BBC set to escape criticism for top stars' salaries

LONDON - A report into how much the BBC pays stars such as Jonathan Ross, whose three-year contract is reportedly worth £18m, is expected to clear the corporation of exceeding the going market rate and inflating pay in the talent market.

The review, commissioned by the corporation's governing body, the BBC Trust, comes after the salaries of stars such as Ross, who presents 'Friday Night with Jonathan Ross', and Graham Norton hit the headlines last year.

The publicity led to an outcry from politicians, rival broadcasters and some licence fee payers, who raised concerns the BBC pays its stars too much and distorts the market by outbidding its commerical rivals.

It was reported that the Ross deal encouraged ITV to hand multimillion-pound contracts to Simon Cowell and Ant and Dec.

However, Mark Thompson, the BBC director general, last year defended the salaries the corporation pays its top stars in front of a Commons select committee, arguing that a BBC that did not secure big stars would not please the public.

The review, which began in the autumn, was carried out by economists Oliver & Ohlbaum Associates. It will be released later today.

The study examined how salaries paid to the BBC's top talent compare with the rest of the market.

It also looked at the impact of the BBC's policy on the talent market, particularly whether it has led to an inflation of salaries elsewhere as well as radio and BBC News.

Sir Michael Lyons, chairman of the BBC Trust, said: "The report shows the BBC is not negatively distorting the UK's market for talent on television and that overall it is achieving deals which represent value for money. We will keep the pressure up to ensure the best deals are reached for licence fee payers and will review progress in 12 months' time.

He said that the trust's conclusions reflected the importance of talent to audiences and the contribution they make to the distinctiveness of programmes. He said that the value of great entertainers, comedians, actors, presenters, journalists and interviewers was rightly very high and the BBC has a special responsibility because of its unique funding to help develop the UK's talent base for the benefit of the industry as a whole.

He said: "I do understand that many people will continue to question the salaries paid to some BBC performers. These high payments can be particularly difficult to accept when wages elsewhere (including in other parts of the BBC) are under pressure. I hope that, because the trust has had a good look at this I can at least give licence fee payers some assurance that the BBC is working hard to meet its obligations both to deliver quality and to keep the cost of its talent under control."

The report will, in addition, give a thumbs up to the large deals the BBC pays its news presenters, with the Trust reporting that the public values BBC News, although other areas are less clear.

Lyons said: "There are areas where the picture is less clear, because of the complexities involved. These include some talent fees on national network radio, and within some parts of our news operation.

"But let's be clear: the public puts news at the top of its list of the BBC's priorities, and much of what the BBC does on radio is unique. The public wants quality and authority in these and all areas, and the BBC must not undermine its ability to meet this expectation."


Last week, The BBC Trust announced the results of a review into the corporation's online services.

It criticised management for a £3.5m overspend in 2007/2008 and called for tighter management of the corporation's websites.

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