Auntie Gets A Spanking

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Originally published in Impact Investor

We all love the BBC – don’t we? I know I do.

I’ve experienced the BBC from inside – I briefly worked there in the 1980s in the External Services, which then had many language branches – and as a viewer. You never would become a BBC journalist for the money; staff salaries always were (and still are) lower than the commercial sector. You joined because the BBC represented the very best in journalism and as a BBC reporter people took you seriously. I’ve also lived in the US where there are a 1,000 TV channels and none worth watching. Unlike the BBC.

But back in the 80s Auntie was a very stuffy place. I had been working for a year as a successful talks writer and broadcaster for the English language section. I interviewed for a job in a sister department called Central Talks and Features, but was turned down because (so my section head embarrassedly informed me later) “it was not the done thing to wear a woolly jumper for a BBC board”. It was a cold day; I had a sober suit-and-tie on and a black V-neck jumper. That did for my career with the BBC; I immediately left and joined Granada TV, a more brutal place but one that couldn’t care less what you wore.

Of course it’s all very different now. For one thing the BBC has expanded tremendously. And so has the money to be made from it. As of now it has more than 100 senior executives earning annual salaries of £150,000 and above (versus £142,500 for the prime minister). Jeremy Clarkson, who was not a BBC staffer, reportedly made £14 million from Top Gear in 2012. Tony Hall, the BBC’s director-general, likes to say the “BBC does not belong to its staff. The BBC does not belong to the government. The BBC belongs to the country.” Which is of course meaningless; you and I do not have any supervision over the BBC and therefore we cannot be said to own it.

A review of the BBC’s operations every 10 years seems to me a pretty relaxed way of going about things.

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