THE BBC faced a backlash yesterday when it emerged that top executives received rises of up to 25 per cent after a year of "fake TV" scandals and job cuts.
The corporation's powerful "director of vision", Jana Bennett, saw her pay package leap by 103,000 to 536,000 – though her bonus was officially cut by 40 per cent, after the row over edited documentary footage of The Queen.
According to the annual report, released yesterday, a second executive, Ashley Highfield, the BBC's director of future media and technology, received a 107,000 pay increase to 466,000, despite criticism of an overspend on BBC internet services. She recently left the corporation.
The BBC's director-general, Mark Thompson, defended the pay rises, with nine executive directors getting rises of 17 per cent in basic pay. He waived his own bonus for the fourth year in a row, because of the "scale of disruption and uncertainty" facing BBC colleagues. His own total pay was 816,000 – up from 788,000 the previous year.
"BBC executive benefits are set at a much lower level than most of our equivalents," he said. "When you actually get out into the external world, some potential candidates almost roll on the floor laughing when you talk about potential levels of pay."
But the leading media commentator Adrian Monck, the head of journalism at City University in London, said it was "bizarre" that BBC executives should make more than Britain's Lord Chief Justice, who earns 230,000, or other senior civil or military officials.
"It's deeply odd that the BBC talks about public service in every single thing it does, but when it comes to remuneration it suddenly turns into a rampaging commercial organisation," he said.
In the Netherlands, the culture minister recently proposed that presenters on state television should have their salaries capped to no more than that of the prime minister.
Mr Thompson said yesterday that bonuses were cut by up to 40 per cent to reflect phone scandals and troubles involving the Queen. Trust had returned after the BBC acted decisively, he claimed.
A documentary trailer claimed to show – wrongly – the Queen stalking out of a photoshoot. Separately, faked phone-ins were revealed on Blue Peter and Comic Relief.
Gerry Morrissey, the general-secretary of the broadcasting workers' union, Bectu, said all senior managers at the BBC should have refused to take a bonus this year, as they did last year. He said: "I would remind them that 4,000 jobs have been lost since 2005, yet output has increased, so my members have also taken on additional responsibility."
Ms Bennett is called the most powerful woman in British television, with creative and leadership responsibility for all the corporation's channels. She was criticised in an official BBC report for a "lack of curiosity" over the trailer, which outraged Buckingham Palace. But it was the BBC1 controller, Peter Fincham, who paid for the scandal with his job – though he became ITV's director of television.
Ms Bennett was given a 23,000 bonus, but had increased responsibilities this year, the BBC said.
Jenny Abramsky, the outgoing director of audio and music, still received a 19,000 bonus, despite the fact that the "fake" scandals hit radio as well as TV.
Andy Duncan, the chief executive of Channel 4, earned 1.2 million last year, including a 98,000 bonus and 450,000 in a three-year loyalty scheme.
The ITV chairman, Michael Grade, received a 967,000 bonus last year, on top of his 813,000 salary.