Culture, Media and Sport Committee - Valediction of Mark Thompson, Director General of the BBC - Minutes of EvidenceHC 324-i

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HOUSE OF COMMONS

ORAL EVIDENCE

TAKEN BEFORE THE

Culture, media and SPORT Committee

Valediction of Mark Thompson, Director General of the BBC

Tuesday 19 June 2012

MARK THOMPSON

Oral Evidence

Taken before the Culture, Media and Sport Committee

on Tuesday 19 June 2012

Members present:

Mr John Whittingdale (Chair)

Dr Thérèse Coffey

Damian Collins

Mrs Louise Mensch

Steve Rotheram

Jim Sheridan

Mr Gerry Sutcliffe

Mr Tom Watson

________________

Examination of Witness

Witness: Mark Thompson, Director General of the BBC, gave evidence.

Q1 Chair: All right, let us kick off. Can I welcome for this afternoon session a familiar face before the Committee, Mark Thompson, the Director General of the BBC, for what may or may not be a valedictory performance, but we thought it is appropriate to invite you to come and talk to us not just about recent events but to reflect upon the time that you have spent as Director General. Before we move into the more general questioning, my colleague, Louise Mensch, has another pressing engagement so she would like to ask one or two questions before she disappears and then she may re-appear. Let us start off with Louise.

Q2 Mrs Mensch: Mr Chairman, I need to start off by declaring an interest. I am a 50% shareholder in a small tech-media company called Mensch-Bozier, which has today launched a social media platform. Mr Thompson, I apologise because this was re-arranged. I have a meeting that I must attend and will be back subsequently, but if I could kick off by asking you a question, which is not in the brief and which is about the BBC’s treatment of women. You will be aware that a journalist in the Guardian did a study of women in public life and found that women’s voices were conspicuously absent not just from the BBC but from many other platforms, I think 16% of The Independent newspaper. In particular, she counted up the contribution of women to the Today programme and found that in almost all cases, women formed less than 20% of the contributors to the Today programme. I notice that, when we had you before, the BBC kept statistics on racial and ethnic employment but did not keep any statistics on women’s employment. Do you believe that this has been a problem for the BBC under your tenure, both women’s voices on the air in radio television and women employed at the BBC?

Mark Thompson: It is a big topic. We do keep statistics for our employment of women at every level of the BBC and I am very happy to share those. We make them public. Overall in the BBC this has been a period that has seen greater numbers of women employed at almost every level of the organisation, up to and including the executive board. Of the other six executive directors in the BBC, three are men, three are women, and some of the most significant and important creative roles in the entire organisation, as well as some of the most important management and administrative jobs, are now carried out by women. The director of news is a woman and the controller of Radio 4 is a woman and so on. On Today, you touch an interesting issue. I would say that I have certainly felt, in my time as Director General, that the BBC could and should do more, and indeed I think we have done some more, especially in making sure that we were open to talent from wherever it comes, in particular talent-both on television and radio but more on television-from older women, and that is definitely an area where we need to do more.

The Today programme question is an interesting one because Today has to cover British public life as it currently is rather than the public life that we would wish it was going to have in the future. It is true in many walks of life, not least politics and Parliament, that there is a significant proportion of men, and in the end what we try to do in our news and current affairs is to reflect reality. That means when you are doing on the Today programme stories about public policy, about parliamentary, local and other forms of government and politics, when you are covering business, in a sense you arrive in parts of our national life, some of which have an under-representation of women compared to the UK population.

Q3 Mrs Mensch: If I may say so, Mr Thompson, you would not make that argument, would you, on the grounds of race? You would not say that because the BBC has to reflect the world as it is, therefore we will exclude ethnic minority presenters and contributors so they only reflect that portion of-why would you make the argument for gender?

Mark Thompson: I am not suggesting that we do exclude presenters, because we do not, and we have women presenters across our news and current affairs programmes, and when we talk to members of the public we try to reflect people from every community in the country. But when you are, for example, doing debates between MPs, to some extent you have the issue that you are stuck with the gender balance inside the House of Commons.

Q4 Mrs Mensch: It is not completely true though, is it, in terms of your public affairs coverage, because if you look at Newsnight, the vast majority of the presenting team is men? If you look at the Today programme, the majority of the presenting team is men. If you look at Question Time, clearly the key presenter is a man. If you look at Any Questions? the key presenter is man. If we look at Daily Politics, again, it is male-dominated, so we see a range of male domination across the whole of the BBC’s flagship current affairs programming, which I think is not the way for a public service broadcaster to lead by example.

Mark Thompson: Can we focus on Newsnight? We have Emily Maitlis, Kirsty Wark and Mishal Husain, all regularly presenting the programme. We have just appointed a female political editor, Allegra Stratton. We have a whole range of women on Newsnight. What you have just said is not true.

Q5 Mrs Mensch: No, I think it is true. If we were to take the main presenters of the programme, whether it is Gavin Esler or Jeremy Paxman, and count up the number of times that men versus women are the main presenters of your current affairs programme, there is no doubt at all that men would dominate.

Mark Thompson: What I am saying is in Newsnight, you are factually incorrect.

Q6 Mrs Mensch: Okay, so if we look not just at the presenters that you have on your roster but the amount of air time they get, you are arguing to me that if I were to go and ask a journalist to take a statistical review, there will be just as many women-led Newsnight shows as male-led?

Mark Thompson: But the research you are talking about into the Today programme was not about presenters and reporters in isolation; it was about the voices heard on the programme as I understand it.

Q7 Mrs Mensch: It was about both. They literally counted up every time you heard a male and a female voice. The programme never came out at even a third female.

Mark Thompson: I have explained to you why, given some of the topics of the Today programme. I am not suggesting that every one of our news and current affairs programme is absolutely 50-50 representative or as I said, in particular in the context of older women, that the BBC does not potentially have more to do. But this is part of a bigger story about public life, and, if you look at the make-up of the BBC up to and including its most senior levels, the BBC is well ahead of most other British institutions, including Parliament, in its representation of women.

Q8 Mrs Mensch: Would you accept as a public service broadcaster that you have a duty to lead the perception of women in public life and not merely reflect the world as it is?

Mark Thompson: I am cautious about statements like that. I think the BBC should not engage in even well-intentioned social engineering. I think the BBC should be, in particular in its news and current affairs, reflecting reality. In our employment practices, we absolutely do have a special duty-we are paid for by the public-to try to access talent and to try to engage the perspectives and the experiences of people from both genders and every other walk of life, but when you look at the 10 o’clock news and the Today programme, the overriding duty is to reflect the world as it is. The danger if you start trying to, in a sense, adjust reality is that people think there are not issues in these areas.

