New York Times CEO to face parliament over BBC pay packages

Mark Thompson looks forward to opportunity to clear his name. — Reuters file pic
Mark Thompson looks forward to opportunity to clear his name. — Reuters file pic

LONDON, Sept 7 — Former British Broadcasting Corp. director general Mark Thompson, who now serves as chief executive officer of New York Times Co., will appear before Parliament next week to address criticism that the BBC paid excessive severance pay to two former managers.

Thompson, who left the UK’s publicly funded television and radio service a year ago to take the Times job, will face questions over whether the exit packages were vetted by the authorities. In a statement to Parliament ahead of the appearance on Monday, Thompson said the BBC Trust governing body was aware of the payments, disputing claims made by the organisation.

“They were fully informed in advance about the proposed settlements to these two managers, and had every opportunity to intervene had they so chosen,” Thompson said in a separate emailed statement. “I look forward to giving evidence to the committee next Monday.”

At dispute are the level of severance payments made to Mark Byford, a deputy director general, and Sharon Baylay, a marketing executive. Byford was paid about £1 million (RM5.1 million), while Baylay received £394,700. Thompson will join former and current BBC officials at the hearing to discuss the payouts to the managers, who left the BBC in 2010.

The UK’s government-spending watchdog in July said the BBC broke rules on severance payments in spending £25 million over three years to cut top jobs, paying some managers more than they were entitled — either to keep them as consultants or ensure they left quickly. The BBC handed out 150 severance packages over three years ending in December 2012.

Insufficient evidence

The Metropolitan Police Service said last month that its Economic Crime office had not found enough “evidence of dishonesty or criminal misconduct” to warrant an investigation.

The BBC is funded by UK residents through an annual licence fee charged to households that own televisions. The current fee is £145.50 for a colour TV licence.

The BBC’s severance policies drew increased scrutiny after former director general George Entwistle received £450,000, more than twice his contracted entitlement, when he quit less than two months into the job in November. Entwistle stepped down after a television report by the BBC’s “Newsnight” programme falsely implicated a former senior politician with sexual abuse of a child.

The shakeup followed a period of cost-cutting under Thompson, who shed jobs in a bid to streamline the BBC and pare expenses. While the cuts ultimately saved £35 million over a three-year period — more than they cost — the severance payoffs “provided poor value for money for licence fee payers”, according to an auditor’s report from July.

“The level of some of these payments was wrong,” current BBC director general Tony Hall said in a statement after the auditor’s report was released. “The BBC lost its way on payments in recent years.” — Bloomberg

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