Do you need a TV licence?
Think you can save money by throwing away your TV and only watching shows online? It isn’t that simple. Here’s a guide to when you do and don’t need a TV licence. Read more…
BBC accused of misleading parliament over ‘catastrophic’ digital media project
MPs say evidence given by senior management in 2011 ‘just wasn’t true’ as £98.4m cost of ‘embarrassing’ failure is revealed. Read more…
Twenty BBC current or former employees have faced total of 36 allegations since October, FOI request reveals
Twenty BBC employees have faced 36 allegations of sexually abusing children and teenage victims since the Jimmy Savile scandal rocked the corporation last year.
The complaints about an unknown number of victims under the age of 18 have come to light in the six months since October, according to a Freedom of Information request to the BBC.
The corporation said it was “horrified” by the allegations made against the 20, who have worked for the BBC in some capacity over the past five decades.
The complaints were among a total of 152 recent and historic allegations of sexual abuse against 81 BBC employees and freelancers, including 48 about Savile. Each of the complaints, involving adults and children, have been made to the BBC since October.
Half of the accused are current members of BBC staff or contributors, the FoI request revealed, and cases against five are being examined by the police. Of these, three have been suspended pending the outcome of the police investigations.
It is not known whether the claims relate to any on-screen stars other than Savile.
The FoI request, which has been seen by MediaGuardian, found that allegations about 25 current staff or freelance contributors had been reported to police, with no further action taken in 20 cases.
The Tory MP Rob Wilson accused the BBC of “turning a blind eye to sexual abuse and allowing powerful bullies to prosper” and urged Tony Hall, the new director general, to treat them with “the greatest seriousness and rigour”.
He added: “For years the BBC’s management allowed a culture to develop of turning a blind eye to sexual abuse and allowing powerful bullies to prosper. The internal culture of the BBC was rotten and it remains to be seen whether it still is.
“It is appalling though that an organisation could have been managed in this way. The BBC’s new leadership needs to quickly demonstrate that the Corporation has changed decisively in how it deals with such disturbing allegations and the culture it springs from.”
Some of the allegations are expected to be passed to the Dame Janet Smith review, the judge-led inquiry into the culture and practices of the BBC in the Savile era.
The 152 allegations are understood to be separate to the 37 cases of alleged sexual harassment at the BBC uncovered by Dinah Rose QC in her review, published on 2 May, that examined the past six years.
The BBC said in a statement: “The BBC has been appalled by the allegations of harassment and abuse that have emerged since the Savile scandal broke.
“We have launched a series of reviews that aim to understand if there are any issues with the current culture of the BBC or the historic culture and practices from as far back as 1965 to see what lessons can be learned to prevent this happening again.
“As part of these reviews the BBC is conducting extensive searches of its records and has asked BBC staff and contributors past and present to share any information that might be useful. Their contributions are vital and we are grateful for them.”
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Bectu general secretary says £50 hike to pay rise for staff earning less than £60,000 a year is an insult
The BBC has attempted to head off a potential summer of strikes by increasing its annual pay offer to its lowest-earning staff.
Corporation bosses offered to increase its flat-rate rise to staff earning under £60,000 to £650, from £600, in a meeting with broadcasting unions on Tuesday.
Broadcasting unions rejected the BBC’s initial pay offer earlier this month and threatened further industrial action.
Gerry Morrissey, the general secretary of the broadcasting union Bectu, described the BBC’s latest offer as an “insult to hard-working members of staff” and said it should be rejected by members.
The latest concession to the unions would add £1.5m a year to the BBC pay bill, but is unlikely to appease the National Union of Journalists, which described it as “unacceptable” and “representing a further real-terms pay cut”.
BBC bosses are under pressure to avoid further industrial action after strikes knocked flagship programmes, including BBC Breakfast and Newsnight, off air earlier this year.
The earliest date for a strike is mid-July, but any walkout is likely to come after that date, as unions continue to negotiate with BBC management.
Bectu, the corporation’s biggest union, said it has asked for the flat-rate to be increased from the proposed £650 to £1,200.
