BBC bows to pressure to cut stars' pay

LONDON - The BBC is to stop offering "big money deals" to stars after pressure from the government and the opposition in the wake of last week's furore over Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand's conduct.

Mark Thompson, director-general of the corporation, said yesterday that the amounts the BBC pays its talent were heading for a period of "retrenchment".

Thompson said: "I think we are heading towards a period where it is probably the case that we will be able to secure the best entertainment talent for less than we have been able to do in the past few years."

He called Ross "an outstanding broadcaster" and said he hoped he would return after his suspension.

Thompson was appearing on BBC One's 'The Andrew Marr Show' amid a barrage of negative coverage from the Sunday papers, including a News of the World scoop that stated a staggering 50 BBC executives were paid more than the prime minister's £189,994 salary.

They include Thompson on a whopping £816,000, worth almost £2.5m over three years, and Jana Bennett, the director of BBC Vision on £536,000. The full list can be found here.

The BBC defends its salaries saying that it pays the market rate, but with little competition critics say it pays its fat cat directors too much.

An anonymous BBC insider gave today's Daily Mail a blunter message, saying: "[Ross's] salary has caused us a lot of problems ... The time of big-money deals is over. We are operating in a bleak economic climate and spending needs to reflect that."

The row over Brand and Ross' "lewd" phone calls to 'Fawlty Towers' actor Andrew Sachs was calmed on Friday by the resignations of Brand and Radio 2 controller Lesley Douglas and the suspension of Ross for 12 weeks, taking a £1.3m chunk of his £6m per-year pay packet.

But the argument has now moved on to whether the corporation can justify the huge salaries paid to Ross and its other stars such as Graham Norton, who is on £2.5m per year.

Politicians extended their involvement in the debate with The Sunday Times reporting that culture secretary Andy Burnham has told Sir Michael Lyons, chairman of the BBC Trust, the salaries are undermining licence fee payers' confidence.

The Conservatives, according to the Sunday Telegraph, have a more aggressive agenda and have come up with a plan to reduce the licence fee by £6 per year by forcing the BBC to give back half of the £800m raised through licence fee increases to cover the switch to digital television.

A senior party source said the Tories planned "to rein in the overweening ambitions of the BBC", which had been "acting as if it were Manchester United buying Ronaldo".

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