Mrs Mensch: Thank you very much. I am hoping to return to ask you some more questions at the end of the session.

Q9 Chair: Did you agree with Greg Dyke in his criticism of the BBC as hideously white?

Mark Thompson: I would never use that language and I think that the BBC should be trying to get talent from every part of this country and every different community, and I think that we should focus on the best talent. The issue historically is more about not fully connecting with every community in the country and therefore potentially missing out on outstanding journalists, reporters, writers and comedians. I would much rather base it around the creative opportunity and the richness you can get from being open to talent from every part of Britain than I would on a judgment call. I would not want to characterise any ethnicity or any colour in negative terms.

Q10 Chair: In the absence of my colleague, Philip Davies, who feels strongly about these matters, perhaps I should press you. You have argued for a meritocratic approach, which Philip would absolutely support. Are you therefore completely happy with the present ethnic balance and gender balance within the BBC and you think that you have pursued a meritocratic promotion policy?

Mark Thompson: I believe we are trying to do that. Firstly, these things are real and dynamic and they are to do with real human beings and individual choices and anyone who sits here and says, "We are perfect", that is exactly when we start getting suspicious. We are not perfect. I think that we have made significant progress in just trying to demonstrate to people who might think about working in the BBC that we are going to be fair and open to different talent. I think we have made real progress in terms of our spread and the way our doors are open across the United Kingdom in the way that they were not in the past. I think we have made some progress in persuading people who do not come from a majority ethnic population that there might be a great career for them in the BBC. You have heard me say I would like to see more opportunities for older women on the air. With disability, I think again the BBC benchmarks quite well in how it thinks about encouraging people with disabilities to come and work for us and to go on working for us, but there is more to do. I think some of this is work in progress but we have made progress and we are trying very, very hard to do it absolutely on the basis of talent and therefore of meritocratic judgements.

Q11 Chair: The criticism has been made by older women that you reach an age and then you are out the door. Do you have some sympathy with that view?

Mark Thompson: I think we strenuously try to convince all of our colleagues, including our women colleagues, that if that was ever true, it is not true now and will not be allowed to be true. I hope that you will see more role models and more examples of brilliantly talented women who happen to be "older" who continue to broadcast successfully on the BBC.

Q12 Chair: Can I go back to where we might have started, which is a slightly more general question. You have been the longest serving Director General for 30 years and when you first took up the job you sounded quite radical. You said, "The BBC must undergo nothing short of transformation." You spoke about it being simpler and more agile and more creative. Do you feel that you have delivered that transformation?

Mark Thompson: There is a Forth Road Bridge quality, as in painting the Forth Road Bridge quality, to the BBC but I think in some important ways the BBC is very different now than it was eight years ago. To state the obvious, we have taken some decisive steps into the digital provision of information, education and entertainment, some of which have genuinely been as bold as anything anyone has done in the world. The BBC iPlayer would be an example of a combination of technology and a kind of packaging and an offer to the public, which has opened up on demand, including commercial on demand in this country, which is fresh. In terms of what we are doing on mobile devices, in the way our website has grown both in usage but also in innovation, we really have seen a decisive change, but if you look at the BBC itself, it looks and operates in a very different way. Broadcasting and productions centres like Pacific Quay, Salford and the new Broadcasting House are quite different from the BBC of old. Technically, we have digital end-to-end work flow; in other words, tapeless environments, much more fluid environments involving much more flexible and less hierarchical working. If you go to Pacific Quay in Glasgow or go to Salford, or look literally right now at what we are doing in firing up Broadcasting House, this is new and it is changing the culture of the BBC.

In practical terms, we have significantly reduced numbers of senior managers in the organisation. Over the next few years, I would certainly encourage my successor to believe there is more you can do in trying to flatten the shape of the organisation. The BBC I inherited in 2004 had a rather poor reputation among independent production companies. Now, I believe that indies get a very fair crack of the whip, and indeed currently independent production companies are winning the larger of the competition in the so-called window of competition. They are getting most of the commissions. That is a significant change.

The other big thing is the BBC is much more engaged in partnership with others and although three or four years ago, a number of people, including members of this Committee, were very sceptical about whether the BBC could ever do that successfully, whether you are talking about platform partnerships-Freeview, Freeview HD, freesat, YouView, we might come on to-or if you talk about the cultural partnerships, for example, with the British Museum, Neil MacGregor, A History of the World in 100 Objects, there is a real sea change there. If you talk to our partners, Arts Council will be an example, British Museum will be an example, some of the other broadcasters and the ISPs will be an example, there is a different climate there, so in some significant respects I think the BBC is very different.

Q13 Chair: Your declared ambition is that the BBC should do less and do it better, but it is not obviously at first sight doing less. Do you think that you have made changes-

Mark Thompson: We are in the process of making less. Part of what successive strategies have suggested to us is that concentrating on making smaller numbers of hours of content but to a higher standard and then using devices like iPlayer to exploit them more and get more people to see them is the right way forward, and I think you will see that. Although we are living in an age where choices continue to expand, I do think you are seeing the BBC more clearly focusing on those things that matter most for the public. For example, we have significantly, over my time, reduced the amount of acquired programming. We have shifted from acquired programming, a topic of yours, much more into origination. We are still spending a great deal of money on sports rights, and I believe that sports is an important part of what the public want from the BBC, but we are being more judicious in which sports we invest in. We are going to be spending less money on multiple daytime offers. Some parts of what we do, Radio 4 famously but also the core of our news provision, we are trying to invest as much as we can in because we think that is the heart of what the public want from the BBC. My view has always been-and I think we have seen this in the debates around English local radio, for example, and around 6 Music-that there is absolutely no sense from the British public of wanting a diminution of service. What we have been trying to do is concentrate investment so that when we provide those services, you get a richer result and, in a sense, more of those programmes like Frozen Planet or the Shakespeares, which is just coming up, the four Shakespeare histories and Julius Caesar from the RSC, where you see really concentrated, high-value and very distinctive programming on the air.

Q14 Chair: If you are putting more resources into specific new programmes, higher quality, of the kind you have mentioned, and particularly with the advent in due course of video on demand, do you feel that, not necessarily tomorrow but in the future, it will no longer be necessary for the BBC to offer scheduled programming every hour of the day?

