBC withdraw the show which is due to air tonight, but the broadcaster is still going forward. LSE director Craig Calhoun wrote on Twitter today: “Producers of Panorama seem not to have learned any lessons from recent BBC scandals. Consciously chose to endanger LSE students. For what?” In a statement, the BBC said “public interest” in airing the report “is very strong indeed.” It added that such a program “involves some difficult judgements, editorially, practically and ethically and that is why it has been handled at a senior level.” Read More »
BAFTA TV nominations have been announced with Hitchcock film The Girl and the BBC’s Last Tango In Halifax, Accused and Twenty Twelve scoring four nods each. On the international side, Danish/Swedish crime drama The Bridge, which FX is remaking in the States, Showtime’s Homeland and HBO’s Girls and Game Of Thrones were each mentioned. Downton Abbey‘s Hugh Bonneville also has a nod, but not for the hit period drama which scored no nominations. He’s instead in the comedy acting category for Olympics series Twenty Twelve. When combined with the BAFTA TV Craft Awards, which take place on April 28, The Girl has eight nominations, Benedict Cumberbatch-starrer Parade’s End has seven, Accused has six and the BBC’s cancelled The Hour, plus Last Tango In Halifax, Ripper Street and Twenty Twelve each have five. The BAFTA TV awards will be handed out on May 12 in London. A full list of nominees is below:
Ben Whishaw, Richard II (The Hollow Crown)
Derek Jacobi, Last Tango In Halifax
Sean Bean, Accused (Tracie’s Story)
Toby Jones, The Girl
Anne Reid, Last Tango In Halifax
Rebecca Hall, Parade’s End
Sheridan Smith, Mrs Biggs
Sienna Miller, The Girl
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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 »
Clock To Start Ticking For Indian ’24′
Slumdog Millionaire star Anil Kapoor is getting to work on the Indian version of the TV series 24. The actor, who was featured in the final season of Fox/20th TV’s real-time drama, will produce via his Anil Kapoor Film Co. He’ll also play the Jack Bauer character, now reportedly named Jai Singh Rathod, in the local take. According to BollywoodLife, production was due to kick off this week at Kapoor’s Stage 21 studio near Mumbai. Delhi Belly director Abhinay Deo is helming the series and Rensil D’Silva, who’s directing Sanjay Dutt’s Ungli, is scripting. The local broadcast partner is Viacom-owned Colors. Kapoor will next be seen on the big screen in Shootout At Wadala directed by Sanjay Gupta.
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UPDATE, WRITETHRU, 4:33 AM: The National Union of Journalists and media and entertainment union Bectu have set a 12-hour walkout at the BBC starting at noon March 28. The action coincides with the start of an indefinite work-to-rule period in which employees do no more than the minimum required by their contracts. The move could affect Easter scheduling and will be the second walkout in recent weeks over compulsory layoffs and excessive workloads, which the unions believe are compromising quality journalism and programming. That’s especially notable given the high-profile snafus at flagship news magazine Newsnight late last year as the corporation was dealing with fallout from the Jimmy Savile sex scandal.
Bectu says management is attempting to create “a modern-day BBC sweatshop” while it forges ahead with a cost-cutting initiative which will zap 2,000 jobs across the group. The BBC 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. The upcoming action is also taking a stance on bullying and harassment. Employees have given evidence to the ongoing internal review that sprang from the Savile revelations. The union says 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 »
BBC Three Orders Reeva Steenkamp Special
Fast-turnaround specialiast Mentorn Media is at it again. The producer has been commissioned by BBC Three for a quickie doc about the murder of Reeva Steenkamp. Steenkamp’s shooting death has been making headlines since she was killed on Valentine’s Day with star athlete Oscar Pistorius accused of murder. He has pleaded not guilty. Nick London is producing and directing for BBC Three. Rick Edwards, who presented Paralympics coverage for Channel 4, will host. Mentorn’s credits include Ricky Gervais’ An Idiot Abroad for Sky and HBO documentary For Neda. It also recently made fast-turnaround docs about Hurricane Sandy and the Aurora, Colorado massacre. Mentorn’s sister company Passion Distribution is handling sales.
Luketic, Former MGM Exec Sutherland Team On Oz Thriller
Los Angeles-based Australian director Alan White is set to direct Reclaim, a psychological thriller about an American couple who come to Australia to adopt a child after their unborn child dies in a car accident. Due to shoot in Oz later this year, the film is the first from a co-venture between U.S.-based Australian director Robert Luketic and Ian Sutherland’s Origin Productions, who will serve as producers with Brian and Josh Etting of L.A.–based Garlin Pictures. Sutherland, a former EVP of international theatrical distribution for MGM, and Luketic have been developing projects for several years. It will be the first Aussie film for White since 2000’s Risk. The screenplay is by Luke Davies (Candy) and Carmine Gaeta. Casting is underway. Arclight Films, which is selling worldwide rights, pitched the project to buyers at the Berlin festival’s European Film Market.- Don Groves
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