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David Keighley

BBC Trust ‘Failed a Primary Duty’

The Commons public accounts committee has questioned whether the BBC’s governance model is fit for purpose in a damning indictment of its handling of severance payments to 150 senior managers.
The committee’s chairman, Margaret Hodge, said its investigations into the pay offs – which included cross-examination of BBC chairman Lord Patten and director general Lord Hall – had uncovered a culture of cronyism that allowed the liberal use of licence fee payers’ money. This had led to 22 of the 150 payments exceeding contractual limits.
And MPs have also raised questions whether some of the eight BBC staff who gave evidence to the committee may have deliberately misled their inquiry.
The Daily Mail reported that Tory committee member Steve Barclay was angry that Mrs Hodge had watered down elements of the findings and in particular that it had failed to criticise BBC chairman Lord Patten for refusing to name all of the BBC staff who had received pay offs.
These are the full conclusions and recommendations of the committee:
1.  As part of its efforts to cut costs, the BBC has significantly reduced the number of senior managers it employs, from 624 in March 2010 to 445 in March 2013. In the course of our inquiry into the departure of the BBC’s former Director General, George Entwistle, we became increasingly concerned about the scale of severance pay for departing senior BBC managers. We therefore asked the National Audit Office to carry out a review of severance payments. The National Audit Office found that in the three years to December 2012, the
BBC gave 150 senior managers severance payments totalling £25 million.
2.  It is unacceptable for the BBC, or any other public body, to give departing senior managers huge severance payments that far exceed their contractual entitlements. The BBC paid more salary in lieu of notice than it was obliged to in 22 of the 150 severance payments for senior managers in the three years to December 2012, at a cost of £1.4 million. Some of the justifications put forward by the BBC were extraordinary. For example, the former Director General, Mark Thompson, claimed that it was necessary to pay his former deputy
and long-term colleague Mark Byford an extra £300,000, not because the BBC was obliged to, but to keep Mr Byford ”fully focused’ instead of “taking calls from head hunters”. This increased Mr Byford’s severance payment to more than £1 million. Recommendation: The BBC should ensure that severance payments do not exceed what is absolutely necessary.
3.  There was a failure at the most senior levels of the BBC to challenge the actual payments and prevailing culture, in which cronyism was a factor that allowed for the liberal use of other people’s money. We were not able to account for every case in which a manager who approved a settlement in excess of contract entitlement themselves later benefitted from a similar arrangement. We believe this contributed to the prevailing culture at the top of the BBC whereby giving inflated severance payments to departing managers was an acceptable way of cutting senior manager numbers and salary costs. We share the view of the BBC’s Director General, Lord Hall, that the BBC had “lost the plot” in its management of severance payments in recent years. We welcome the changes that he has made to cap severance pay.Recommendation: The BBC should remind its staff that they are all individually responsible for protecting public money and challenging wasteful practices.
4.  The checks that the BBC Executive applied to severance pay for senior managers were totally inadequate. The non-executives who sat on the BBC’s Executive Board Remuneration Committee failed to provide an effective check on severance pay for the BBC’s most senior staff. In turn, the Executive failed to exercise sufficient oversight of the 40 BBC staff involved in authorising severance payments to departing senior managers. For example, senior BBC executives were seemingly unaware, until it was brought to their attention by the National Audit Office, that one departing manager received £141,000 more than their contractual entitlement. Responsibility and accountability must be clearly defined and transparent, not only at senior levels but across the organisation, to satisfy the licence fee payer that public money is being used appropriately.Recommendation: To protect licence fee payers’ interests and its own reputation, the BBC should establish internal procedures that provide clear central oversight and effective scrutiny of severance payments.
5.  It beggars belief that the BBC Trust could not locate key documents about the most significant restructuring in recent years of the BBC’s Board and the associated severance payments. These documents, which included proposed payments to the BBC’s former Deputy Director General, Mark Byford, came to light after the BBC Trust Unit had concluded it held no such documents. The documentary evidence also suggests that the BBC wrote to Mr Byford to confirm his severance terms before these terms had been approved by the
Executive Board Remuneration Committee. Poor documentary records contributed to the confusion and lack of transparency about what had been proposed, discussed and approved. Recommendation: The BBC Executive and the BBC Trust need to overhaul the way they conduct their business, and record and communicate decisions properly.
6.  By choosing not to challenge very large individual severance payments, the BBC Trust and its officials failed to fulfil one of its primary duties, which is to ensure the rigorous stewardship of public money. The BBC Trust approves the strategy for executive remuneration but does not examine its implementation in detail. The witnesses from the BBC Trust told us that they do not question individual payments as they are operational decisions for which the BBC Executive Remuneration Committee is responsible. In our view, this is too narrow an interpretation of the BBC’s Trust’s responsibilities. Recommendation: Given its overarching responsibility for the stewardship of public money, the BBC Trust should be more willing to challenge practices and decisions where there is a risk that the interests of licence fee payers could be compromised.
7.  Our examination of severance payments exposed a dysfunctional relationship between the BBC Executive and the BBC Trust that casts doubt on the effectiveness of the BBC’s governance model. The unedifying disagreements between witnesses and the conflicting accounts of what was disclosed about individual severance payments are symptomatic of a wider breakdown in the relationship between the BBC Trust and the Executive. At present the governance model is broken. The Trust and the Executive have a limited amount of
time to demonstrate that the current governance model can be made to work. Recommendation: The BBC Trust and the BBC Executive need to ensure that decision-making is transparent and accountability taken seriously, based on a shared understanding of value for money, with tangible evidence of individuals taking public responsibility for their decisions.
Liddle: Patten ‘ordered to give EU coverage evidence’

