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Continuing the drive for transparency

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Caroline Thomson Caroline Thomson | 16:44 UK time, Thursday, 1 April 2010

Last year, Mark Thompson said he would make the BBC more transparent to those who pay for it. He made a commitment to find new ways to show the public how we spend their compulsory licence fee to inform, educate and entertain everyone in the United Kingdom with quality programmes and services. 

As part of this, we decided to provide information about the people who run the BBC, those who ensure that we meet our mission to serve the British public. So we decided to publish the names of the people in charge and the jobs they do, how much they get paid, what hospitality they receive, and what expenses they claim. And we committed to doing this on a regular basis. We have also, for the first time, provided a breakdown of our spend on on-screen and on-air performers.

With these steps, we have aimed to put the BBC at the forefront of transparency and public accountability. We have gone further than many other public bodies and we will continue to look for new ways to make ourselves more open to licence fee payers. And all this is in addition to the hundreds of requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) we respond to from journalists, politicians and members of the public.

Clearly, suddenly making information public that we've previously kept private has been a big change for many of us to get used to. Many people, no matter where they work, quite understandably expect that their salary should remain confidential between them and their employer. However, we decided that for senior managers at the BBC, those responsible for spending large amounts of public money, it is appropriate for the public to know how much they are paid. The public interest is greater than the personal discomfort.

In moving through this discomfort to a world where we are regularly publishing such a range of personal information about so many people, there is inevitably a vigorous internal debate in which sometimes unfortunate things are said. Yesterday, following a FOIA request from a journalist, we released a number of emails between BBC managers who were preparing for the disclosure of executive salaries in January. In one of them, one manager suggested changing the way the information was presented, to disguise the number of employees paid over £100,000.

This suggestion was dismissed by the BBC's Directors and the information was subsequently published in full in the already established bands as ruled upon by the Information Commissioner's Office. And we dismissed it because it is absolutely at odds with and counter to our complete belief that we need to change and become more open.

Although the contents of that email are embarrassing, I believe the incident actually underscores the BBC's commitment to transparency: a bad idea to disguise information from the public was rejected by the BBC's Directors; and the emails relating to the disclosure were released, unredacted, to a journalist who asked for them.

We will continue to push ourselves to ensure we remain at the vanguard of transparency and to demonstrate that we are securing value for money for licence fee payers.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 2.

    Like a BBQ summer we wait in hope but without expectation.

    Perhaps As a start you could tell us why?.

    Most of your presenters and management are White and from elite public schools.

    Or is that a step too far.

  • Comment number 3.

    If the BBC were genuinely open and transparant to the people who pay for it then it would release all the information behind its decisions.

    There are a number of Freedom of Information requests at the moment relating to the BBC's decision to close 6music. Thus far, the BBC has not released the relevant information even though there are no grounds for blocking release other than the embarrassment caused by the fact that the information would show the decision is deeply flawed.

    This is a test. So far the BBC is failing.

  • Comment number 4.

    This is all hot air. 5 times I've asked John Tate to explain his comments to the Lords regarding there being plenty of "similar" radio stations to 6Music. No response yet.

    My FOI request regarding budget overspends was rejected. So this is clearly further evidence that the BBC thinks itself above those who pay for it.

  • Comment number 5.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 6.

    Hi again,

    DO NOT MODERATE - THE LICENCE PAYERS HAVE A RIGHT TO ANSWERS (and resignations)

    Please provide a full explanation and justification for the £4011 that you billed The BBC in taxi fares IN JUST 3 MONTHS last year.

    And 6Music doesn't represent value?

    If I were to write here what any right thinking person would say I'd get moderated. So I won't.

    Just go, the lot of you.

  • Comment number 7.

    Dear Ms Thomson,

    I have been informed, educated and entertained by the BBC now for half a century. Only in the days of FAB208 and Caroline did my loyalties lie elsewhere. I was an early fan of Radio 1, Top of the Pops and The Old Grey Whistle Test as well as being an avid reader of NME and Record Mirror. I was also a player in a youth orchestra and a regular attender at an LEA saturday morning music school where we were introduced to Berio, Webern and Schoenburg. I still keep myself well informed about all kinds of music and it is a major part of my life.

    I like to feel that the broadcasters that I listen to are as knowledgeable as I am about the music they play and I listen to. There are commercial music stations - but I think I'd prefer silence.

    Most of your blog post is about being honest, accountable and transparent. You acknowledge that the licence fee is compulsory and therefore you have a duty to be seen to give us all value for our money. I have read many posts from other 6Music fans that list their questions and requests under FOI, and also many reasons why they feel, as I do, that closing 6Music goes against the Reithian maxims listed in your first paragraph.

    You appear to imply that the 'transparent and honest' BBC is such an improvement, that your 'accountability' is truly laudable and that we should be so grateful for your conviction that you are giving us value for money.

