BBC Brass Questioned Over Exit Pay for Former Director General

George Entwistle – H 2012
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BBC Trustee Anthony Fry tells a parliamentary committee he was irritated by the large sum of money paid to George Entwistle who resigned after just 54 days in office.

LONDON –  The BBC top brass faced a grilling by British government ministers Thursday over the former BBC director general George Entwistle's £450,000 ($715,000) pay off and its payment structures for presenters and talent.

The Public Accounts Committee of the British parliament heard of BBC Trustee Anthony Fry's irritation at having to pay such a large sum of money to Entwistle to secure the executive's resignation who had only been in the position for 54 days.

Normally his resignation would have garnered a £225,000 ($358,000) pay out.

But Fry told the committee he had felt the "quickest way" of removing Entwistle was best.

Entwistle quit Nov. 10 in the evening after a Newsnight report led to a veteran politician being wrongly accused of child abuse.

Fry said that Entwistle would have concluded from his meeting with the BBC Trust earlier that day that he no longer had its full confidence.

When his lawyers later made clear he would resign for the £450,000 pay-off, representing a year's salary, Fry said that he had felt it in the best interests of the BBC and licence fee-payers to agree and get a new acting director general in place.

Fry and the Trust, the body responsible for policing the BBC, felt that there was little point in dragging the situation out as it would have further damaged low morale at the public broadcaster.

"Did I feel good about it? Absolutely not," Fry said before adding "I still think it was the right thing to do."

Entwistle announced his resignation saying that as editor-in-chief of the broadcaster he was ultimately responsible for the "unacceptable journalistic standards" of the Nov. 2 Newsnight film.

He said that the report, covering cases of child abuse at north Wales care homes, should not have been broadcast.

One MP likened resigning from the BBC as "like winning the lottery."

Chief financial officer Zarin Patel is also being grilled about the corporation's arrangements for paying many BBC stars and their tax status, a hotbed of controversy in the media.

Patel repeated that the broadcaster is reviewing the contracts of more than 800 on-air staff being paid through their own companies.