It’s “Children In Need” this Friday on the BBC. Without wanting to belabour the point this event shows off the best of a corporation which is desperately in need of some leadership to get it out of the current crisis.
Aunty has shot itself so often in the foot in recent week that you wonder if it is using a (Mark) Thompson Sub-Machine Gun. The latest communications fowl up is to agree to award a full year’s salary to George Entwistle as a pay-off. This is double the contractual arrangements and has been greeted with entirely predictable opprobrium. Expect a u-turn shorty.
I don’t care if the former DG gets a year, six months or no pay-off. I do, however, care how much his successor takes home. The BBC was paying Mr Entwistle the equivalent of £450,000 a year (for his 54 days in the job), which was £167,000 less than his predecessor Mark Thompson. This may seem like a lot to the man of the Clapham Omnibus, especially if that Omnibus is heading to Westminster for the Culture Media & Sport select committee. But in the real world, it is a very low salary for someone running a media organisation of the size, influence and importance of the BBC.
Consider the direct competition. At BSkyB, CEO Jamie Darroch’s basic salary is £935,000 and with other benefits he received over £7m last year. At ITV Adam Crozier’s base salary is £798,000 and his 2011 package exceeded £3m. Mark Thompson started today as CEO of the New York Times, where he received $1m (about £630,000) basic pay plus up to $1m annual cash bonus, and up to $3m in stock options plus a golden hello of $3m. I could go on.
The Director General of the BBC is a difficult job. He or she has to guide an organisation with not only extensive TV and radio interests, but also one of the most successful English language websites, a commitment to media technology, a gigantic news gathering operation and a critical place in British (and Global) culture. Detractors argue it is unwieldy, arrogant and cut off from reality but no-one underestimates its importance.
So when shopping for a new leaders, why try to pick up a bargain? To use a football analogy, it’s not working for Arsene Wenger at Arsenal. The BBC is one of the leading media organisations in the world. It deserves a leader commensurate with that. And it needs to pay the wages that will secure such a leader.