Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Embattled BBC faces pay scrutiny

With the BBC facing what one veteran star described as the worst crisis in his 50 years with the broadcaster, Auntie is certainly short on friends at the moment.

One can almost hear the knives being sharpened by long-time enemies before being plunged into the back of the corporation. Of course, it has contributed largely to its own problems with a particularly inept performance by many of its senior management in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal. And Director General George Entwistle gave a fairly lamentable account of himself before MPs yesterday.

Closer to home, this newspaper has uncovered a disquieting practice at the BBC in Northern Ireland, which admits that it has paid around 260 freelance staff in a manner which could help them pay less tax. Some of these staff are paid as if they were companies which could lessen their tax liability. These staff do not include what is regarded as 'talent', highly-paid presenters or journalists.

Across the UK 1,500 top BBC stars are paid through service companies as are a third of its 467 presenters. This practice has led to the BBC coming under more and more scrutiny.

While this newspaper has from time to time taken issue with the corporation and regards it as bloated with too many management layers, it still retains its reputation as a world-leading broadcaster. Even its harshest critics have to concede that in areas like news gathering, documentaries and drama it ranks with the best.

But it does have significant questions to answer over Savile and about its use of money. The broadcaster should end its practice of paying top earners as if they were companies, perhaps contributing to tax avoidance. It must also answer criticisms of its editorial controls and the duty of care it should have exercised to everyone who entered its doors.

But the current maelstrom in which the BBC finds itself trapped is fuelled to a significant degree by enemies sensing a weakened prey and launching vicious attacks on all fronts and these too must be recognised for what they are.

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