Mark Thompson: Clearly, it is possible that there will be a point in the future where TV content is so ubiquitous that-although my own view is that certain services of the BBC will be there for as long as the BBC exists. If you or anyone else suggested cancelling Radio 4 because of on demand, people would sharpen sticks and come looking for you. I believe the same is true of BBC 1 as well.

Q15 Chair: But daytime TV, which is a filler?

Mark Thompson: Without casting aspersions on it-some may, I will not-the issue here for me is, is there a point? There could be a point. At the moment it must be said, and very much contrary to most of the predictions, traditional live watching of linear television seems very healthy. We have had the iPlayer, which is an enormous success with nearly 2 billion streams of programmes last year. Right now, 89% of television viewing, despite iPlayer or Sky Plus, is still turning on the television and turning on a television channel. My answer to you would be that although what you say is possible it may be many years before that is the case, and it is highly likely that, if there is another 10-year charter period, the BBC would expect not just to go into but to come out of that 10-year charter period still with a very big portfolio of linear television and radio channels, albeit that many other digital developments will happen alongside.

Q16 Steve Rotheram: Do you believe that the BBC should be investing in global franchises such as The Voice, which has been criticised, not least by my colleague Damian Collins and myself, certainly at the very beginning for its similarity to the X Factor, rather than promoting original British content?

Mark Thompson: I think wherever we possibly can, we should be concentrating on coming up with our own ideas both with our own production departments across the UK and also from the British independent producers and then ideally selling those formats to the rest of the world. Our programme, Strictly Come Dancing, which is exactly like that, which is called Dancing with the Stars in other countries, is by most measures the most successful entertainment format in world history and makes an enormous amount of money, which we can then put back to support the licence fee. That is the ideal but what I would say is in areas like entertainment, where we know that the public have a very strong appetite for entertainment on a Saturday, looking judiciously for whether there are interesting and distinctive formats that we can find and use and make our own, adapt to a British audience, will still continue to be part of the story. If somebody asked me whether the BBC should be buying into an American or a German natural history programme, I would say, "We have the best natural history unit in the world. Should not the boot be on the other foot?" Indeed, it is, and for programmes such as Frozen Planet or Planet Earth, only about a quarter of the funding comes from the licence; the other three-quarters is investment from broadcasters in other countries. Yet those are still programmes that make a great deal of money, which the BBC can also use to create more programmes.

My view is The Voice was a good buy. It has been the most successful entertainment launch the BBC has had for well over a decade, and it is part of a broader story of the BBC with Strictly, Doctor Who and Merlin, finding a way on Saturday night of offering entertainment, which many millions of people are enjoying. So I would defend it. I also believe that The Voice has many interesting and distinctive elements, although I think we would say, as we would say about most programmes, after this first series I am sure the commissioners and producers will want to have a good look at it and see whether there are ways that they can make it even better.

Q17 Damian Collins: I would just like to ask a quick question following on from that. You said in your 2010 MacTaggart lecture that you want to see a further significant shift towards distinctiveness, spending more of the licence fee on output you cannot see or hear anywhere else and that without the BBC would not get made at all. I think the contention with The Voice is that that simply does not fit into that category of a more distinctive BBC.

Mark Thompson: It seems to me the debate is-and it is a classic debate-about whether you take-I saw the Chairman’s remarks yesterday at the RTS-an absolute purist market-failure view of the BBC, which is it should only ever, ever broadcast programmes that could only possibly come from the BBC because no other broadcaster would create them, and logically, by the way, if any programme of the BBC does become popular, it should stop doing it and give that programme to someone else. Or whether you take the view that bluntly the British public take, which is they do expect the BBC to set a benchmark not just for quality but for distinctiveness and they expect much more science, classical music, history, art and so forth from the BBC than you would get anywhere else, but they also want from the BBC some high quality entertainment. In areas like entertainment, the issues of distinctiveness are subtle ones. I would say there are some very interesting and original ideas in The Voice format.

Q18 Damian Collins: With respect, it is a singing competition with celebrity judges for the music industry and it is very like the X Factor. I can see why there is criticism from them. I would say Strictly is a very different sort of thing. It was a very different take on an entertainment programme like that. It was distinctive and probably something another broadcaster would not have done and was very successful. The BBC should be congratulated on that but can you not understand where the criticism is coming from with regard to The Voice?

Mark Thompson: Mass entertainment, popular entertainment on the BBC, which by the way from the foundations of the BBC and John Reith was always part of what the BBC offered, was always what the public wanted from the BBC and is of course where some of these arguments get the most interesting. We are about to show Richard II, Henry IV Part 1 and Part 2, and Henry V on BBC television. You could describe them as costume dramas; just more costume dramas from the BBC. They are by William Shakespeare, they are pretty good and they are distinctive. We believe-everyone is entitled to their opinion, you may disagree-that The Voice has some very interesting and original and distinctive elements to it, and of course we would wish to maximise those in our version. I believe that our version in series 1 was pretty good. If we can make it more distinctive, we will. I will take as an interesting example the American format of The Apprentice. If you have ever watched the original Donald Trump, the US Apprentice, and compare it with the programme we broadcasted in this country, we did a great deal to The Apprentice, but I continue to believe that The Apprentice, in its rather jolly but nonetheless sometimes rather insightful celebration of enterprise, business and the drama and difficulty of succeeding in business, has been a very positive thing for the BBC to do. I believe that in the hands of the BBC commissioners and with a very effective partner production company working with us, The Apprentice has been a strength and has felt very distinctive. You can say The Apprentice is just another reality show. I think it has been an interesting, valuable and distinctive piece.

Q19 Damian Collins: I love The Apprentice and will not have a bad word to say about it, but I suppose the difference is that there was not anything else quite like it on British television at the time. Here you have a format for an entertainment programme that you bought, the controller went on a plane to go and buy it before anyone else could snap it up so it is not like it was something that no one else wanted. It was something that you went out and bought off someone else and it is a very like a format for a programme it is pitched directly against on ITV. Is that the wrong side of this very careful line that has to be drawn?

Mark Thompson: It seems fairly clear, Mr Collins, that we are not going to reach perfect agreement on this one, but two or three points. What is interesting is that the producers of the programme wanted it to be on the BBC and thought the BBC was the right partner for the programme and accepted an offer from the BBC that was significantly less than anyone was offering. The Voice was planned to be shown at the time when ITV did not have a similar programme in the schedule and ITV chose to advance Britain’s Got Talent against it.