Liddle: Patten ‘ordered to give EU coverage evidence’

Former BBC R4 Today editor Rod Liddle has noted that speaker John Bercow has ordered BBC Chairman Lord Patten to give evidence to the Commons European Scrutiny Committee
about the corporation’s EU coverage.
Liddle picked up in his Sunday Times column that Mr Bercow – responding to a question from Labour eurosceptic Kate Hoey – stated:
“I must say that anybody who is invited to appear before a Committee of this House should do so. No one, however senior, should imagine him or herself above such scrutiny. That is a very important principle.”
Andrew Lansley, leader of the House noted:
“I am aware of what the hon. Lady is talking about. I note from Lord Patten’s correspondence with the Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee that he expressly did not rely on the fact that he is a Member of the House of Lords in this regard. I will have conversations with the Committee’s Chair and the BBC on the matter, because there is a difference between independence for the BBC, which we absolutely must respect, and accountability, which should enable this House to ask reasonable questions.”
Mr Liddle, in his column, asserted:
“It (Lord Patten’s response) will be interesting because there is not a single British public figure I can think of – not even Ken Clarke, not even Tony Blair – who was more in thrall to the EU than Fatty Pang (the Chinese nickname for Lord Patten when he was governor of Hong Kong). And it will be interesting, too, because the corporation’s director general until September last year , Mark Thompson, accepted there had been a bias against those of eurosceptic…viewpoints.
“It is par for the course for departing DGs to announce airily that the BBC did exhibit bias on one issue or another , terribly sad, hopefully everything’s tickety-boo now, and so on….But the joy of having Lord Patten appear before a committee is that he will be forced to justify a current bias; forced to defend the corporation’s viewpoint – which was once expressed to me – is that those who oppose the EU are ‘all mad’.”
Lord Patten’s response to the EU Scrutiny Committee is here. 
The full chain of correspondence between Lord Patten and the committee is here.
News-watch evidence about the BBC response to the European committee includes this.

Photo by Nanagyei

BBC Chairman ‘disgracefully’ stonewalls EU Scrutiny Committee

BBC Chairman Lord Patten has refused to give evidence to the Commons European Scrutiny Committee about the BBC’s coverage of EU affairs.
His refusal follows an earlier Scrutiny Committee hearing in which Newswatch gave evidence that the BBC was failing in its Charter duty to report EU affairs to an extent that allowed audiences to understand properly the issues involved.
Scrutiny Committee chairman Bill Cash followed up by asking Lord Patten to appear before his members to explain why the BBC was apparently under-reporting such a vital area of public policy. Conservative MP Philip Hollobone, in a question to Bill Cash on the floor of the House said:
“The British public not only expect us to scrutinise EU legislation in this place but want to see us doing it. Does my hon. Friend find it extraordinary that the chairman of the BBC Trust should refuse to appear before his Committee? Does that not send a very bad signal to all the other Select Committees of this House, and what can we, as the House of Commons, do about it?”
Mr Cash replied:
“This is all covered in the report—we make extensive reference to it and include the correspondence that was exchanged between the chairman of the BBC Trust and me, as Chairman of the Committee. I think that most people would conclude that his not appearing voluntarily before the Committee to give evidence was really quite disgraceful.”
Newswatch primary evidence to the European Scrutiny Committee is here:
And the supplemental evidence is here: 
The report of the European Scrutiny Committee containing reference to Lord Patten’s refusal to appear before
The debate about the European Scrutiny committee containing Philip Hollobone’s question is here: 
BBC ‘Pays double the rate for their taxis’

