Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Last minute

When a sport has to turn to something as complex as the Duckworth-Lewis method to produce a result, there are some fundamental issues with the game. When an organisation has to resort to the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution to settle issues around presenter pay, it's in a right mess.

The inner conclave of BBC apparatchiks will be gathered around a 55" Samsung in the Harry Gration and Christa Ackroyd conference room at Broadcasting House this morning, twitching in anticipation of Dashing Damian Collins' Culture Select Committee meeting looking at presenter pay and personal service companies.

The BBC late offer of dispute resolution will not stop the relentless disclosure of the obvious; the BBC did force people into Personal Services Companies, with no alternative; and the BBC has been rough on some it dragged back on to staff terms and conditions. Why the management has been denying this is most peculiar.

I'm sure I'm not the only person with redacted emails to hand now. Try this, from a 2009 email to an agent "We are only permitted to offer long term guarantees of regular programming to individuals who provide their services to us via a service company."  Signed by someone styling themselves "Lawyer, Legal Affairs, Talent & Rights Negotiation Group". The email says the decision has been taken by the BBC's Head of Tax, "endorsed by the Finance, Rights and Production areas"; so it looks like more than a handful knew, eh ?

Monday, March 19, 2018

That's entertainment

Tonight, BBC1, 2245.

Andy and Al perform a selection of their favourites, including "You Must Have Been A Beautiful Baby", "Hey Good Lookin'", and "Brown-Eyed Handsome Man".

Coverage issues

Chum Gloria Hunniford tells The Mirror that Sir Cliff Richard is preparing to fly back from Barbados for his court battle with the BBC, set for April.

Difficult decisions ahead for BBC Newsgathering; one helicopter (no longer shared with ITV), but who to track on the way to court ? Fair play suggests hovering above the BBC witnesses, rather than the aging popstar. 

Mixed message

No, it's not another Newsnight photoshop, with Bob 'Red' Shennan superimposed against a backdrop from Les Miserables.

It's one half of the BBC Radio management team trying to avoid a Norwegian solution, in a key note speech at Radio Days Europe in Vienna. At the end of last year, Norway switched off its national FM transmitters, leaving listeners to find their way to programmes via DAB and the internet - local stations are still on FM. Most national stations lost 10% of their audience; the big public broadcaster, NRK, lost 21%.

The BBC has been easing its foot off the DAB accelerator pedal for some time, exhorting listeners to "download the BBC Sport app", "catch-up via the Radio iPlayer", "download from the Radio 4 website", and is in the midst of a podcast frenzy. In theory the DCMS can push for a switch-off of radio on FM when 50% of listening is 'digital'.  The latest figures say that 62% of the UK population tune in to radio digitally each week - either via DAB, DTV, online or an app. The digital share of radio listening stands at 49.9%.  Within that, DAB, which was to be the future of radio, stands at 36.3%.

The DAB conundrum is in cars. It was supposed to be the perfect solution for motorists, getting rid of the ssshh and crackle as drivers moved between FM transmitters. On long drives, DAB has become more of a pain, with the switch between digital multiplexes often requiring too many touchscreen presses if you're on your own in the car. And now there are multiple devices in the front seat; instead of cassettes, phones drive motoring music - either from their music libraries or connected to streaming services.

So Bob has called for a continuation of the current mixed market, a review in years to come, a 're-invention' of radio on 5g smartphones, and more industry wide collaboration.

Collaboration is the buzzword. Except that he's also announced the impending arrival of a new BBC-only Radio App later this year; and the impending arrival of a new Commissioner for Podcasts, a massive BBC growth industry, apparently funded without pain from radio network budgets which are supposed to be cut to the bone. Anne Bulford will, I expect, be asking questions about this economic miracle. I expect commercial rivals to wake up soon and ask sleepy Sir David Clementi for a market impact assessment.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Review of reviews

Nicholas Hellen in The Sunday Times thinks the BBC is about to announce yet another review of the way it's been paying people. Put that alongside the review to produce a new framework for top presenter pay; the Donalda Mackinnon Culture review looking particularly at women's pay and working practices; the Tim Davie fast-track diversity review; the Naomi Ellenbogen review of the PWC plans to make pay fairer, and you might think BBC senior management hasn't been paying attention to reward issues for a decade or two. The agonisingly slow process of replacing Grades with the ludicrously-named Career Path Framework (=not quite as many Grades) seems to have distracted them into thinking they were on top of things.