Q20 Chair: Only by half an hour. Both channels decided to air this on Saturday early evening, and the fact they did not overlap by half an hour is a minor thing. Why did you put it on Saturday early evening when there was Britain’s Got Talent already available on ITV?

Mark Thompson: Because we know from talking to licence payers that one of the things they particularly look for from the BBC is arranging entertainment programmes and entertaining programmes on Saturday early evening. Indeed, in periods-and I have lived through them-when the BBC for many years did not have such programmes, it was one of the biggest causes of complaint from the British public. In other words, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, a rich mixture of different things from the BBC works very well, whether it is Bang Goes the Theory science on BBC 1, whether it is documentaries on BBC 2, whether it is drama on BBC 1, whether it is current affairs programmes on BBC 3 or arts on BBC 4. As it happens, the British public on a Saturday early evening continue to want not just big popular entertainment programmes on ITV1 but also big popular programmes on BBC 1. If you say, as it were, from a market failure theoretical point of view they should not want that, just explain it to them directly.

Q21 Damian Collins: I don’t want to ask another question about this, we have done The Voice, so to speak. I suppose there has to be room for debate which says, "Yes, the BBC should do popular entertainment programmes on Saturday early evening, it is clearly what the public want" but there should be more distinction in the type of programmes that you commission. I think sometimes you get that spectacularly right. My personal view on The Voice is you probably got it wrong on that one.

Mark Thompson: Okay, but I think the broad principle where the BBC is doing these things is we are trying to do things that do not just parallel what is going on on ITV but that are distinctive and are high-quality. I agree with that, and I think being judicious about it and making judicious choices in entertainment are very important, but I would say broadly, if you looked at what has happened at BBC 1 as a whole over the last eight years, I think it has become more distinctive. There is the placement of specialist factual long-form documentary on BBC 1, sometimes Sunday nights, sometimes weekday nights, or big series pieces of factual television. If you look at the kinds of dramas we have been trying to play on BBC 1, a few years ago we stripped a drama based on Jesus Christ’s last week from Palm Sunday until Easter Sunday on BBC 1 in prime time. We took Bleak House and played it back to back with EastEnders on BBC 1, and these are innovations. They would not have happened 10 years ago, 15 years ago.

Q22 Damian Collins: On a different subject-I have spent slightly longer on The Voice than I was intending to-Ofcom. While I was flicking through your MacTaggart lecture, refreshing my memory from two years ago, something that leapt off the page that I thought I had to ask you about was at the beginning where you said that a successful MacTaggart lecture always needs a black-hearted villain, and then you went on to say, "Occasionally, some would say not often enough, it’s Ed Richards." Do you think he would be a suitable successor?

Mark Thompson: I am very happy to say that I cannot help you on the issue of the acceptability of candidates and which of the candidates-I am not familiar with the list-would be the most successful future Director General. I know a man, a distinguished member of the other Chamber, Lord Patten, who could in due course enlighten you more on that, but I do not think there is a great deal I can help you with on that. I hope everyone will understand that those remarks were meant entirely in jest and I can tell you I have the highest possible regard for the Chief Executive of Ofcom.

Q23 Chair: We may return to this a little later. You say that the British public want to watch mass audience entertainment on an early Saturday evening and therefore ITV run the X Factor, you run The Voice. They may want family drama. BBC runs Doctor Who, ITV runs Primeval. Mid-week early evening, you have EastEnders, ITV runs Coronation Street. Are you happy that both channels are essentially saying this is what the majority people want therefore that is what we have to supply? There is another group of people who do not want those things and yet find both the main channels are offering pretty similar entertainment.

Mark Thompson: This is precisely the reason the BBC began-indeed, ITV and other public service broadcasters have followed the BBC’s lead-to create a portfolio of channels. We offer a great deal of choice at 7.30pm on a Saturday or a weekday, and if you do not want to watch EastEnders, you have very considerable choice.

Q24 Chair: Is it not an argument for you to say, "A lot of people enjoy EastEnders and probably a similar sort of people watch Coronation Street. Therefore, let ITV do it at that time and we will do it at a completely different time"? At the moment, you are both essentially targeting the same people at the same time.

Mark Thompson: As you know, generally there is a pretty good fit between main channel continuing dramas, and certainly at the BBC where we will often, against running simultaneously with Coronation Street, try to offer a real contrast. For example, I would point to Bang Goes the Theory-it is the first time that we have ever had a science magazine on BBC 1-as a good complement to Coronation Street. If you look at the filigree of the schedule, you will quite often find contrasting programmes. We know that people want a choice. It is partly because those people who do not want to watch a soap will want to watch something else, and also because people who really like soaps, continuing dramas, may want to watch both and it is inconvenient to have them against each other. We try to make sure as far as we can that we find a good fit, but also there are other channels-back to that issue of the portfolio of channels-to provide as much of a choice for the public as we can.

Q25 Damian Collins: Back to Ed Richards. Ofcom published their reports on media plurality. It has just come out.

Mark Thompson: I have had a brief look.

Damian Collins: Firstly, do you agree that BBC share of market, share of voice, should be included in a broad assessment on media plurality?

Mark Thompson: As I understand it, Ofcom is suggesting that from time to time it would be appropriate for the BBC Trust to look at the issue of plurality in the context of the BBC. In terms of the topic, it is reasonable to look at the BBC’s own responsibilities as regards plurality. It is not clear to me from what Ofcom has said today that they are proposing that BBC should be considered as if it was any other media provider, because we are not.

Q26 Damian Collins: It does say that it is the role of the trust to assess that, but it is slightly clearer in point 5 in the summary, "The BBC’s leading position in TV, radio and online news means it should be included in any plurality review. The BBC’s position itself should not trigger one". It is not saying there should be a review because of BBC but that you should be included in any plurality review.

Mark Thompson: The point I would want to make is the BBC has some very important differences from other media providers. Firstly, we are charged in our royal charter with reaching every household in the country. That is what we are set up under the charter to do and reach for the BBC of high quality programmes into households is something that is intended. That is the reason we have a BBC. If you do not want that to happen, don’t have a BBC. Secondly, the BBC has a governance model with its sovereign body, the BBC Trust. The process of time limited charters and charter review, where impartiality and the avoidance of the abuse of market scale is intrinsic to what the BBC does, and if the BBC, as it were, attempts to abuse its position in the market, there is a governing body, there is the charter and the agreement-and, therefore, potentially judicial review-there is parliamentary scrutiny and so forth, in ways that do not apply to private concerns. I think the-

Q27 Damian Collins: Yes, but I suppose there is also a question of share of voice, whether the BBC’s dominance in certain markets is such that it makes it harder for competitors. Ofcom cites in the report that the BBC is the market leader in each platform where it has news presence: 74% of television news hours, a high but unquantifiable portion of radio news and 46% of all page views among the top 50 online news providers.

