MPs criticize BBC over spending

Claim salaries 'out of step with current economic climate'

LONDON -- BBC spending came under fire Tuesday from a committee of MPs garnered from all sides of the political spectrum.

The Commons culture, media and sport select committee called for greater transparency regarding the BBC's executive and talent costs and accusing the pubcaster of presenting some of its audience figures "in a somewhat cavalier manner."

But it didn't stop there. The committee also slammed the BBC for highlighting "favorable over unfavorable information" in relation to spending on its digital channel BBC 3 claiming the true cost to viewers was almost double that published in the BBC's most recent annual report.

And in black and white, the committee review of the BBC's 2008-2009 annual report also questions how the corporation measures the success of its programs.

The report also cites that the "reward packages of the director general and senior management of the BBC are seen to be out of step with the current economic climate."

Last fall the BBC revealed that its top 50 executives earn basic salaries of up to £647,000 ($976,000), with nine executive directors including director general Mark Thompson, sharing £4.6 million ($6.9 million), including bonuses and benefits (HR 6/25/10).

The MPs argue that executives' pay should be benchmarked against "senior management pay scales in the public sector," rather than rival commercial companies such as ITV, and the "BBC must look to cutting costs."

The report recommends "additional payment bands for talent should be introduced, disclosing the number of individuals and total payments for those earning [annually] £250,000 to £500,000; £500,000 to £750,000; £750,000 to £1m; £1m to £5m; and £5m plus." The committee added: "We do not expect to see any entries in the £5m plus category."

The MPs go on to claim that the BBC is being selective which audience figures it chose to use in its annual report -- omitting those which do not tell such a flattering story. "We consider that some of the claims regarding BBC3 made by the BBC Trust and executive are not fully supported by the evidence."

The report follows an appearance by BBC Trust chairman Michael Lyons and director general Mark Thompson in front of the select committee to answer questions following the publication of the BBC's annual report last summer.

Thompson comes in for criticism over his interpretation of audience figures in the report.

"Mark Thompson's description to us of 'the story of share' as 'one of a fairly high level of stability' does not seem an accurate assessment for television, when considered on a five-year rather than two-year basis," which reveals a "loss of 5% of all television viewing," the report states.

A spokesperson for the BBC declined comment on the "cavalier comment" made by the authors of the report.

A BBC Trust spokesperson statement read: "We thank the committee for its report and its recommendations. As a publicly funded organization the BBC takes openness and transparency in its operations very seriously. The Trust works closely with the executive and liaises with parliament to ensure that the information we provide enables license fee payers to hold us to account, and to help us deliver the quality programs that audiences want."