BBC ‘Pays double the rate for their taxis’

BBC staff have slammed their bosses for paying double the going rate for taxi journeys made at the licence fee payers’ expense.
A story in the Daily Telegraph reveals that the Corporation pays £10m a year for over 350,000 journeys by staff and guests.
To handle this business, the Corporation has a contracted supplier of taxis, which are booked through an internal website. But staff say that the taxi firm is giving a raw deal and charges on occasion almost double the rate of local cab hire companies.
The discrepancy was highlighted in the BBC’s internal magazine Ariel, following a letter from staff member Marc Settle, a project producer at the BBC Academy’s College of Journalism.He said the organisation’s workers are told to book cabs through internal website Gateway, which promises ‘More money for programmes’.He added: “When you book a taxi via Gateway, you’re greeted with a comforting strapline of ‘More money for programmes’.”Is this actually the case? I rang the number on Gateway to get a quote for a journey from Tonbridge in Kent to Gatwick and was told £87.”That seemed high, so I rang a few local companies and, on average, was quoted £45.”Another journey from Stanmore to Heathrow was £61 via Gateway yet a local company quoted just £25.”I know that any receipts which are submitted need then to be processed, and that has a cost. Equally, a central booking system may have merits for auditing purposes.”I would like to know, though, why taxi journeys booked through the central system seem to cost twice as much as those booked locally.”
The article reported that the BBC maintained that costs were higher in order to ensure that taxi firms were ‘legally compliant’ and that drivers were vetted properly.

Photo by [Duncan]

A decision by BBC Trustees to reject a complaint about the BBC’s EU coverage was a ‘farce’

A decision by BBC Trustees to reject a complaint about the BBC’s EU coverage was a ‘farce’

A decision by BBC Trustees  to reject a complaint about the BBC’s EU coverage was a ‘farce’,  leading Eurosceptic MPs Kate Hoey and Philip Hollobone have said.

The complaint – based on research by Newswatch – centred on an edition of Newsnight last January which covered David Cameron’s decision to announce a radical overhaul of EU policy to include a referendum on withdrawal.

Mr Hollobone, who has written to BBC Trustees attacking heir ruling, said: “The programme featured 17 Europhiles pitched against one person who supported withdrawal. It was blatant imbalance.

“Yet the BBC says this did not matter because this was not a major news event and they were

therefore gauging reaction to the proposal from politicians and those affected by it. That’s the sort of sleight of hand excuse that shows that the BBC complaints process is completely rotten and stacked against complainants. They make the rules, they interpret them and they kick out most of them on the most spurious reasoning.”

A succession of top BBC executives, including former DG Mark Thompson, and more recently former head of television news Roger Mosey, have admitted that BBC EU coverage has been totally biased against the withdrawal case.

Mr Hollobone added: “Our complaint showed in detail that on the day of this major development in EU-related policy, this edition of Newsnight did not properly take into account the withdrawal case, and indeed went to absurd lengths to stuff the programme full of figures who wanted to shoot down both the idea of a referendum and the case for withdrawal.

“In terms of BBC coverage it was thus par for the course, but the Trustees have now performed a farcical series of contortions to argue the programme was fair”.

He added: “The BBC complaints procedure is clearly not fit for purpose because no-one involved is genuinely independent. It exists to protect the BBC’s back rather than the proper investigation of bias. It’s time for major change”.

Kate Hoey said: “I have grave concerns about how the BBC is going to be impartial during the coming debate on our relationship with the EU and a referendum.   Chris Patten as a former EU commissioner really must prove he has left his Europhile position behind him and that he can ensure genuine impartiality”

Read the Newswatch-researched complaint here.