Mark Thompson: I don’t know if it is Ofcom or you, but it is not 74% of news hours.

Damian Collins: All right, but that is what it said, though.

Mark Thompson: It is 30% of news hours and 74% of viewing.

Damian Collins: Right.

Mark Thompson: Because the other complexity is the BBC services are popular and sometimes, even if we have a relatively smaller proportion of hours broadcast, sometimes usage is high. In sport, I think in television, we represent 2% of hours of sport and 45% of viewing. So one thing about the BBC is we pretty efficiently convert hours broadcast into actually hours viewed, much more efficiently than all other broadcasters because the BBC is very popular with the viewing public.

I think I would say a couple of things. Firstly, the BBC-and I think the BBC Trust is well aware of this-itself has a duty to maximise plurality in its services and within its programmes. It is important, for example, on programmes like Question Time and Any Questions? that a broad range of voices should appear, and that within different BBC services Newsbeat will offer a different flavour of news than Analysis or The World Tonight would do on Radio 4. One of the things I believe the trust will want to look at more closely-plurality is only part of the impartiality duty of the BBC-in the future is making sure that the BBC is helping to contribute to plurality as much as it can do. The fact that it has a large share of voice in itself, if those things are being done properly, should not unduly worry the public.

Q28 Damian Collins: Your view, if I might summarise, is that because of the way the BBC is governed it should not be considered as a part of a plurality review like any other broadcaster. That is your contention, is it?

Mark Thompson: Yes, it is. It is a bit like the National Health Service. That controls an awful lot of hospitals and doctors because it is set up to be a national health service. The BBC is set up to be a national broadcaster reaching every household. Now, do you need to make sure you have controls to make sure it does that in a way that is good and true? Yes. If you don’t want a national broadcaster, by all means argue for its abolition, but once you say you want a ubiquitous national broadcaster, the fact that it has a significant share of voice is a mark of success, not failure.

Q29 Damian Collins: I am sure Rupert Murdoch would agree with you on that. But do you not see there is also a ground in a plurality review for looking at the market and saying, "One player is just now so dominant, be it local news or online news or music, coverage of live music, that actually the regulator should look to intervene in the market on competition grounds", and that therefore the BBC should be considered as part of that market analysis?

Mark Thompson: I think these are two different topics: one, plurality: how effectively does our democracy work in terms of the free exchange of views, is one topic, dealt with by a separate administration. There is the issue of competition, and I have no doubt that-tragically, I am not going to have the pleasure myself of being part of it-there will be another lively debate in the run up to the next charter about whether the BBC’s position in these markets, the net effect, is to help commercial broadcasting or hinder it. I would make the point that we have a very lively and very successful television radio industry, that our newspapers actually are performing in many ways much better than newspapers in other countries, like the United States where there is nothing like the BBC competing. There is no evidence that UK commercial media is struggling, relative to other countries, because of the BBC. I have never seen a single piece of evidence about the adverse strategic consequences of the BBC in terms of the UK media markets, but of course there will be a debate about that.

Q30 Damian Collins: Finally, I want to just cover on this report what Ofcom delightfully calls, "Internal plurality", which is something we sort of touched on.

Mark Thompson: Slightly East German-sounding.

Damian Collins: Exactly, and only a regulator would get away with that.

Mark Thompson: Yes.

Damian Collins: Which they say is not something the BBC Trust is necessarily obliged to consider but-it touches on something you mentioned earlier-is about the breadth of voices heard within BBC coverage. They have highlighted this in their report. Do you think this is something the BBC needs to do more work on?

Mark Thompson: As Director General I have been, myself, pretty focused on this, often by the way in ways that prove controversial. Choosing to have the leader of the British National Party on Question Time is an example of broadening the range of voices, in ways that many people, frankly, were uncomfortable with. I think it is very important, actually, if the BBC fails to represent all the voices that are out there in our community. I have tried with my colleagues in areas like business coverage, coverage of Europe, coverage of immigration, to broaden the range of voices, not least to reflect genuine debates that are happening out there in the public. I would say that is one dimension of it.

The other dimension is making sure that you are broadcasting in ways that connect with lots of different sectors of society, because there is another potential risk, which is that you only connect most regularly and solidly with a subsection of society. I think, for example, it is also important to make sure, on BBC 3, on Radio 1 and 1Xtra, in particular, that you are providing political debate, current affairs and other topical discussion in ways that connect with teenagers and young adults, as well as other parts of the audience.

Q31 Damian Collins: Yes. The report says here-you could see it as a recommendation or a note or you could see it as a criticism, but it says, "In terms of the work of broadcasters in creating a more informed citizenship, this would be better served if the BBC positively promotes internal plurality, not just between different news programmes and services but also within them in order to broaden the diversity of voices and viewpoints available to individual consumers and citizens more broadly". Do you think there needs to be more than-

Mark Thompson: As it happens, I think generally the BBC does a pretty good job and I think we have done a better job over this last period than before. It is a great topic to go on working on. I think one of the strongest arguments the BBC can make in the future, including a charter review for its share of voice-to use your phrase-is the fact that it uses that share of voice to get the widest possible range of opinions. So I think it is something to go on worrying away at.

Q32 Damian Collins: We may come on to this, but whenever there is criticism of the BBC’s coverage people might say it is about partiality, but it is probably not that; it is more about the lack of internal plurality?

Mark Thompson: I think that is very fair. In other words, to use the language, within impartiality you need to make sure that you are unbiased but also that you are sufficiently open so that, as it were, within the debate you are trying to be balanced about the way you do the debate, but also you make sure that you are keeping the doors open so that the debate is as wide as it can be and you don’t fall into the trap of thinking that the answer is always somewhere in the middle. History suggests that sometimes people, retrospectively, will think actually that the answers did not naturally migrate to the middle; that sometimes people who were regarded initially as outliers turn out to be the people who feel they were right- famously, Winston Churchill in the 1920s and 1930s on the threat from Germany. I think being alive to the fact that across the whole range of the debate, the person who in the end, in a sense, history may judge is right may not be somewhere in the middle.

Damian Collins: Okay. Thank you.

