Continuing the drive for transparency
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.