Michelle Stanistreet, the National Union of Journalists general secretary, said: “At the same time as wanting to further tighten their belt on staff pay, the BBC has spent more than £1m hiring its latest three senior executives. Millions more has been found to spend on unbudgeted expenditure.
“At the same time as spending public money on needless redundancies, freelance expenditure has rocketed – a shift the BBC defends as necessary. Contracts with external third parties also include commitments to increase remuneration by at least inflation annually – yet staff are expected to take a hit.”
The BBC’s latest offer also included technical changes to its unpredictability working allowance, which compensates staff for working often unsociable and inflexible hours.
In an email to staff outlining the offer, the BBC’s HR director, Lucy Adams, said: “Everyone at the BBC is keen to avoid yet more industrial action for the sake of our audiences, so I’d encourage those of you who are union members to feed back your thoughts to your local union representatives.”
A BBC spokeswoman added: “Given the savings we need to make due to Delivering Quality First, there remains a limit on what we can afford to pay, however we have listened to staff and we hope this will go some way to help with the cost of living this year.”
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BT ruffled more than a few feathers in TV land on Thursday, setting up a tug of war with Sky for footie fans’ subscriptions after it had the temerity to launch an ambitiously-priced rival to Sky Sports at an all-singing, all-dancing press bonanza in London. But its new BT Sport frontman, Jake Humphrey, got into a more personal tit-for-tat with his rival, former BBC colleague and Match of the Day host Gary Lineker, on Twitter later in the day. It all started with a blogpost by Humphrey that prompted Lineker to respond: “Be careful Jakey in the choice of your words“. Seemingly dumbstruck, Humphrey replied: “I’m sorry Gary, you seem to have found offence where none was intended. J”. To which Lineker said: “Apology accepted on behalf of those you know you would have offended. People with a lifetime’s experience in the game and TV”. Ouch.
What might have prickled Lineker? Maybe it was this relatively-innocuous passage in Humphrey’s blogpost: “As you know I am a staunch defender and lover of the BBC and what it stands for, however, I am also a sport lover [and] I was immediately impressed by the ambition and drive of BT. I believe sport must be live. They agree. I believe the audience need incisive analysis delivered by current or recently retired players who can empathise with current stars of the sport. They agree.” The emphasis on “analysis delivered by current or recently retired” players surely can’t have riled Match of the Day man Lineker, whose last professional game was almost two decades ago … Can it?
The report reveals constant criticism of HR, an endemic culture of fear, favouritism and exclusion of the freelance majority
While 37 sexual harassment cases over six years at the BBC are 37 too many, what is most striking about Thursday’s Respect at Work review by Dinah Rose QC is that it exposes a nasty, broader culture of everyday bullying and poor management, which seems to infuse the organisation, and hasn’t even been properly monitored.
Further, the majority of toilers, 60,000, who are on short-term or casual contracts, and therefore vulnerable, are excluded from the BBC’s bullying, harassment and grievance policy, despite the fact it was last updated recently, in 2011, and the use of freelancers has been endemic for two decades.
Running through the research interviews reveals constant criticism of the corporation’s HR department that seems to have been asleep on the job and could have acted sooner. HR is regarded within BBC ranks as “working for the management”, feeding the culture of fear about reporting and therefore failing to deal with inappropriate behaviour.
This includes shouting, swearing, berating people publicly, and controlling behaviour. The research found a real lack of engagement between senior managers and their staff, a key feature too of the Pollard review into the Newsnight/Savile failings.
Which is why one of the main broadcasting unions, Bectu, is correct in saying that the BBC’s intention to extend the mechanism to raise concerns regardless of contractual status represents a marked shift. The BBC is also now committing to concluding complaints within 30 days, instead of 90, and setting up a confidential helpline.
However, it doesn’t change one of the basic conditions fostering bad and stress-inducing behaviour. The survey also picked up a marked and affectionate hankering for the era of Greg Dyke, director general 2000-2004, “the high water mark of engagement”, with the inclusive policy of “making it happen”, encouraging everyone to work for common goals and One BBC.