Q33 Steve Rotheram: Just to follow on from that response. As democrats, I don’t think anybody has argued against the points that you have made, Mr Thompson, but for the life of me I can’t understand why the BBC continues to pay licence-fee money to Kelvin McKenzie. I asked for a FOI on the issue, and the BBC wrote back and said they rejected the FOI because they claimed it would impinge on artistic impression and it was not a proportionate use of the licence fee to devote resources to finding the information. That information obviously would be readily at hand. I think you would just push one button and be able to determine that.

Just on that, there are people who would have extreme views, and that is not the issue. It is not just internal plurality that you are talking about, it is also about the number of complaints an individual gets. How many people need to complain about McKenzie being on the BBC getting their money before the BBC stops putting money in his pocket?

Mark Thompson: If I can most usefully make a general response. I think this very much goes to the point that Mr Collins and I have been discussing, which is that I think we need to have a broad range of voices on the BBC. Not everyone who appears on the BBC is going to be to my taste, and I am sure not to yours or anyone else’s taste. The nature of the open society we live in is that you can and should hear all sorts of views and perspectives.

Although I think it is entirely reasonable-we should always listen carefully to complaints-I am pretty worried about the idea that you, as it were, get a number, some magic number where you are saying, "Well, once we have had X-number of complaints about someone they will never appear on the BBC again". Is that really sensible? Because I tell you now, in terms of political life, some of these political programmes are going to be denuded slightly if you could say, "Well, if we get 50,000 complaints, then they will be banned from the BBC".

The idea of banning voices, although I can see you find someone’s views hateful or whatever, might be superficially attractive, I think it is not in the spirit of what a public broadcaster in an open society should do.

Q34 Mr Watson: It is very heartening to hear that, Mr Thompson, and I think a plurality of voices is definitely where the BBC need to be. One thing that interests me in the English regions, in the wards where they stood, UKIP got one in 10 votes in the recent elections in May. Could you see a situation where UKIP should be represented in the leaders’ debates during the general election?

Mark Thompson: Again, not wishing to pre-empt or to predict any kind of specific issue like that, of course, when you think about potential future leaders’ debates, when you think about the disposition of party election broadcasts and how you think about balance during election periods, British politics is happening in real time and you have to constantly review what is going on. I would say that we are going through a period where elections for mayors around the country, the forthcoming elections for Police Commissioners, raise interesting new questions for us, and my colleagues and my successor have to make sure that they are thinking about politics and the structure of politics as it is now and as it is going to be in the future.

To state the obvious, the vote we are expecting in autumn 2014 in Scotland about Scottish independence is a different kind of democratic moment, and how you cover that in Scotland, how you cover that in the rest of the UK, how you cover it for the BBC’s audiences around the world raises some interesting new questions. So the answer is that what we try to do is we always try to pay close attention to how people vote. Opinion polls are great, but we are very interested in what actually happens in elections. Before each new election we try to weigh the evidence and base all of our dispositions on the basis of all of the evidence.

Q35 Jim Sheridan: A couple of brief comments before I go on to my main question. First, the Chair referred to daytime television. It is not just the BBC but all the TV channels in terms of daytime television-I think it is a Government conspiracy to get people into work because they are so dreadful, and I am not the only one that thinks that. That is not just the BBC; that is all the-

Mark Thompson: A contribution to the growth debate.

Q36 Jim Sheridan: Yes, that is what it is. The second one is just picking up on a point that Louise Mensch made. I think it is right that people will look at ethnic, gender, age, and so on, but could I throw something else in the mix, and that is the social background of the people working at the BBC. I would suggest-there are no figures taken-there is a large proportion of public-school boys and public-school girls in that mix. I don’t think it takes a brain surgeon to read off an autocue, so I think you should look at the social background as well.

Mark Thompson: I think you would be surprised actually. For the top 25 managers in the BBC-partly because of a remark you made or a question you raised at one of the Select Committees-we did ask the question of everyone, and I think seven or eight of the 25 were privately educated and the rest were educated in the state system. It is less true of the BBC than you might think.

One of the ironies about the BBC is people’s image of the BBC-and you might say I am a stereo-typical representative of that image-may well be of a private school and university education. We have people from lots of different backgrounds in the organisation and we are trying very hard to open doors in the BBC.

We now have many dozens of apprentices working in the BBC, some of whom I hope will go on to be directors of the organisation, as well as graduate trainees and so forth. We are trying hard to convince different communities that we are absolutely open to business for them. I regularly myself talk to students in state schools, and so do many of my colleagues, to try to encourage people who do not come from privileged backgrounds to think about working for the BBC, because we will not reflect this country, we will not succeed in connecting with our audiences, if we all come from one social group. I think we are making progress on that front, actually.

Q37 Jim Sheridan: I am delighted to hear that. I stand corrected if that is indeed the case. But moving on to the question that you are probably anticipating, which is the Jubilee and the Queen’s Pageant, which has generated a great deal of-shall we say-negative publicity. Do you think you did a good job?

Mark Thompson: So, what is the benchmark? We ask people about every single programme that we make, whether they thought it was a high-quality programme or not, and the verdict of the British public was a so-called appreciation index score of 82, which is just over eight out of 10. We have done a little bit more research after that, which frankly supports that. So the public’s verdict was around eight out of 10. Now, I would say about all television programmes and all radio programmes, everyone is entitled to their opinion, and an average across the entire UK population-we are talking about many, many millions of people who watched it-of eight out of 10 does not mean that everyone gave it eight out of 10. Some people might have given it four out of 10. But this was a programme where all of the objective evidence about the British public is the public basically thought it was a programme that deserved eight out of 10.

Like any programme, of course-particularly, any live programme-no doubt we have lessons to learn. We had some bad luck with the weather, and the weather was difficult for the event.

Jim Sheridan: I was watching in Glasgow with my flip-flops on.

Mark Thompson: The weather had the specific effect of making communications between our cameras very difficult. We lost most of our cameras for a period on the boats and some of the cameras on dry land as well. That meant in the middle of the coverage we were spending a bit less time on the river covering the event and a bit more time away from the river than we would have liked. We also had one or two, not many, inaccuracies in the commentary, which we should not have had. So I would say, as with any programme-as with any programme-I am sure the team can go away and learn some of the lessons. But please see that in the context of the public saying this as a programme that was 8.2, just over eight out of 10.