Photo by rockcohen

EU ‘Come-out’ Donor Sykes gets Today Roasting

EU ‘Come-out’ Donor Sykes gets Today Roasting

Newswatch reports show that Today does not give EU ‘come-outers’ the chance to properly air their case.
When they do appear they are usually bracketed with ‘Loonies’, or given no chance to explain their support for leaving the EU.
Today presenter Evan Davis continued the tradition when he interviewed this week (November 18) Yorkshire businessman Paul Sykes about his decision to support UKIP in the 2014 Europe elections. Mr Sykes – who announced his decisions to the Daily Telegraph – said he had decided to resume his political donations because UKIP was the only party clearly campaigning for withdrawal from the EU. But on Today, Evan Davis conducted in an interview that was so crammed full of interruptions that the longest Mr Sykes was allowed to speak was 94 words, about 35 seconds. In an interview lasting five-and-a-half minutes, Mr Davis interjected 35 times…once every 10 seconds.
The transcript here reveals the full gory story.  Read for yourself .
Of course it’s the job of a Today presenter to be adversarial and political donations must be subjected to scrutiny. But this was battering ram questioning that would have been appropriateif Mr Sykes was contemplating an illegal act rather than giving to a mainstream political cause he believed in.
The transcript shows that that Mr Davis deliberately set out to prevent Mr Sykes from explaining either his decision to support withdrawal as a political cause or his reasoning why he thought current policies do not chime with public opinion. It was only the third interview of a clear supporter of withdrawal in the latest Newswatch monitoring period, which is running from mid September until the EU Council meeting in December.

Photo by Astral Media

BBC Trustees reject Newsnight EU bias complaint

The BBC Trustees have yet again flatly rejected claims that their EU coverage is biased.
Conservative MP Philip Hollobone and Labour’s Kate Hoey filed a complaint about an edition of Newsnight on January 23, when David Cameron announced his policy of holding an ‘in/out’ referendum.
The programme contained just one ‘come-outer’ (UKIP’s Nigel Farage) ranged against battery of 17 studio guests and contributors who were in different ways against the referendum, in favour of staying in the EU or increasing its powers. The Trustees say this was ‘fair’ because the programme was considering the political context and implications of the issues raised by Mr Cameron and therefore the number of supporters of withdrawal was immaterial.
Philip Hollobone Newsnight complaint here: 
BBC response here: 
Transcript of Newsnight programme here:
BBC ‘Enmeshed in Comic Relief’

BBC ‘Enmeshed in Comic Relief’

A BBC Panorama investigation into Comic Relief has shown that the charity invests in tobacco, arms and alcohol, despite its ‘holier-than-thou’ ethical claims and telling the public that every penny it raises goes to the developing world.

The real issue here is not solely Comic Relief’s hypocritical investment policy, but rather the close relationship between the charity and the BBC – something which Panorama or subsequent coverage of its investigation has failed to spotlight or explain.

Every year or so, the corporation clears its schedules for Comic Relief. This is an extraordinary facility and it has led to the charity raising the staggering sum of £909m. It has become so wealthy that it can afford salaries of £130,000+ for senior staff.

The BBC supports Comic Relief not because it is an exceptional charity doing outstanding work, but rather because the corporation regards providing aid to developing countries as the ultimate good. Another reason is that Comic Relief is a cheerleader for schemes that they claim tackle ‘climate change’ – something which the BBC also intrinsically supports, in general reporting, at Trustee level and especially through the BBC World Service, which for decades has staunchly championed both overseas aid and measures to
tackle the perceived threat of ‘climate change’.

The BBC has worked assiduously behind the scenes over the years to support Comic Relief. An example of the cross-fertilisation and BBC cheerleading is that Lord Hastings, a former head of Corporate Social Responsibility at the BBC, was active for almost a decade in promoting the climate change agenda while sitting on the board of Comic Relief.

This rat’s nests cross-over continues to this day. On screen, the BBC doggedly – with clear disregard for normal rules of impartiality – pursues its climate change agenda; at the same time Tim Davie, who was acting Director General of the BBC before Lord Hall assumed the role in the summer, and is now chief executive of BBC Worldwide, has recently been appointed chair of the Comic Relief Trustees. One of his colleagues is another veteran BBC senior executive, the former Controller of BBC1 Peter Salmon.

Photo by KaiChanVong

Four out of ten ‘think BBC biased’, says survey

Four out of ten ‘think BBC biased’, says survey

An ICM survey has found that 40% of those questioned thought the BBC was biased in its news coverage.
The survey, commissioned by the Sunday Telegraph, also found that 70% of the 2,000 who
took part wanted the £145.50 licence fee reduced or scrapped. Fewer than 10% wanted
the fee to be increased in line with inflation when the BBC Charter was renewed in 2016.
Another finding was that around 66% wanted the BBC to takes advertisements in order to
generate revenues for itself.
Tory party chairman Grant Shapps has warned the licence fee could be cut or the collected
funds – worth £3.6billion a year – could be shared with other broadcasters unless the BBC
becomes ‘more transparent’ and changes its ‘culture of secrecy’.
Last month, Lord Patten, chair of the BBC Trustees, told the House of Commons media
committee that he was happy that 58% of licence-fee payers thought the BBC was a trusted
news organisation. Lord Hall, the BBC director general, pledged greater transparency in
dealing with mistakes of impartiality when they happened.

Photo by R/DV/RS