This was introduced as a means of improving morale after the iron chain of command and control created by his predecessor John Birt flattened morale. The Dyke era was also assisted by a very generous licence fee settlement. And it was brought to an abrupt end when he was forced out over the Hutton report on the death of Dr David Kelly.
Instead, the surveys point to a currently poisoned atmosphere, with the Delivering Quality First programme of cuts now compounded with stresses feeding through from a frozen licence fee and cuts, squeezing programme budgets and leading to greater stress, fears of redundancy, over work and even fewer secure staff jobs. Bectu points to a W12 drama contract for freelances, requiring a 55-hour week.
The report also exposes inevitable human frailties. Male employees in secure posts seek out, flatter and support younger female freelances, above their male counterparts. Powerful executives hand pick favourites for high-profile and prestigious projects to assist their upward rise. In a handful of cases people who have been hauled up for sexual harassment seem to have been protected, and promoted.
There’s also a section of the report which pointedly says that the talent – presenters, actors – as contractors, need to be reminded about not behaving in a bullying/harassing manner.
In daily live programmes requiring round the clock working and anything to do with stars there is always bound to be stress and worse. The BBC needs to completely overhaul its systems and retrain executives who manage teams.
In the wake of Mrs Thatcher’s shamelessly political funeral, I wondered why I found myself feeling so angry. In spite of declining an invitation to No 10, I was unable to avoid meeting Mrs T on one occasion at a charity concert in which we were reading. She knew who I was without introduction, which was most impressive as she had not seen The Jewel in the Crown, screened earlier that year. She assured me, in those ghastly manufactured tones, that she had asked the BBC to send her the tapes. Jewel was not made by the BBC, but by Granada.
She clearly had many formidable qualities – David Cameron isn’t half the man she was – but I remember her as arrogant, aggressive, bullying and brutally divisive. Whatever good she may have done, she damaged arts funding irrevocably, wrecked communities in the north, crippled trade unionism, provoked riots and interfered dangerously with the relationship between government and the police. It’s hardly surprising that there are people who still hate her and all she stood for. I was not a “Ding-Donger”, and have proper respect for her family’s feelings, but the shocking expense of her funeral reminded me how angry she always made me. I have read that she didn’t care what people thought of her. Well, you reap what you sow.
Those presently in power should not be surprised, but chastened by the evident strength of people’s feelings. If they continue to ignore the effects of their policies (Austerity: an idea on trial, Editorial, 22 April), they may pay the same price as Mrs T – to suffer posthumous rage. The way they are going, they will experience it long before the grim reaper cuts them down.
TV thriller Broadchurch was an extraordinary hit. Perhaps most surprising was the fact that it was on ITV, not always seen as the home of edgy entertainment. But that’s changing
There was something out of the ordinary about Broadchurch, the TV murder mystery that kept nearly 10 million viewers guessing until the killer of 11-year-old Danny Latimer was revealed this week. The work almost entirely of a single writer – unusual for an eight-part drama – it featured only one murder (the average episode of Midsomer Murders has four).
Most surprising of all, perhaps, was that Broadchurch was on ITV, not necessarily a channel known to viewers as the home of edgy (or edge-of-your-seat) thrills. At the risk of hyperbole, ITV claims it is the most tweeted-about TV drama ever, with a reported 260,000 tweets from 137,000 people – making it, to use a pre-Twitter phrase, genuine watercooler television.
ITV’s director of television, Peter Fincham, who has overseen a creative resurgence since his arrival five years ago, bridles slightly at the suggestion that it was not traditional ITV fare.
“ITV is a mainstream broadcaster, but if there’s an implication that mainstream means bland, I would reject that absolutely. If you really want to broaden your audience then going for something that’s a bit soggy in the middle won’t do. You have got to be bold, go out on a limb, and people will come with you.”
There are more surprises to come. On Monday the Broadchurch slot will be filled by two new sitcoms, not a genre you usually associate with ITV. One of them, Vicious, boasts the combined star power of Sir Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi as a bickering couple in what may be the UK’s first mainstream gay comedy.
“If it feels like a risk, then good,” says Fincham. “It’s an enormously warm comedy, with characters who, deep down, love each other, and I hope the audience will.
