LONDON: Britain’s government unveiled plans Thursday to force the BBC to reveal the salaries of more of its star journalists and presenters as part of reforms of the public broadcaster.
The BBC would be forced to name all stars earning over £150,000 (180,000 euros, $200,000) per year, extending transparency in a move designed to generate cost-savings for the institution.
The BBC’s budget is in focus days after it lost one of its top shows, “The Great British Bake Off”, which was bought by a commercial rival.
News of the switch caused such shock that it dislodged ex-prime minister David Cameron’s announcement he was quitting politics as the front page lead of Britain’s most-read newspaper, The Sun, on Tuesday.
Announcing the pay reforms on Thursday, Culture Secretary Karen Bradley told the House of Commons that the BBC was “one of this country’s greatest achievements” but needed to be more transparent and make more “distinctive” programmes.
“By making the BBC more transparent, it will help deliver savings that can then be invested in even more great programmes,” she added in a statement.
The proposed reforms stop far short of more radical changes to its role and funding model that were once mooted under Cameron’s government.
But the world leader in journalism and entertainment is being forced to make savings at a time when it faces increasing challenges from streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime.
It is cutting hundreds of jobs after agreeing to make over £700 million in savings by 2021-22 after accepting the cost of providing free content to people aged over 75, which was previously covered by the government.
The BBC — nicknamed “Auntie” — is largely financed through an annual licence fee of £145.50 paid by all households with a television.
Battle to retain talent
Monday’s news that “Bake Off” — in which amateur chefs compete to create the best cakes and pastries, regularly drawing over 10 million viewers — had been bought by Channel 4 has dominated this week’s headlines in Britain.
The broadcaster said it would not meet the financial demands of the private production company behind the programme.
The decision goes to the heart of a long-standing debate in Britain about the role of the BBC as a public broadcaster. Critics regularly accuse it of concentrating too much on commercial successes that other private channels could provide.
Lorraine Heggessey, a former head of the broadcaster’s main channel BBC One, wrote this week that the institution was being asked to do “more and more with less and less.”
The loss of Bake Off “does spark concerns over what the future is for one of our most treasured institutions if it can’t hang on to a hit that it helped create,” she wrote in The Mirror newspaper this week.
BBC director-general Tony Hall said in a statement Tuesday that he was opposed to the move to force the publication of presenters’ salaries.
“The BBC operates in a competitive market and this will not make it easier for the BBC to retain the talent the public love,” he said in a statement. “Ultimately, the BBC should be judged on the quality of its programmes.”