Media Perspective: Embattled BBC chief worrying about the wrong corporation
By Jeremy Lee, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 12 November 2010 12:01AM
There is something rather nostalgic about watching the scruffy hordes outside the BBC, waving placards in protest at proposed changes to the corporation's pension scheme.
While Styrofoam cups of sweet steaming tea have been replaced by tall grande skinny lattes (with an extra shot), and issues of the Socialist Worker supplanted by neatly folded copies of The Guardian, there is still something palpably 70s about the whole affair.
Alongside the galley slaves, a host of highly paid on-air presenters, such as Huw Edwards, Nicky Campbell and Fiona Bruce, showed solidarity with their union brothers by refusing to cross the picket line.
The Dragons' Den host, Evan Davis, however, showed he had more affiliation with the Nottinghamshire rather than the South Yorkshire branches of the National Union of Mineworkers by turning up for work, thereby risking earning himself the unwelcome epithet "scab".
Or having a concrete slab dropped from a bridge on his passing car by a particularly militant assistant producer from BBC North.
The strikes are the latest in a series of crises to hit the corporation and its director-general, Mark Thompson. It has had its licence-fee frozen (well, not entirely, given that nearly all of the estimated 260,000 new homes built in the UK will each add a further £145.50 to the BBC's coffers) and executive remuneration and reward has come under unprecedented scrutiny.
Thompson has had to do something to counter the criticism rather than dig his heels in, as most intransigent 70s managers would have done.
Indeed, so much light has been let in on the BBC's previously murky finances after a successful Freedom of Information inquiry that Thompson has cut the size of the management team.
Some big scalps have been claimed - including the deputy director-general, Mark Byford - but how many of the 382 managers on over £100,000 a year will be affected is unclear.
The problem is that the action has been too slow to come and too limited in scope compared with the moves that Thompson's counterparts in the commercial media world have had to take recently and in far worse circumstances.
Acting like the chief executive of a privately owned company that Thompson appears to think the BBC is, rather than the custodian of a public institution, he has been unable to read the runes. Most recently, Thompson was a signatory on a letter complaining about News Corp's bid to buy Sky.
While scrutiny of the bid is appropriate, the taxpayer-funded BBC should not get involved in lobbying against the affairs of a commercial rival. Thompson would be better trying to get his own house in order - and its over-paid presenters back in front of the autocues - rather than criticising the actions of others.
Jeremy Lee is associate editor of Campaign
This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk
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