Well, the BBC’s top salaries have turned out to be a bit of a Pandora’s box and one that will be difficult to close, despite the Corporation’s best efforts to ensure that this doesn’t happen again. But is there another side to the story?
Whilst not defending the more outrageous salaries (there are probably people who would pay to present Match of the Day), I would argue that there is a bit of the picture missing.
Some programmes headed up by the big names (including those I’ve never heard of) are exported or generate other income for the BBC – does having a high profile presenter contribute towards the profitability? Does the profit not only pay for the programme, but cross-subsidize valuable but unprofitable programming elsewhere in the system?
Some presenters (such as John Humphries and Eddie Mair) do an important public service of holding politicians and other powerful figures to account. How do we put a price on that?
Some programmes have an important knock-on effect. Having Evan Davies front Dragon’s Den underlines it’s business-oriented credibility and, as well as facilitating the launch of new business ventures, the programme also educates the public about business and inspires would-be entrepreneurs.
Others may inspire people to visit a new place or pursue a new interest (other than taking up sport) and an inspiring presenter may be part of that- these are impacts that are difficult to measure. A few weeks ago, I watched a programme that led to a day in London, the purchase of a book, the consumption of several cups of coffee and left me, arguably, better educated – financial and non-financial benefits which are very difficult to quantify.