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May 4, 2011 3:41 pm
The new chairman of the BBC Trust said he could not rule out cutting entire services as the broadcaster struggles to adapt to life with a lower budget.
Lord Patten of Barnes said he hoped that no single radio station or TV channel would be closed down as the BBC comes to terms with a 16 per cent reduction in its spending power by 2016, but could not promise it would not happen.
He added that some aspects of the BBC’s activities, particularly its journalism, should be defended “to the death” and that his top priority was to be the guardian of its political independence.
Lord Patten, a former chairman of the Conservative party and the final governor of Hong Kong, said the BBC had more work to do on excessive pay for its executives.
“There is an extraordinary paradox…that the BBC’s programmes get fantastic ratings from licence fee payers, but they don’t admire the institution as much.
“I think it is a small but important part of the public reputation of the BBC.”
Some executives were still being paid too much, he insisted, in spite of the efforts of Mark Thompson, the director-general, to make cuts. Yet he pointed to the recent decision to appoint George Entwistle as head of all BBC television on a salary about half that of his predecessor, Jana Bennett.
“Public service broadcasting isn’t just a brand. It is part of a culture,” he told the BBC Today programme on Wednesday.
“You can talk about competitive pressures, but public service broadcasting as we have fallen into, as we have designed it, as we have built it and created it in this country is unique and I think we all recognise that and want it to stay so.”
Lord Patten said he backed the BBC’s right to pay high rates to entertainers and presenters, although he did not think it was right to pay one entertainer – he did not name Jonathan Ross – 50 per cent more in a year than the whole annual budget of the Proms. The BBC should “not be too fussed” if other broadcasters poached talent that the corporation itself had discovered and nurtured, he said.
He added that the Trust had a role in being the “conscience” of the BBC. On Tuesday he said he would like to consider whether Ofcom, the broadcasting regulator, could take over some of the watchdog role currently held by the Trust.
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