“When you are doing well – ITV has had a pretty good year on a wide range of fronts – that is the time to up your level of risk, not to pull back. No risk, no reward.”
ITV, as he suggests, is on a roll, an upward curve that can be traced back to Downton Abbey, the Julian Fellowes drama that Fincham commissioned during the depths of the advertising slump in 2009, when his channel barely had two pennies to rub together. Back then only the BBC did costume drama and, like Broadchurch, it helped redefine people’s perceptions of ITV. It launched in 2010 within a couple of weeks of another ITV show, “structured reality” series The Only Way Is Essex on digital channel ITV2.
“It was an interesting and slightly defining moment,” recalls Fincham. “In both cases, it gave each channel probably its noisiest hit in years.”
Downton Abbey was followed by the likes of Appropriate Adult, Mr Selfridge, and Fincham’s latest commission is a four-part drama, The Great Fire of London, written by ITV News’ political editor (and novelist) Tom Bradby. It will tell the story of the 1666 inferno over four consecutive days and from multiple perspectives, from King Charles II to baker Thomas Farriner.
Broadchurch will also return, although it remains to be seen whether its two biggest stars – Olivia Colman and David Tennant – will be back, its writer, Chris Chibnall, is promising a “very different story”. “I don’t think it’s going to start with another body on the beach,” is all Fincham will offer.
Fincham would not be at ITV at all were it not for the royal scandal that beset the BBC in 2007, when a badly edited press trailer for a royal documentary appeared to show the Queen storming out of a photo shoot with Annie Leibovitz. Fincham, then the controller of BBC1, carried the can for the so-called “Crowngate” scandal, quitting the corporation after two and a half years and taking charge of its commercial rival a few months later.
When he joined ITV, it was still labouring under the shadow of reality flops such as Celebrity Wrestling and Celebrity Love Island. It was about to get worse as Lehman Brothers collapsed, a global financial crisis unfolded and ITV plunged into the red. Fincham wielded the axe, ditching long-running shows such as The Bill and Taggart.
Radio Times editor Ben Preston says: “There was a time before Peter Fincham got his feet under the table when ITV had slipped out of the repertoire of many people’s viewing, but it is forcing its way back on to the menu.”
ITV is riding high on Saturday nights with the return of Simon Cowell’s Britain’s Got Talent, currently lording it over BBC1′s The Voice, following in the footsteps of a rejuvenated Saturday Night Takeaway, essentially an updated Noel’s House Party fronted by Anthony McPartlin and Declan Donnelly.
Fincham also made a mark with celebrity diving show Splash!, featuring Tom Daley, winning an audience of more than six million viewers despite a sceptical critical reaction. Fincham says the press “looked down their noses at it. I hate television snobbery of any sort.”
Former BBC1 controller Lorraine Heggessey, now executive chair of independent production company Boom Pictures, attributes ITV’s success to “knowing what its audience is and not being afraid to take risks. Splash! was a big, bold commission, and when they work you reap great rewards”.
ITV’s fortunes are inevitably entwined with those of Cowell. But while Britain’s Got Talent is back on form, The X Factor was beaten in the ratings last year by BBC1′s Strictly Come Dancing. It remains one of ITV’s most popular shows, but suffered in Cowell’s absence as he presides over its US incarnation on Fox.
Cowell’s latest ITV show, Food Glorious Food, a thinly veiled take on BBC2 hit The Great British Bake Off, in which the winner had their dish turned into a ready meal by Marks & Spencer, came to an end with just 2.4 million viewers last week, a quarter of the audience for Britain’s Got Talent.
Will it be back? “I don’t know yet,” says Fincham. “I so wanted to go to Marks & Spencer to buy the fragrant white chicken korma. It looks absolutely delicious!”
Fincham is more certain that Cowell’s two-year deal with ITV, which comes to an end this year, will be renewed. “If we don’t enter into a new contract then somebody’s cocked it up somewhere. The lawyers have got it wrong.”
Also up for renewal is ITV’s exclusive deal with Ant and Dec. “I’m not sure there’s ever been a better moment in our relationship,” he says. “It’s a stable, supportive, long-term relationship in which we look after each others’ interests.”