The BBC, as you perhaps know, produced the concert at Buckingham Palace on Monday night and of course we also covered the state occasion on Tuesday night, as well as events up and down the country. We also asked the British public, "The Diamond Jubilee coverage: how did that affect your view of the BBC?" and the answer was 81% said their view was unchanged. By the way, approval of the BBC is at an historic high; it is very high at the moment. 81% said unchanged; 8% said their view of the BBC had deteriorated as a result of it; 11% said it had got better. So the Diamond Jubilee, as a whole, has not had a big effect on the public but, if anything, more people said that their opinion of the BBC had increased because of it rather than diminished.

Q38 Jim Sheridan: I watched it and I thought it was really good, and I don’t think that people took into consideration the horrific conditions that people-particularly those behind the cameras-must have been working in. I think most of the criticism I would say was politically generated by some people. What would you give it out of 10?

Mark Thompson: I want to go back to my earlier point, which is everyone is entitled to their opinion. I would, however, note that last year there was quite a lot of criticism of our coverage of the Royal Wedding, a programme that went on, looked at in the cold light of day, to win the BAFTA. If you go back to the Golden Jubilee, the BBC was forced to defend itself after 1,000 phone calls of complaint-about the same, by the way, initial number of complaints as the Diamond Jubilee-because David Dimbleby was "talking too much". I am sure if you went back to the Silver Jubilee-I think one of the parts of the national ritual of these great occasions is a day two story criticising some aspect of what the BBC has done. But what I can do is simply say we look at, simply statistically, public reactions to all of these events, and the River Pageant 82, the concert I think 85, and the following day I think 86/87 for the events in the Mall and before that in St Paul’s. So if you ask the public, they were broadly very satisfied with the coverage, which is not to say there are, no doubt, some lessons learned.

Q39 Jim Sheridan: I would like to ask you also about your own stewardship and, indeed, your successor’s stewardship. This is a comment from another right-wing columnist from the Daily Mail, who suggests-

Chair: Jim reads little else.

Jim Sheridan: It says, "Indeed, the Corporation’s soon-to-quit director-general, Mark Thompson, has admitted that it had been guilty of a ‘massive’ Left-wing bias in the past and that there had been a ‘struggle’ to achieve impartiality". First of all, did you say that?

Mark Thompson: Well, I think the one thing I said-of course rather brilliantly these things get condensed and somehow, in the process, they change their character, don’t they?-was that the BBC I joined in 1979 I thought did have some issues, not on the air but in terms of the make-up of the people who worked there. So this was not a point about the actual on air coverage of the BBC but simply saying that in the current affairs department I joined-what is now-33 years ago, there were an awful lot of people who seemed to come from and to talk privately from a left-wing perspective and not many from a conservative perspective. I think we have come a long way from there. I think it is fair to say, for example, that four Ministers of the present Government are former BBC alumni. All Tories as well, Chairman, by the way.

People of my generation, and some of these gentlemen-I am sure they are all gentlemen-are from my vintage. People of my generation came in with a broader set of perspectives than people from the generation of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s at the BBC. Again, I would say this is also another aspect of that issue of plurality, and also who do you employ? You want people to come with a range of different political backgrounds. The really important thing, and to be fair I think this was true of the BBC in 1979 as well. It is like the jury room. You get in to work on the BBC, and whatever your personal views are you should get on with the job of trying to be as fair and impartial as you possibly can be. That is the important thing. It is the values of the organisation and people’s commitment to live with the values of the organisation that matters more than personal political history, I would say.

Q40 Jim Sheridan: I think obviously the 1979 bit has been left out by this columnist. Your successor has come in with, "Is a Labour crony who turned a blind eye to porn fit to run the BBC?" Seriously, is this political interference or intimidation? What is it?

Mark Thompson: Just as a point of clarification, my understanding of the process is that we are talking about one potential successor there. In the process of selection of the next Director General we are still kind of mid-flight. I think I would say to anyone who is thinking of becoming Director General of the BBC, "If you don’t like the idea of the odd disobliging piece in the papers"- that is part of the territory, and it should be; it is a big public office and it is a national broadcaster, everyone pays for it-"I am afraid you have to take your lumps." No decision has been taken about my successor, therefore it is not yet possible to criticise them as my successor because we do not know who they are yet.

Q41 Jim Sheridan: I am just concerned seriously that this is political intimidation.

Mark Thompson: I understand.

Jim Sheridan: That is what worries me.

Q42 Chair: Before we depart from the Jubilee Pageant, did you not wince over Fearne Cotton and the sick bags?

Mark Thompson: Well, I think, if I may say so, what I have to do in my job as editor-in-chief is step back and look at these pieces of broadcasting in the round, and when you are broadcasting over many, many hours live on television and radio, all sorts of things are going to happen, particularly if-as I think is right-you are trying to do something that is part of a national celebration with all sorts of characters and things going on. I broadly think the public are right and I think the broad sweep of this was really good. I thought the concert was one of the best things of its kind we have ever done, and I thought that there were things on the Sunday, some of the moments on the Sunday on the river, the service at St Paul’s and the classic moments in the Mall, I thought it was a really good piece of broadcasting, which-

Q43 Chair: To some extent I think one of the reasons it may have rated so highly is because the people enjoyed watching the pageant. That may be a reflection of the pageant rather than the BBC’s coverage of the pageant. But I don’t want you just to ignore Fearne Cotton and the sick bags. That did actually cause an awful lot of people to say, "This is pretty inappropriate on any channel, but on the BBC-"

Mark Thompson: As I say, interestingly enough, if you look at our duty logs and all the rest of it, it was not really members of the public-it caused some comments in some newspapers certainly.

Q44 Chair: You think that was not embarrassing to you?

Mark Thompson: I don’t really want to engage, in the sense that if you are not careful you take 15 seconds out of three days of broadcasting-

Chair: It is very easy for you to say broadly you are very happy with it, but there are one or two elements you agree perhaps were not appropriate.

Mark Thompson: I do not want to take individual elements, but as I have said to you, I have been working in broadcasting for more than three decades, and I have yet to come across or indeed be involved in a perfect programme.

Q45 Chair: So do you share Mark Damazer’s view that you may have been guilty of trying to be more inclusive and provide for people who were less interested in the historic and the cultural background, and that that might be a mistake?