Tuesday DCMS Select Committee may not just hear tales of BBC talent being offered no other option than payment through personal service companies; sadder tales of the reverse ferret are surfacing. After Margaret Hodge's outrage at the practice, and with the HMRC playing hardball over IR35, the BBC insisted that freelances who only freelanced for the BBC moved to staff and PAYE and fast. Some say their landing salary on PAYE was reduced to allow the BBC to cover anticipated claims for back tax.

Not much evidence of 'do as you would be done by' from some very well-paid managers of the recent past at Auntie.

Greek tragedy

The Siege of Saturday Night at BBC1 continues, with episode 5 (of 8) of Troy falling to an average audience of just 1.28m (7.1% share). The news bulletin that followed got an average of 2.68m; the ITV bulletin at 10.30pm scored 2.45m.


TalkRADIO continues its development as a playground for Rebekah Brooks' favourites at THE SUN. Today toothy showbiz specialist and Kiwi, Dan Wootton, gets a regular show.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Go, Jo

The DCMS Select Committee looking at personal service companies and BBC presenters on Tuesday will take evidence from Jolyon Maugham QC, who is already advising both broadcasters and presenters under pressure from HMRC.

He blogs - and most recently, wrote after the Christa Ackroyd case, where HMRC won the day. I'm sure the BBC has read the whole thing, but here's a key extract.

"Alongside the legal question there is a moral one: are the presenters really to blame? Answering that question is altogether more difficult. Some presenters will be financially sophisticated. Some will knowingly have engaged in risky tax behaviour. But a great majority will have relied on their advisers, will have been tacitly encouraged by the attitude of the BBC (‘how could the BBC be involved in tax avoidance?’) or other major broadcasters, and will have been fortified by the many years in which HMRC seemed barely to bother to apply IR35.

Is it really fair that we point the finger only at the presenter? Should the BBC escape moral obloquy? And what of the army of advisers?"

Jo came to the UK from New Zealand in his teens, and worked initially as a clerk, at the BBC where he wrote a play for Radio 4 and a feature for Radio 3, before studying law.

Taxing times

The BBC will be hoping it doesn't end up with four mini-Carrie-ons next Tuesday, when four employees appear in front of the DCMS Select Committee answering questions about tax and personal service companies.

The four are Stuart Linnell MBE, a big figure in radio broadcasting across the Midlands, currently hosting 1500-1800 weekdays on Radio Northampton; Kirsty Lang (Mrs Misha McMafia Glenny), who's been part of the Radio 4 Front Row presenting team since 2004; Paul 'Money Box' Lewis; and the shy, retiring Liz Kershaw, 30 years with the BBC, currently presenting a Saturday show on Radio 6Music.

The BBC has declined an invitation to attend, according to the Press Gazette.  A BBC spokesperson tells the organ “We appeared before the Select Committee very recently, and are doing a huge amount of work to make progress in this area. As we have told the Committee we are open to appearing before them again once we have more to update them on and have had a chance to consider any new evidence presented on Tuesday.”

You'd have thought, with such a talented and efficient HR team, there would be no new evidence that the four might present to their employer.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Stale males

I'm sure that the owners of The Times won't mind me sharing these op-ed thoughts from columnist Sathnam Sanghera

I see that on its website the BBC has advertised the role of director of reward to help it with retention, when what it really needs is a director of employee turnover. Bad people need to leave to make sure that good people get promoted and if the BBC is sincere about employing more women, working-class people, disabled people, etc, so that it reflects those who pay for its services, then it also needs to ensure that some of the stale, male staff who have always been in charge leave. Just the briefest glance at the BBC’s star names reveals that they don’t.

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