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The faux-outrage over BBC expenses

2:45 pm - June 26th 2009

by Septicisle    

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As non-stories go, BBC executives claim hardly anything on expenses over five year period is a pretty high ranking one. Director-General claims for flight back to Britain to deal with manufactured newspaper scandal, as any other business would accept in an instant, creative director claims on insurance for stolen handbag, and a £100 bottle of champagne for someone regarded by many as a national treasure is about as weak as it gets.

To give an idea of just how removed these are from the MPs expenses, Radio 1’s controller Andy Parfitt claimed £340.43 on meals last year (PDF), the highest such claim. That’s £60 less than most MPs were claiming in a single month on food.

To be sure, these are high-earning individuals, spending our money when they should perhaps be forking out for it themselves.

Yet these claims in any other business of a similar size would barely raise an eyebrow, as the more honest outside commentators are admitting. Prince Charles cost us £3 million last year; the BBC’s executive expenses over 5 years were £363,963.83. I know in an instant which I’d plump for every time.

The BBC though is nothing if it is not self-flagellating. You can imagine the delight of the Daily Mail, responsible for the ridiculous storm over “Sachsgate” at the news that Mark Thompson claimed back on the cost of his flights to deal with the fallout from it.

Hence the story has been towards the top of their news throughout the day, the top story on Newsnight, and you have Martin Bell, saint of all sleaze allegations, denouncing these more than reasonable costs as unacceptable. Perhaps the Guardian’s comment sections are hardly representative, but to call the consensus being overwhelmingly towards these expenses being for the most part highly reasonable would be putting it too lightly, with Emily Bell taking rather heavy flak for her piece.

She does however have something of a point; there is a contradiction between whether the BBC is a public or private organisation. Not a single person in the country believes that Jonathan Ross is worth £6 million a year, and he would almost certainly not get a similar sum now from a truly commercial organisation, even if he would have done before. The fact remains though that for the most part the BBC does have to compete, even if ITV and CH4 claim to high heaven that they’re now hardly treading water.

We expect so much from the BBC, and when you have the outrages like Jonathan Ross’s salary and some of the truly dreadful programmes which it occasionally produces, whether it be almost everything that BBC3 broadcasts or the likes of Hotel Babylon, it undermines the general good which the corporation radiates.

It could be better: it could close down BBC3 entirely, and also perhaps do without Radio 1 which has deteriorated to such a stage that putting it down would be the kind thing to do, and reinvest the money elsewhere, but no one has yet had the temerity to suggest that the BBC should do more with less, except for those that have a very good commercial reason for saying so.

It also simply doesn’t seem to have occurred to some respondents that they can change the channel if there’s swearing on one side, with the BBC now promising that strong language will only be heard in “exceptional circumstances” between 9pm and 10pm on BBC1. It wasn’t that long ago when strong language didn’t require any such warning before the programme began, especially later on at night, yet now there are warnings across the board, all while 46% say the standards have slipped in recent years.

Despite its strength, there is a timidity and an apologetic nature about the BBC at present, as if they seem to realise that it can’t last much longer, and that it’ll all be better when it is cut down to size, something which we will then bitterly regret for ever more.

At a time when there is so much unaccountability, both in public and private life, the BBC is one of the more responsive and open organisations. The danger is that it’ll brought down because of that rather than the opposite.

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About the author
'Septicisle' is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He mostly blogs, poorly, over at on politics and general media mendacity.
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Reader comments

Curiously, I probably watch BBC3 more than BBC1 or 2 at the moment, so I’d be a little pissed off if it were closed down. But then I wouldn’t suggest the BBC bases it’s broadcasting strategy on my personal opinions about its output.

I agree, though, that the expenses stuff is a lot of noise about very little.

“At a time when there is so much unaccountability, both in public and private life, the BBC is one of the more responsive and open organisations. The danger is that it’ll brought down because of that rather than the opposite.”

I wish, wish, wish Auntie would stick up for herself every now and again. It’s bigger than the Mail, it’s better than the Mail. It can beat the Mail. What are the circumstances behind these being released? Was there really any need to reveal that BBC executives make rather reasonable claims?

Re Emily Bell, I remember reading on Popbitch a while ago that she had been turned down for a high ranking post within the Beeb and to watch out for hideously anti-BBC stories on the Guardian. QED?

Yet these claims in any other business of a similar size would barely raise an eyebrow, as the more honest outside commentators are admitting. Prince Charles cost us £3 million last year; the BBC’s executive expenses over 5 years were £363,963.83. I know in an instant which I’d plump for every time.

Y’know, there is more sense in that one paragraph than almost all the shit I’ve read over the past few weeks. More manufactured outrage.

How come the right don’t bang on daily about the taxes we piss away paying for an over-privileged, undemocratic collection of kissing cousins?

The whole thing rather had the feel of an over-ambitious recent graduate pushing his pet project in an attempt to crawl up the corporate ladder. The repeated rewriting of the article, seemingly to leave behind the several hundred comments failing to get outraged, sorely rankles.