A millionaire from the sale of the independent production company Talkback (which made I’m Alan Partridge and Da Ali G Show), Fincham has only ever had three jobs. He might by now have had another – as director general of the BBC, had he not been forced out.
He admits, with great reluctance, that he was sounded out for the director general’s job last year, when it was given to the ill-fated George Entwistle, who lasted just 54 days in the job.
“I absolutely did not apply or throw my hat into the ring or put myself forward for the director general job, nor have I for any job at the BBC since the day I left in 2007,” he says.
“I may have had a strange call at some point from a headhunter type, I can’t remember. You never know in this business when you are being sounded out for something or if someone is working their way down a list. I have never seriously been in discussions or in the frame for any job at the BBC since the day I left.”
It was ITV’s revelations about Jimmy Savile, in its current affairs strand Exposure, that sparked the crisis at the BBC that precipitated Entwistle’s departure. Fincham spent several months considering the evidence, watching many interviews several times over. “I can remember saying in a meeting, listen, we now need a very good reason not to do this because not to do it is to sit on this evidence,” he says. “We knew it would be a big story, but did we think it would have quite the repercussions and ramifications? No.”
He adds: “It became a story about the BBC. That wasn’t, I would argue, our doing.”
But for now, Fincham’s attention is on his new Monday-night comedy slot. Vicious, an old-fashioned sitcom filmed in front of a studio audience, will be followed by another new comedy, The Job Lot, filmed on a single camera in the style of The Office.
Having worked with the likes of Steve Coogan and Sacha Baron Cohen, if anyone can put the smile back on ITV it is surely Fincham. But it will be no easy task. It is not long since one of Fincham’s predecessors joked: “The biggest joke about ITV’s comedy is there isn’t any.”
Fincham likes to compare ITV to the National Theatre, situated a stone’s throw down the road on London’s South Bank. “ITV is not massively different. We are putting on shows on big stages and we want the best talent.
“There is a state of mind – and maybe some time in the past, or maybe you see this outside – that says if you want to fill those seats, don’t go for high quality, go for cheap pap. Nonsense. That would be the very worst way for ITV to go. There is a difference between popular and populism.”
Coming soon …
Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi play two gay men who have lived together in the same London flat for nearly 50 years, in this resolutely old-fashioned sitcom filmed in front of a studio audience. Former Rising Damp star Frances de la Tour plays their best friend, and Misfits’ Iwan Rheon is their new young neighbour. It was created by playwright Mark Ravenhill and Gary Janetti, the US writer/producer whose credits include Family Guy and Will & Grace. Impeccable pedigree, but will it live up to it?
Not a remake of the Jean-Luc Godard film, but a drama about gynaecologists working in 1960s London on the eve of the arrival of the pill and the legalisation of abortion. Any resemblance to Call the Midwife is presumably intentional. Co-created by one of the originators of BBC1′s Casualty, it will star Jack Davenport as a brilliant and charismatic surgeon, and promises a cauldron of “lies, deceptions and guilty secrets, driven by love, ambition and sex”. Nurse, the screens!
A rare foray into the US market, ITV bought the rights to cold war spy thriller The Americans, starring Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell as a pair of KGB spies posing as a married couple in Washington DC in 1981. ITV will show the first two series of the drama, which airs in the US on Rupert Murdoch’s FX channel. ITV’s last big US show, Anna Friel drama Pushing Daisies, was a flop. Five years on, it will be hoping for a Homeland-style hit.
Set in a West Midlands job centre, The Job Lot features Russell Tovey, star of BBC3′s Him & Her, and Sarah Hadland from BBC1′s Miranda as the boss from hell, whose mission is to turn the “unemployed into the funemployed”.
Like The Office, but broader, the single-camera comedy is scripted by three first-time writers and is a gentler, more restrained offering than ITV’s other big sitcom hope, Vicious. Produced by the makers of hit BBC2 sitcom Rev.
