EDITORIAL: Fat cats and an 800 pound gorilla

EDITORIAL: Fat cats and an 800 pound gorilla - This month, we return to our bi-annual MT Global Salary Survey, and glory be if we aren't back yet again in the land of fat cattery, where the fur is flying faster than a bad night at the RSPCA refuge. Excessive executive remuneration is a topic that just won't lie down in this country. There is no end to our collective fund of righteous indignation. Two years ago, we thought the criticism was just a bit over the top. This time round, with the economy looking weaker, it's far harder to support what amounts to blatant rewards for failure. Not for the first time, the DTI is threatening to take a stand, but it's difficult to see how the Government could legislate against it effectively.

by Matthew Gwyther, editor
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

This month, we return to our bi-annual MT Global Salary Survey, and glory be if we aren't back yet again in the land of fat cattery, where the fur is flying faster than a bad night at the RSPCA refuge. Excessive executive remuneration is a topic that just won't lie down in this country. There is no end to our collective fund of righteous indignation. Two years ago, we thought the criticism was just a bit over the top. This time round, with the economy looking weaker, it's far harder to support what amounts to blatant rewards for failure. Not for the first time, the DTI is threatening to take a stand, but it's difficult to see how the Government could legislate against it effectively.

The subject of excess brings us to the BBC. One of the more amusing stories on its impressive and costly web site a few weeks ago featured a married pair of con artists operating in the southern Japanese town of Takamatsu. Mr and Mrs Shoji ran an excellent scam in which they were selling fake shares in the BBC to gullible investors. The island of Shikoku is stereotyped as being populated by rather dozy carrot-crunchers and the Shojis collected more than half a million pounds before the police caught them.

What's so interesting is that foreigners just assume that an institution as marvellous and successful as the BBC is a profit-making business like GSK or Shell in which we can all buy an equity slice. We all know, however, that it isn't like that - it's a public service with no profit motive.

Or is it? Our BBC feature shows how Greg Dyke has been responsible for turning Auntie into a hugely aggressive commercial animal that will generate a cash surplus of pounds 330 million this year. Competitors who operate in its many markets get hurt on a regular basis. One rival broadcaster described the Beeb to MT as 'an 800 pound gorilla let lose in the Blue Peter garden of broadcasting'.

When I met Mick Desmond, the chief executive of ITV, earlier this year he was complaining bitterly that the BBC was 'awash on a sea of cash', whereas he himself was enduring just about the worst times he could remember.

The corporation is a precious thing to many of us. Life without the Today programme, University Challenge and Five Live football would be unbearable. As an A2 chatterer, however, I could easily live without EastEnders and Fame Academy. It gives me no joy that the BBC has become such an expert at mass market pap in recent years, and there's no logical reason why such work needs the support of a poll tax-style licence fee. Highbrow and lowbrow are both permanently catered for by the BBC menu these days. And like love and marriage or a horse and carriage, you won't get one without the other - unless the Government changes the rules.

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