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Datar: Pay row has undermined BBC

The controversy over excessive pay for senior staff at the BBC has "undermined" the corporation's reputation around the world and is as damaging as the Jimmy Savile sex abuse scandal, according to one of its award-winning journalists.

BBC World News presenter Rajan Datar, who also presents a show on the World Service, said people were missing "one very important consequence of the depressing and demoralising charade that we call 'senior executives being held to account'".

In a letter to the BBC's in-house magazine Ariel, he said: "For those of us who work predominantly abroad, it's horrifying to see how the BBC's reputation is being undermined by this saga as much as by the sexual abuse scandals.

"I noticed this on a recent filming trip to China, where a surprising number of people seemed to be au fait with the scandal over excessive management pay and it clearly weakened our authority and credibility on the ground. This is especially damaging in regimes that might look to find reasons not to be interviewed or find holes in the BBC's integrity."

Mr Datar, who was named Broadcast Travel Journalist of the Year in 2012, said most BBC employees "feel completely powerless" about the issue.

He said he had calculated that the "amount most frequently cited amongst the pay-off deals" could have funded 50 of his half-hour shows on World News.

BBC bosses - past and present - faced a committee of MPs yesterday in a bid to get to the heart of who knew what and when about huge pay-outs to senior staff including the case of former deputy director-general Mark Byford who got a pay-off of £949,000.

Former director-general Mark Thompson, one of seven witnesses called by the Public Accounts Committee, was forced to deny a charge the BBC had "lost the plot" over excessive pay-outs.

MP Margaret Hodge, who chairs the committee, told those present that the meeting was a "grossly unedifying occasion which can only damage the standing and the reputation of the BBC".

She said: "At best, what we've seen is incompetence, lack of central control, a failure to communicate for a broadcaster whose job is communicating. At worst, we may have seen people covering their backs by being less than open. That is not good."

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