    Then I look at the listing of 'Snog.Marry.Avoid.' and despair. You tell us that you want to give us full value for money, so you propose to close a station playing contemporary music of all sorts introduced by presenters who are passionate about music, but you keep S.M.A.

    This was posted on 1st April. You were having a laugh right?

    If not, could I respectfully suggest that you stop worrying so much about 'pushing' yourselves 'to ensure' you 'remain at the vanguard of transparency' and start pushing yourselves to ensure you remain at the vanguard of quality public service broadcasting instead?

    Saving 6Music will go a little way towards doing that.

    But if you all persist in continuing to push the 'restructuring demographic' meaningless marketing mantra, and so blatantly display your collective lack of knowledge about and interest in contemporary music, then the only solution could be for you to push off.



  • Comment number 8.

    P.S.
    Just a thought...

    The vacuous silence from your good self, Mr Davie and the rest of your happy band could mean that you're in a room somewhere earnestly working on a great plan that takes the views of all your respondents into consideration, before you tootle off to the Trust and tell them it's been a horrible mistake.

    Or it could be that these 'blogs' are merely lip service. They're here so that you are seen to be engaging with us - but there has never been any intention to take any notice of them. A place for 'customers' to let off steam and be entertained by each other's postings - but no one else (except for Ms/Mr Moderator) was ever intended to read the content.

    Cynical no? (That's you, not me...)

    ...And the place with the real power to get action from BBC management is the front page of the Daily Mail.




  • Comment number 9.

    Are you STILL there?

    Why? We've asked for your resignation.

    The board's position is untenable, don't wait for a compensation package, that would be immoral.

    ...and reimburse you taxi fares now.

  • Comment number 10.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 11.

    Transparency? At the BBC?

    Is this why respondants to the Tim Davie & Andy Parfitt blogs are still awaiting answers to their perfectly reasonable questions.

    Transparency, execpt when the Director General says so, more like.

  • Comment number 12.

    I see you've had time to write another blog.

    Time you took the time to answer your paymasters on THIS blog and give a proper explanation of your statement that "6Music sits at the heart of commercial demographic" addressing the fact that business leaders from commercial radio have stated that they cannot replicate the output of 6Music and want 6Music to stay.

    If you again delete this response you have no right to discuss transparency.

    By the way, when can we expect a refund on the taxi fares?

  • Comment number 13.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 14.

    This is an email from one of your own staff about 6music when I pointed out that blogging and running didn't create a dialogue between the BBC management and the public:

    "I take the point on blogs only getting us so far but I have been engaged in numerous email exchanges with people emailing me on 6music. I appreciate there is frustration because we are not articulating a fully detailed plan at this point but we judge it best that at this time the key thing is for the Trust to complete their consultation and then we can respond to their conclusions."

    So, the BBC isn't articulating a fully detailed plan. Do you have even one? It's not clear.

    Well, bravo. I must applaud this example of transparency.

  • Comment number 15.

    If we're going to be transparent. Perhaps the BBC Board could fully disclose all meetings/emails/phone calls involving executives and anyone working for or on behalf of the Conservative Party or News International in relation to the strategic review and the future of BBC's output.

    I'd hate to have to put yet another Freedom of Information request in.

  • Comment number 16.

    Hey, look at the date when this blog was published. April fools, everyone! (At least it would explain some of her contradictions.)

  • Comment number 17.

    Caroline - how on earth do you expect us to properly respond to the BBC Trust if you are giving no details of your "fully detailed plan"? It makes no sense.

    Closing 6music is a very very very bad idea. There continues to be no logical argument from you or your colleagues to support or explain this proposal.




  • Comment number 18.


    Is it cynical of me to conclude that The Times Online giving away a free download of a world class BBC show, The Thick of It, to subscribers to their pay-wall is a clear indication of a new working relationship between the BBC and Murdoch?

    This is OUR BBC - you and your colleagues have sold us out. Those of us who believe of a strong, state BBC will never forget.

    Hang your heads in shame.

  • Comment number 19.

    In the interests of transparency can Caroline come forward and answer all the questions we are asking regards 6 music - as not one of the false statements made by the Management team have been substantiated and are so clearly false?

    To throw your final statement back at you :

    We will continue to push yourselves to ensure you really are the vanguard of transparency - so far only your false claims have shown any transparency!!

  • Comment number 20.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 21.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 22.

    Transparency? lol

    Stop blocking people - you're a public servant on £400K+ and you're accountable to us.

    Nothing is off topic.

  • Comment number 23.

    Transparency?

    Could you then please explain, on the basis of transparency, without blocking commentators who are furious with you, your statement about 6Music sitting "at the heart of commercial demographic"

    No, that's not "off topic" it's a request for transparency.

