In a report which included an assessment of payments of 25 million
pounds made to 150 departing BBC staff from 2009 to 2012,
parliament's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said many of them "far
exceeded" contractual entitlements, that some of the justifications
put forward were "extraordinary", and that the BBC's governance
model was "broken".
"There was a failure at the most senior levels of the BBC to
challenge the actual payments and prevailing culture, in which
cronyism was a factor that allowed for the liberal use of other
people's money," the PAC said in a statement.
The scale of some of the severance payments, many of them made as
austerity cuts swept Britain, angered politicians and members of the
public, who fund the broadcaster through a compulsory license fee.
Thompson, who quit the British broadcaster last year to become chief
executive of the New York Times, robustly defended the severance
payments in September in front of the same committee, saying they
had ultimately helped the BBC cut costs.
In a statement cited by the Guardian newspaper on Monday and
released before the embargo on the PAC report was lifted, Thompson
was quoted as saying:
"The members of the PAC are entitled to criticize the result, but
the decision to make the settlement was made in an entirely proper
and transparent way.
Despite some inflammatory language in the PAC report, there is
absolutely no evidence of any wrongdoing by anyone at the BBC in
relation to these severance payments."
A handful of U.S. media commentators have questioned Thompson's
handling of the episode, saying they want to know more about the
cases. The New York Times said it has full confidence in him.
REPUTATION 'AT RISK'
Margaret Hodge, the PAC's chairwoman and a senior lawmaker, said the
payments had put the BBC's reputation at risk and that the
influential committee remained concerned about the veracity of some
of the oral evidence it had heard.
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"Some of the justifications for this put forward by the BBC were
extraordinary," she said in a statement.
"We are asked to believe that the former Director General Mark
Thompson had to pay his former deputy and long-time colleague Mark
Byford a substantial extra sum to keep him 'fully focused' on his
job instead of 'taking calls from headhunters'".
The committee agreed with an assessment of the affair by Tony Hall,
the current BBC chief, that the publicly funded corporation had
"lost the plot" in its management of the payouts, she said.
The BBC said it had already acted to cap future payments at 150,000
pounds and to clarify the responsibilities of executives and
trustees to ensure more rigorous standards.
The severance payment row came after a tumultuous year for the BBC
during which Thompson's successor, George Entwistle, resigned after
54 days in the job to take responsibility for a BBC news report
which falsely accused a former politician of child abuse.
The BBC is still seeking to rebuild public confidence which was
shaken in 2012 when it emerged that Jimmy Savile, one of the
corporation's biggest stars of the 1970s and 80s, was a prolific
child sex abuser over decades.
(Editing by Christopher Wilson)
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