Media recruitment: NAO Report on BBC severance pay

The BBC does have an amazing propensity for self-flagellation – as I have noted before.

Last night was a great example. I was interviewed for around ten minutes by Newsnight to reflect on the NAO’s damning report into severance payments at the BBC.

Hiring, firing and media recruitment at the BBC is always a hot topic. The Corporation has paid out an extraordinary-sounding £25m over three years to 150 senior executives for redundancies, compromise and other exit payments.

In the longer pre-recorded interview, the point I wanted to get across was that the BBC was, on the whole, a fairly responsible organisation. Certainly, its payoffs for George Entwistle and others pale in comparison with those to some media executives like Sly Bailey and Rebekah Brooks. £25m over three years represents less than 0.2% of the Corporation’s £5bn annual budget: pretty good going for a business undergoing a massive relocation and restructuring programme. (Bailey and Brooks between them would have accounted for half of that.)

My strong feeling is that the BBC is under such scrutiny because it is – with some justification – hugely resented by other media companies because of its guaranteed source of income. They see the Corporation as the privileged, over-fed progeny of successive governments: whereas, in truth, the mentality inside the Beeb is a little like that of an unwanted and bullied step-child.

So the BBC continually self-harms. The Panorama Savile broadcast is one example. John Humphry’s interview with Entwistle is another. There are many more. The reflex amongst BBC reporters is to be seen to bite the hand that feeds them, lest they be accused of bias. This is particularly true for Newnight, whose failure to report on Savile has caused a massive crisis of confidence. But all they do is feed the negative feeling about the corporation.

So, last night, Newsnight had to put together a package on the NAO’s report: and the angle they chose was one entirely condemnatory of the BBC. Despite my overall supportive comments, Newsnight editors – fairly - chose to highlight my remark that one pay-out in particular (an exit payment to a senior executive in order that they could take up a job elsewhere) was ‘laughable’. Of course, that pay-out was unjustifiable; but it was also untypical of other payments, most of which were in line with existing contracts.

I hope that under Tony Hall, the BBC can start to look at itself in the mirror without defaulting to self-immolation. It needs to stop being ashamed, and start to stand up for what it does well.