September 11, 2013 / 6:16 PM / 6 years ago

British minister calls for greater BBC scrutiny after funding row

CAMBRIDGE, England (Reuters) - The British government believes the BBC needs to come under greater scrutiny after generous severance payments made to departing executives raised “serious questions” about the management of the publicly funded broadcaster.

A man talks on a mobile phone inside the BBC headquarters in London November 21, 2008. REUTERS/Andrew Winning

Former BBC Director General Mark Thompson, who quit the BBC last year to become chief executive of the New York Times Company, and six other senior executives were grilled by British lawmakers on Monday over payments made beyond contractual obligations during the last three years of Thompson’s 2004-2012 watch.

Culture Secretary Maria Miller was due to tell television executives attending the Royal Television Society Conference on Wednesday that the questioning, which saw BBC executives past and present arguing over who sanctioned the payments, was a “grim day” for the BBC’s senior management and for British households who fund the broadcaster through license fees.

The BBC said it would launch a review of its internal governance systems, structures and cultures and examine the relationship between the executive management of the corporation and the BBC Trust, which regulates the broadcaster.

“The corporate dramas of the BBC should never eclipse its actual drama,” Miller would tell the conference in Cambridge, according to an advance copy of her speech.

“Ultimately, license fee payers rely not only upon the right structures and governance being in place but also upon the BBC’s executive management using their good judgment. And I think serious questions were raised about that judgment by the scale of the severance payments made.”

She said under the leadership of Tony Hall, who assumed the role of director general in April this year, significant changes were being made at the broadcaster.

The government had already opened the BBC’s accounts to scrutiny by the National Audit Office (NAO) to ensure license fee payers could see where their money was spent.

But she said she wanted the auditors to get quicker access to BBC accounts.

“The NAO’s work has been pivotal in bringing issues to light so I want us to strengthen its role further,” she said. “I want a system where the NAO can look at any area of concern without hindrance or delay.”

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