BBC's Lyons promises tighter purse strings

Says pubcaster also had relaxed its editorial grip

LONDON -- Under-fire BBC Trust head Michael Lyons has pledged that BBC talent deals will be tougher and that his focus will be on bringing the pubcaster's costs back under control.

Lyons, who has been criticized for the huge sums paid to BBC talent like Jonathan Ross -- believed to have been paid £18 million ($28 million) for a three-year production and presenting deal -- and for the near-£1 billion ($1.6 billion) refurbishment of the BBC's London broadcasting studios at a time when thousands of jobs have been shed, said the pubcaster had to "reassert its grip" on BBC spending.

Speaking in a newspaper interview, he also acknowledged that in recent years the pubcaster has "relaxed both its editorial grip and its grip on value for money," he said.

"We are simply not going to see what the public regard as excessive salaries, so (the BBC) must be harder in negotiations and much more willing to walk away," Lyons added, in an interview with the MediaGuardian.

His comments will be read as a criticism of BBC director general Mark Thompson, who next month will publish a strategy document outlining the size and mission of the pubcaster, which receives £3.6 billion a year in license fee funding.

Lyons said the BBC would walk away from talent deals and seek new faces to put onscreen.

"The BBC needs to be more confident that people will accept the most extraordinary discount to come and work for it. We are simply not going to see what the public regard as excessive salaries, so (the BBC) must be harder in negotiations and much more willing to walk away."

Lyons' comments also come amid heated pre-election debate from both of the major political parties about the future of the pubcaster, both of whom have said they aim to trim the BBC's wings.

Opposition candidate David Cameron has already said that the Trust would be shut down under a Conservative government.

But Lyons said the Trust would put up a fight over such proposals.

"I don't know what the Conservative Party proposals are, but are they grounded in a careful examination of the (BBC's Royal) Charter? ... It may have had a short life but the Trust will not be bullied."
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