It was revealing, I think, that Private Eye reported that the Graun had recently laid off two experienced investigative reporters.

The BBC should leak that certain newspapers are going to be nationalised – in the interest of public good, of course.

See how those at’Mail get knickers in twist.

6. Shatterface

Wow, an entirely sensible article (meaning I agree with you entirely) followed by equally sensible responses.

This site is no fun anymore: I’ll pop back when the public broadcasting-haters start frothing at the mouth.

It is why I have always had a soft spot for Alasdair Campbell in his dealings with the scummy right wing media. Campbell lost me with what happened with the Iraq cluster fuck, but he understood the hostility of a Tory media to a Labour govt. Nobody spins more than the Mail. That is why they hated him so much, he gave them a taste of their medicine. And the Tory media has a very thin skin when the boot is on the other foot.

The Right won’t rest until they have destroyed the BBC. They hate unbiased news media. Their dream is wall to wall Fox crap every day.

Sally, I love the way you can post without uninformed stereotpyes, it’s a real talent.

9. Charlieman

At the time of writing, the search term “BBC” scores one hit on the Daily Mail’s news page. So much for the “story”, even if Jacko claimed the prime spots.

Mac, their cartoonist, obviously expected some embarrassments, hence this piss poor effort at enlightening humour:

The Mail’s solitary article did make two interesting disclosures, that an exec spent £130 hosting a discussion on Sport Relief and similarly £417.25 on Children in Need. I’m more than happy that the BBC spends money on such discussions, particularly if they talk about the propriety of a public broadcaster hosting such events. I’m not against the events per se, but I despise their tone and lack of intellectual rigour. The BBC’s coverage of the Live 8 concert in 2005 was painful, even for those with broad sympathy for the campaign.

10. councilhousetory

It is interesting though, that we are often told that public servants make sacrifices, aren’t so concerned with materialism and could have whatever they wanted if only they went into the private sector.

Yet middle-manager nobodies at the BBC have such a belief in their own entitlement that on a junket to Las Vegas (of all places) they had to go to the Bellagio. Not the Travelodge, the Bellagio.

I like news and politics and documentaries …but I also like Hotel Babylon and Radio 1!

I would love to see the expeses of the Mail. Darce’s expeses would be very interesting. Come to that , I would love to see the detailed expenses of most private corporations.

The idea that they are prudent is such bull. And everytime you buy one of their products you pay through the nose for it.

13. Charlieman

@10 I don’t know whether the BBC employees went on a junket or necessary business trip. What I do know about business trips:
* Event organisers arrange cheap deals with hotels.
* Sometimes the company organises the trip for you. There is no choice where you stay.
* Nobody with taste and the money to stay where they wished would stay at the Bellagio. Say what you want about BBC employees, but they generally have good taste.
* Tacky hotels like the Bellagio always have cheap, vacant rooms.

14. councilhousetory


I said it was interesting. How do you think it would be viewed in Harriet Harman’s ‘court of public opinion’?

Great article and I agree with it all and I haven’t said that for a very long time.

Particularly noteworthy is the point that “Prince Charles cost us £3 million last year” and that is just as a direct payment, other costs are far, far more and the Royals in general cost around £180m and their accounts are not even audited.

No outrage in the press about that is there?

“No outrage in the press about that is there?”

Of course not. Because the Royal family are a bunch right wing aristocrats. Just the sort of people the right wing media like as head of state.

Theywould be quite happy to pay 2-3-5 times as much out of state funds. And some of their biggest suporters are those famous libertaians we hear so much about.

Why on earth is Prince Charles, of all royals, costing the taxpayer anything? The revenues of the Duchy of Cornwall ought to be enough for anyone.

Britain’s dominant pay-TV firm BSkyB attacked media regulator Ofcom for unprecedented interference on Friday, saying it would launch legal action if forced to open its channels to rivals at a set rate.


In many ways the BBC is to be applauded for releasing all this stuff. Contrary to the main thrust of the article the issue really isn’t about the level of expenses but the issue of transparency and accountability. It remains to be seen if other publically funded corporations follow suit without a fight. I sense, however, that it will not be long before the government produces a set of regulations on public access to financial information and amends the Freedom of Information and Data Protection Acts to stop the latter being used to deny the former.


My issue with MPs’ expenses is not so much the amounts (although some of the claims were plainly ridiculous) but the fact that MPs and civil servants colluded in deceiving the electorate (and continue to do so) rather than openly voting for an increase in their salaries.

By not having a TV licence I have chosen not to support the BBC’s business practises. I have no such choice with my MP – or the rest of Parliament for that matter.

Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Article: : The faux-outrage over BBC expenses

  2. sunny hundal

    Well, at least Michael Jackson saved the BBC from enduring more faux-outrage over its expenses

  3. Carl Wheatley

    BBC expenses – interesting article

  4. Liberal Conspiracy

    Article: : The faux-outrage over BBC expenses

  5. sunny hundal

    Well, at least Michael Jackson saved the BBC from enduring more faux-outrage over its expenses

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