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BBC, U.K. government cross swords

Minister attacks broadcaster's leadership

LONDON — The battle to force the BBC to share its license fee has intensified as Blighty’s new media minister accused the corp. of “wrong-headed” leadership over the issue.

Ben Bradshaw, the former BBC foreign correspondent appointed secretary of state for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport last month, claimed the pubcaster’s leadership have lost the confidence of senior staff.

He said the opposition of BBC toppers Michael Lyons and Mark Thompson to sharing license fee coin, paid by all U.K. TV watching homes, with commercial rivals was misguided and “ultimately self defeating.”

In an interview with the Financial Times, designed to coincide with the publication of the BBC’s annual report on Tuesday, Bradshaw claimed poor leadership at the corp. had left many senior execs at the pubcaster with “almost a feeling of despair.”

He said: “There are plenty of people within the BBC that do not feel it is a well-led organization and that for me is almost the most worrying thing.

“And they don’t feel they are being well-led on this issue. It fits into a pattern. It is not the only issue.

“There is almost a feeling of despair among a lot of highly respected BBC professionals.”

Public criticism by a senior politician of the BBC’s leadership in such strongly worded terms is extraordinary and virtually unprecedented in recent times.

It illustrates the gulf that exists between the U.K. government’s determination to end the corp.’s monopoly of license fee money — and Lyons and Thompson’s insistence that the cash must be for the BBC’s sole use.

Speaking at a press confab to launch the annual report, Lyons, who chairs the pubcaster’s governing body, the BBC Trust, repeated his opposition to sharing the fee, proposed in the recent Digital Britain report.

He said: “You run the risk of the license fee becoming a back pocket for government, used to fund an increasing range of activities with damage to accountability, eventually the independence of the BBC, and run the risk of a higher license fee in the future.”

At the press conference, Michael announced that bonuses for the BBC’s 10 most senior execs were being suspended indefinitely.

In the U.K., there is huge public anger over what is perceived as the high salaries paid to corporation toppers, not least the remuneration given to director general Thompson, who earned £834,000 ($1.36 million) last year, according to the annual report.

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