    As is a full explanation on how it's possible to spend £4K on taxis in 3 moths in an around London when clearly you'd benefit from walking.

  • Comment number 24.

    In the interests of "transparency" and therefore not "off topic" is the standard, nonsensical response complainants to Caroline Thomson get when they complain about the victimisation of licence payers through the closure of 6Music.

    The "unique listeners" reference in not only nonsense, it implies that the BBC want people who listen to 6Music to not enjoy other BBC services even though it promotes them on 6Music.

    This woman cannot be allowed to remain on the BBC board.

    “Thank you for your email regarding 6 Music.

    I am sorry that this is not more personalised, but we have had a high volume of correspondence on this matter and it is impossible to reply to them all personally. However, this reply will hopefully answer most of your main points.

    Recommending the closure of a BBC Service, as the BBC has done, is never an easy decision. All of our services are loved, with passionate followers. However, after a long process of reviewing the entire BBC Portfolio across television, radio and online, considering value for money, wide ranging audience data, and the BBC’s place in the wider market, we have concluded that we should recommend to the BBC Trust that 6 Music should be closed.

    There are several reasons for this. Although 6 Music has a loyal following, it is a relatively small one, and it only brings about 4,000 people to the BBC who enjoy no other BBC Service. We appreciate that the station has some distinctive programming and some very loyal listeners, but it is expensive given its current audience size. We could fix that potentially by doubling or trebling the number of listeners, but the problem then would be that – given 6 Music’s demographics – it would be competing hard for the same audience as mainstream commercial radio. We have to recognise how big and successful BBC Radio already is, and that we sometimes have to make room for our competitors. We can’t do everything.

    We are therefore proposing to close 6 Music and serve the British public with an excellent musical offering with our two existing popular music stations, Radio 1 and Radio 2. There is some great talent on 6 Music on and off the air; where we can, we’ll find a home for them elsewhere in our services, and we will keep our overall investment in digital radio where it is today.

    The BBC Trust has now announced a 12 week public consultation, which will give all licence payers the opportunity to give their views on the proposals that we have announced. More information on this is available on the BBC Trust website. The Trust will use the responses from the 12 week consultation and its own analysis to form a final view on what the future strategic framework for the BBC ought to be.

    Thank-you for writing with your views.

    Caroline
    Caroline Thomson, Chief Operating Officer

  • Comment number 25.

    In the interests on transparency, could you please provide, using the same criteria as applied to 6Music, the "unique listener" numbers for every BBC radio station.

    The "unique listener" proposition is in itself a nonsense but in the interests of transparency, the numbers for all BBC radio station should be released.

  • Comment number 26.

    Numbers, PepsiTimOut? Did someone mention numbers? How are these numbers: BBC 6 Music's audience grew to a record 1.02 million listeners –up on last quarter's 695,000 and last year's 681,000.

    Let's see how transparent you want to be, Caroline. True transparency would be holding your hands up, admitting you got this wrong, and ditching this charade of a consultation, which will only cost the us, the licence-fee payers, more money. Save it, and stick it into quality programming, as per your remit.

    Stop this nonsense!

  • Comment number 27.

    On 12 April (post #3) I said that the BBC was seeking to block FOI requests relating to the information it used to justify the decision to close 6music. I was hoping that it would let me have the results of its internal review soon after in which case I would appeal to the Information Commissioner - who will certainly compel the BBC to release the information.

    My hope is that I could use the information in order to respond to the BBC Trust before closure of their consultation period. Alas, that's not to be becuase the BBC is using every trick in the book to get out of its FOI requirements. That in itself is a disgrace but to then boast about how open and transparent the BBC is to the people who pay for it..well, that's just beyond belief.

  • Comment number 28.

    Don't believe any of this garbage - the BBC has a sneering contempt to the licence fee payer and does everything it can to hide things from the people who pay its bills (and pay Caroline Thomson half a million a year). See the extract from a recent letter to Michael Lyons below:

    Dear Sir Michael,

    I understand that you are shortly to deal with my request under the Freedom of Information Act for information relating to the decision to close BBC 6music.

    I submitted this request on 2nd March and the BBC wrote to me on 3rd March stating that I would receive a response within 20 working days. On the 30th March I received a response stating that they would need additional time to consider the public interest issues involved and I would therefore receive a response on or before the 14th May. Then on 14th May I received a response stating that additional time would be needed and therefore I would not receive a response until 14th June.

    I am deeply unhappy both about the time taken to deal with this request and about the fact that the BBC has failed to release the information. It is in direct contravention of the relevant guidance of the Information Commissioner’s Office which states that when dealing with issues of public interest “in no case should the total time exceed 40 days”. Moreover, my intention was to use the information provided to formulate a consultation response to the BBC Trust which would disassemble the arguments for closing 6music. As a result of the BBC’s failure to release the information requested that was not possible. A court case in which the defence in a court case had not been allowed to see the prosecution’s evidence would have been thrown out immediately but alas those principles of natural justice do not seem to apply to the BBC.

