BBC fails to communicate with staff, top exec warned Director General


BBC director general Mark Thompson

BBC director general Mark Thompson // Photo: Frank Boyd

Mark Thompson, the director general of the BBC, was warned by a senior executive that communication with staff over pension changes was not good enough.

Strike action in 2010 saw broadcasts, including Radio 4’s Today programme, taken off air amid union disputes. Now, emails have been uncovered revealing that concerns over the way the BBC dealt with the situation were held at the most senior levels of the corporation.

An email sent to Thompson from Technology Chief Erik Huggers said: “for an organization who is renowned around the world for informing people, we do a poor job of that with our own staff.”

Thompson appears not to have replied to the email. The following year, Huggers left the BBC for a job in Silicon Valley.

Other emails sent to Mark Thompson, which have been released under the Freedom of Information Act, shine light on lengthy internal research on the salaries of senior executives. The results of one survey, which was sent to Thompson, said: “The absolute levels of salary that are being paid to top executives were deemed far too high.” It went on to say that the salaries of executives “seemed to inflame passions even more than talent costs.”

Three days later an email was circulated which was marked: “some useful facts on top pay”. The statistics appear to attempt to justify high pay in the BBC by noting that “over 25,000 people working in the public sector earn more than £100,000 a year.” The email ends with the suggestion that the statistics “might be useful for Press briefing”

Mark Thompson last month signaled that he would step down as the director general at the end of the year, or in early 2013. He took over the role in 2004, after the resignation of Greg Dyke over the Hutton Inquiry.


Email to BBC director general Mark Thompson from Erik Huggers

Email sent from BBC Technology Chief Erik Huggers to Mark Thompson (extract)


Top 100 most complained about shows, 2011: The full list

I wrote a piece for today’s Guardian about the top 100 most complained about TV and radio shows of the year.

Now, here’s the full list…

BBC breaching transparency laws over Mark Thompson’s emails to Jeremy Hunt

Above the law: What does Mark Thompson have to hide?

The BBC is knowingly breaking Freedom of Information laws by refusing to release emails sent between the Director-General Mark Thompson and Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt.

The disclosure of communications was requested in June by AccessDocs, but the BBC has openly rejected transparency laws.

They said: “we need further time in which to consider the public interest in disclosing the information.” But, having already extended their response deadline by 20 days, they have now crossed the final legal deadline for response.

Despite warnings to the BBC stating that it’s intention to delay the disclosures would be a breach of the rules, staff remained defiant. “The BBC is of the view that the delay is justified,” a policy adviser said.

This was not the view of a source at the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) who said he couldn’t see how the behavior did not constitute a breach.

The ICO explain: “Public authorities should respond to a request for information within 20 working days. If they need to consider the public interest this may be extended to 40 working days, providing you have been informed.” More than a week has passed since the maximum 40-day deadline.

BBC increasingly using unpaid labour

A document published by the BBC shows the extent of unpaid work that goes on in the organisation. More than 6,283 people undertook ‘work experience’ placements between 2007 and 2010.

This has increased from just over 1,000 placements in 2007, to approaching 2,000 in 2010.

(It should be pointed out that there are, of course, legal arguments about what counts as work and what counts simply as shadowing and learning.)

It’s also interesting to view this in line with another document showing that the number of graduates the BBC has employed during the same period has fallen by more than a half – from 430 to 200. To what extent is unpaid work experience replacing recruitment?

View the documents here:

View the BBC’s full FOI disclosure log here:

BBC in England spends £1,868 on biscuits, but doesn’t serve any orange squash

This is not in any way important, and it is FOI requests like this that probably give the FOI Act a bad name. But, it is nevertheless vaguely interesting (if you are looking for an employer who will provide you with free biscuits).

View the documents here:

View the BBC’s full FOI disclosure log here:

BBC Director-General’s lavish expenses claims

Mark Thompson claimed £2,206.38 on lunches, dinners and “business drinks” in 2010. Some £391.07 was claimed for drinks alone.

In a single evening evening he spent £50.50 on drinks in a luxury hotel in London.

(NB:  Although this type of data is often used by newspapers to criticise the BBC for wasting license fee payers’ money, these expenses are actually, of course, only a tiny fraction of the BBC’s budget. These figures simply serve to expose the fact that Mark Thompson, who already earns £668,000 a year, still won’t buy his own drinks.)

The BBC’s website has extensive, but hard-to-find, disclosure logs and transparency documents. You can see the documents listing all Mark Thompson’s expenses here:

More stuff on the BBC’s senior staff can be found here:

You can also view the BBC’s FOI disclosure log here:

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