After one drama about the hunt for the murderer of a young boy, here’s another. A time-shifted thriller set in 2008 and the present day, The Guilty stars Tamsin Greig as a detective investigating the death of a boy who disappeared at a neighbourhood barbecue and is discovered five years later. Katherine Kelly (Mr Selfridge) and Darren Boyd of Sky1 comedy Spy will co-star in the three-part drama from the team behind BBC1′s Sherlock.
A sequel to ITV’s biggest drama hit since Downton Abbey was inevitable, although it remains to be seen where the murder mystery goes next, now that the murder has been solved and its two biggest stars, David Tennant and Olivia Colman, appear destined to leave the scene. Creator Chris Chibnall said he had the idea for a follow-up before the first series, and will film next year. It will, he promised, tell “another very different story”.
Provision of FM Localisation Satellite Receivers to BBC
BBC World Service requires a solution to enable the localisation of radio broadcasts delivered to FM transmitters by satellite. Read more…
The BBC’s decision to censor the protest track from The Wizard of Oz recalls the Chinese Communist party
In 2011, Chinese censors tried to erase mentions of jasmine from its state-policed web. They banned shops and markets from selling the plant. They cancelled the 2011 China international jasmine cultural festival. They even plucked from the web a video of President Hu Jintao singing Mo Li Hua, a Qing dynasty paean to the jasmine’s delicate flowers.
It wasn’t that the communists objected to jasmine in particular or climbing and rambling plants in general. They were frightened because, after the “jasmine revolution” in Tunisia, anonymous voices had called for a jasmine revolution in China. The paranoid authorities were censoring jasmine’s symbolic meaning; the hidden message known only to initiates.
The worst that can be said of the Tory press and the BBC is that they have now sunk to the level of the Chinese Communist party. Since MGM released The Wizard of Oz in 1939, few have found the Munchkins’ chorus – “Ding dong! The Wicked Witch is dead/ Wake up sleepy head, rub your eyes, get out of bed” – obscene or subversive in the least.
But Britain’s surreal conservatives did not want the BBC to ban the song because its words were libellous or a breach of the criminal law. They hated the song not because of what it said but because the intention of the left wingers who bought it was to celebrate the death of Margaret Thatcher.
The silencing of the Munchkins must rank as one of the most inept acts of censorship Britain has seen. The days when the Radio 1 playlist made or broke a song’s chances went with the invention of the web. Neither the Daily Mail nor the parliamentary Conservative party appeared to know that if you want to ban a single today, you need to compel YouTube and iTunes to take it down.
Ham-fisted though it may be, the attack on The Wizard of Oz tell us much about the authoritarianism of British conservatism and the cowardice of the BBC. It proves that the right can be just as politically correct as the left. Thatcher’s supporters might have tried to win the argument. They might have said that it is contemptible to celebrate the death of a sick old lady, who had been the democratically elected leader of a free county. They might have directed our attention to her grieving friends and family. They might have pointed out that Mrs Thatcher left power 23 years ago and it is politically illiterate to blame her for the ills of the present. They might, in short, have tried to have convinced their opponents of the justice of their cause in free debate. Instead, they tried to silence.
As for the BBC, what is there left to say about it? Can it show The Wizard of Oz again? Can it only run the film after the 9pm watershed? Must the announcer warn: “This children’s story contains Munchkin choruses that some viewers may find offensive”? Its decision to ban every part of the song except for a five-second clip in a news report shows clearly something that many people outside the media rarely understand: the BBC folds under pressure.
During the debate on the politicians’ plans to regulate the press and news websites, many people have asked why journalists should worry when regulation works so well at the BBC. The behaviour of the BBC last week explains why. Tory MPs and the Daily Mail picked on the BBC rather than iTunes or YouTube because they knew they had a chance of winning. Any other media organisation might have said it stood by the principles of free speech. If music buyers had, for whatever reason, put a song in the charts they had a duty to play it.
Because the BBC is funded by a licence fee everyone must pay, because it is in the end a state broadcaster, it is far easier to intimidate. “Free speech is an important principle,” said Tony Hall, its director general, as he struggled to explain his behaviour. Politicians know he doesn’t mean it. They understand that if they make life hard enough for the corporation it will abandon its principles.
Why do you think that during her decade in power Margaret Thatcher never privatised it?