Ex-BBC boss Thompson defends BBC severance payments in British parliament
LONDON, Sept 9
LONDON, Sept 9 (Reuters) - Former BBC Director General Mark Thompson, now chief executive of the New York Times Company, on Monday defended large severance payments to senior BBC bosses that he said had ultimately helped the publicly funded broadcaster to cut costs.
The British parliament's Public Accounts Committee is trying to unscramble different accounts of why the BBC paid out 1.4 million pounds ($2.19 million) beyond contractual obligations to senior BBC managers under Thompson's 2004-2012 watch.
"I do not think we lost the plot," Thompson told the committee, when asked by the chair, Margaret Hodge, about what she called "grossly excessive severance payments."
"In 2010, I believed... that we had to do something very significant and very rapidly to reduce the numbers and also the aggregate pay of senior managers at the BBC," said Thompson, who quit the BBC last year to join the New York Times Company as chief executive officer and president.
When pressed on whether he would do the same today, Thompson admitted he would probably not approve such a large payment for the former deputy director general, Mark Byford, who received the largest BBC payment according to a report by the National Audit Office, parliament's spending watchdog.
Thompson said the payments had ultimately saved tens of millions of pounds.
British lawmakers such as Hodge said she admired and cherished the BBC as a broadcaster but that the management of the BBC had dismayed both her and the British licence fee payer - who has to pay 145.50 pounds a year if they use a colour television - by making such large severance payments.
"The current arrangements under which the BBC operates are bewildering, they are complex and they are confusing and they do very little to help the licence fee payer understand who they can hold to account," Hodge said.
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