  • Comment number 29.

    Caroline - I just tried asking for information regarding the cost of putting on the One Big Weekend extravaganza in Bangor. Perfectly reasonable request, one would have thought but...

    "The information you have requested is excluded from the Act because it is held for the purposes of ‘journalism, art or literature.’ The BBC is therefore not obliged to provide this information to you and will not be doing so on this occasion."

    Loving the transparency, Caroline. Brilliant work.

  • Comment number 30.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 31.

    I'm delighted that our BBC Moderation Team are currently checking and double-checking my last post. It shows once again that the BBC really are at the "vanguard of openness".

    Taxi!

  • Comment number 32.

    As one of the many fans of the excellent work Mr Parsnip is doing from his ivory tower at the British Biscuit Corporation, I would welcome it if the moderation of his comments could be expedited. He, like Ms Tank Engine, cuts to the core of transparency at the BBC.

  • Comment number 33.

    In the interests of transparency and, given that the BBC is at the "vanguard of openness" I'd like to know why Andy Parsnip's are being moderated. I understand he was merely disclosing the cost of the One Big Weekend knees-up. Surely the BBC aren't suppressing information again.

    Oh, and I'm still waiting to hear which radio stations are "similar" to 6Music. It's been 4 months now. Not very transparent are you.

  • Comment number 34.

    In the 1960's the BBC were at the leading edge of satire with TW3 and so it was for many years. The estimable Mr Parsnip's posts are a breath of fresh air, and I am sure have raised the spirits of moderators, staff, and even some of those who have written blogs.

    It is a pity if Ms Thompson has no sense of humour.

  • Comment number 35.

    An article from the Telegraph today notes that "it was disclosed that the head of Radio 3 stayed at a £323-per-night hotel while attending the Proms when rooms were available elsewhere almost three times cheaper."

    Ms Thomson, in what way does that fit with your statement that "We will continue to push ourselves to ensure we remain at the vanguard of transparency and to demonstrate that we are securing value for money for licence fee payers."

  • Comment number 36.

    Worry not blogsters, my comments will appear. Either here this evening or on an independent blog site somewhere. You have my word.
    Press the button mods.

  • Comment number 37.

    #36. At 7:20pm on 11 Jun 2010, Andy Parsnip wrote:

    "Worry not blogsters, my comments will appear. Either here this evening or on an independent blog site somewhere. You have my word."

    I think that - posting such comments elsewhere - might well be the best approach, the BBC wouldn't know "transparency" if it came kicking and screaming, I've now had so many comments removed (mostly on the BBC Internet blog) for no other reason than asking/stating uncomfortable facts that the host doesn't like whilst attempting to hold those who we pay for to account, the BBC attitude to it's financial transparency is much like it's attitude to blog censorship/moderation policy, similar to the opacity of a bathroom shower screen - crystal clear were there won't be embarrassed but like trying to see through thick mud were embarrassment might be felt.

    "Boilerplated" signing off (from the BBC blogs) for the last time.

  • Comment number 38.

    It has now been three days since Mr Parsnip's latest comments were sidelined for "further consideration". In the interests of transparency please could a moderator explain what is taking so long?

  • Comment number 39.

    Well, we all know Ms Thomson's email address, perhaps the very person that told us that the BBC is 'at the vanguard of openess' can tell us why critics are being silenced and why it the cost of the BBC's activities are being hidden.
    The BBC brings shame upon itself.

  • Comment number 40.

    Can the mods please contact me? You've got my email address. Thank you.

  • Comment number 41.

    If the Honourable Miss Thomson was still producing Analysis on R4, and a public body was hiding behind a veil of pretend transparency, I am sure she would not have let it go, and if she had, George Fisher would have made sure that she kept going.

    Publish or be damned.

  • Comment number 42.

    Well I've had the latest reply from the BBC and they have confirmed that they are blocking all FOI requests relating to 6music - apparently it wouldn't be in the public interest to tell licence fee payers why 6music is being closed because it might undermine the BBC's ability to negotiate with the Government in the future.

    Of course I shall appeal and I shall probably win. But in the meantime we all know that the BBC's claims to be transparent, that its rhetoric about being accountable to licence fee payers and that its pretence to give a damn what the people who pay for it think are all nothing but a pack of lies.

  • Comment number 43.

    As part of the BBC's "Continuing the drive for transparency" campaign, could someone from the board please explain the mysterious disappearance of the 'Save 6Music' poster from its site outside White City. It was booked for two weeks and lasted a day.

    Considering the amount of free advertising we've given 6Music, I think we'll be looking for a fee.

 

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