Join the dots

There’s a lot that’s been written about the detail of the BBC’s proposals, but every now and then it’s good to sit back and look at the bigger picture. So let’s look at what’s been going on recently in the wider BBC world and see if we can spot any connections.

1) 2nd Sept: Mark Thompson is spotted heading into Downing Street with a briefing paper selling the BBC’s coverage of the government’s cuts agenda to David Cameron’s team

2) 1st Sept: Mark Thompson says that in the 1980’s the BBC was guilty of a “massive” left wing bias

3) Aug 27th: Mark Thompson uses his MacTaggart lecture to boast that he is “serious” about tackling the BBC’s pension problem (aka destroying the pension scheme) – see my earlier post on the MacTaggart.

It’s simple. The big game is the licence fee – Thompson is trying to buy favour with the government. There are two issues here. First, will it work and second, is the detail of this strategy morally right? There’s certainly nothing wrong with the principle of a strategy to win the best possible licence fee from 2012 onwards. We all depend on success in that field. But is the best strategy to kowtow to the government and its press allies quite so obsequiously? The danger is that Thompson’s strategy will look like weakness and encourage the BBC’s opponents to push harder.

But the second issue is about morality. I have a huge objection to seeing my pension rights lined up as a concession to the BBC’s critics to try and buy a better licence fee deal. As I’ve reported before, Mark told me after the pensions seminar that he wasn’t keen on the BBC being an “outlier” in public sector pension provision, come the licence fee negotiations. But to me our position relative to the rest of the public sector is irrelevant. The BBC has a pensions contract with its staff. That contract robustly protects the value of our pensions, and places the onus on the BBC to solve funding issues that may arise. We all bought into that contract. Now the BBC is trying to use a sneaky, underhand tactic of dubious legality to try and bypass its pension obligations. If any of us were to try such a trick we’d be smacked down pretty quickly. Mark Thompson should be proud of the pension scheme that the BBC has, and proud to defend it against attacks from outside the organisation. That he has chosen the opposite course, and effectively declared war on that part of his own workforce who are in the final salary scheme to cover his political flank is a source of consternation to those of us who who have been naive enough to believe the BBC’s pension promise.


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