Mark Thompson: If I may say so, if you look at our coverage of the Diamond Jubilee, starting with Andy Marr’s documentary series about Her Majesty the Queen, carrying on with John Bridcut’s wonderful documentary on the Friday night, Prince Charles’ reflections on his family history, and then looked at the main coverage over the Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, the idea that that was not full of history and archive and celebration of this remarkable story of one woman and her family and the country, I thought we-and not even touching on what we did on local radio and regional television and all the rest of it-captured all of that. You can’t capture every-

Chair: Was Mark Damazer not right?

Mark Thompson: The thing is you have to, in my view, if you are talking about the BBC’s Diamond Jubilee coverage, look at the coverage as a whole. As I say, the effect of the coverage is from the coverage as a whole. What is interesting is millions and millions of people did just that and watched all of it.

Chair: So you do not agree with Mark Damazer?

Mark Thompson: As I say, I did not hear Mark’s precise remarks.

Chair: He said pretty much that.

Mark Thompson: I think what I would say is trying to simultaneously reflect both, if you like, the pomp and circumstance, the history and the heritage of this, but also sometimes-particularly on the Sunday, which was always intended as the kind of people’s element of this weekend-a much more popular and in some ways demotic event than, for example, the service in St Paul’s on the Tuesday, meant that we were absolutely broadening the range of voices and hearing some fun and games and jollity as well.

Q46 Chair: I get the impression that you basically think the BBC’s coverage of the pageant was fine and this is a Daily Mail wrap-up conspiracy to attack the BBC.

Mark Thompson: You have heard me say a number of times-I will say it again-I think everyone is entitled to their opinion and we broadcast for everyone. Frankly, as I said, we don’t ever produce programmes that are fully to everyone’s satisfaction but the public’s mark for the River Pageant of eight out of 10, for the rest of the coverage probably eight and a half, tending to nine, I think is a good result.

Q47 Mr Watson: Mr Thompson, I think where you will probably get universal support is from parents who would applaud your decision to include children’s content, children’s TV, in the five principles of public service broadcasting. Do you think your decision to do that has been a success, and what does the future look like for children’s TV?

Mark Thompson: I hope a really strong and positive one. Two things have happened, I think: firstly, the decision that I was involved in as director of television at the BBC before I went on to Channel 4-so now 12 years ago-to launch dedicated children’s channels, I think has been a triumphant success. The idea of high quality children’s channels with quite a lot of origination in them, dedicated to children, is something not just children embrace but so do their parents, because having them without advertising and without a subscription, and generally with a sense of a safe environment has been positive.

Around that we have done two more things. I think we are getting better and better at connecting with children on the web using some of the same ideas, some of the same brands as we use on our TV channels, and we have also begun to see some really quite big investments in some quite interesting pieces. I think of The Sarah Jane Adventures and Horrible Histories, things that have started off being aimed at children but actually have been family entertainment. More broadly, the idea of returning to the idea of family entertainment, so programmes that children and young people will genuinely want to watch and their parents will want to watch with them-Dr Who and Merlin would be examples-again, people said that wasn’t possible. People said that that age was over, that the idea of everyone crowding round the TV to watch something together was over, audiences would segment and everyone would be watching and doing their own thing in their own room. Actually, I think the BBC has a very interesting role to play in trying to find pieces that really work for children and work for parents as well.

Q48 Mr Watson: I would say Horrible Histories is probably the most remarkable piece of TV in the kid’s-

Mark Thompson: Yes.

Mr Watson: If I can move you up the age range a little bit to younger audiences, it is my observation that we have always teased you about BBC 3 at every appearance you have had before this Committee, where we have challenged you on audience share, and you have always pushed back on original content creation. Do you-

Mark Thompson: I think I am winning the argument in almost every way. It is interesting now that more than two-thirds of BBC 3’s audience consumption is originating from BBC 3 programmes not from BBC 1. So we have used repeats from BBC 1 to help bring an audience to BBC 3. Increasingly BBC 3 is using its own programming to reach its audiences. It is winning awards-many of these programmes are winning awards.

Current affairs has been one of the most exciting areas in BBC 3. I thought that Our War, the series of documentaries essentially made by British soldiers in combat in Afghanistan is one of the best pieces of television in my time as director, and possibly in my time in TV. BBC 3 has an ability to touch on and tell the interesting, international, sometimes darker side of popular topics, such as where are your clothes made, what are the conditions in which the clothes you buy and wear are made, what is going on with the kind of traditions that some British ethnic minority communities grow up with, and how do children’s rights and women’s rights play out in different parts of the world? That has been very powerful as well as some powerful drama and comedy. BBC 3 is really punching its weight.

When the BBC Trust did its service review, I think BBC 3 had the most positive service review from the BBC Trust of any I can remember since the creation of the trust, so I believe that I am winning the argument.

Q49 Mr Watson: I hate to admit it, but I think you might be.

Chair: Oh dear-

Mr Watson: The Chair won’t, but it is a bit too young for him anyway.

Mark Thompson: We did one programme, which is the programme the Chair became obsessed with. It was the dwarf who nailed his penis to a block of wood.

Chair: It was called Bizarre ER, I seem to recall.

Mark Thompson: I begged him not to do it at home himself but-

Q50 Mr Watson: I was probably watching Horrible Histories when he was watching that. Do you think one of the lessons for your successor, a lesson from BBC 6 Music, is if you want to build an audience share you should threaten to close the station down?

Mark Thompson: No. Well, one of the challenges you have with any new digital service, it is true of the newspapers, it is true of everyone-it is a very crowded world-is how do you get people to notice your service. It turns out having an enormous public debate about whether the service should continue simply found in the case of 6 Music a lot of people who had never heard of it, and never tried it before and who sampled it because of the fuss. What is really interesting about 6 Music is that-I am exaggerating slightly-they basically all stayed and the radio station now has twice as many people listening to it as it had beforehand. They are more passionate than the original audience was in many ways, and of course the value-for-money arguments for not having 6 Music also evaporated because the audience became so much bigger. I would say to those people who are sharpening their pencils in the run up to the next charter, 6 Music is one of four popular music radio stations on the BBC, and it turns out that shutting one of the four was something that was confronted with real public anger and disagreement.

The other thing I would say about the BBC Trust and the BBC as well, is that we try to listen. There were many representations made by members of the public, and by MPs, about our proposed changes to local radio and we took them away, scratched the layers and changed them because of what some of you said to us and what the public said to us. I think the other significant change in the BBC is we are trying quite hard to listen and adapt strategy in the light of what the public and what MPs and others say to us.

Q51 Mr Sutcliffe: If I could keep on the theme of content and investment. We are obviously all looking forward to the Olympics and Paralympics and the wonderful coverage we will get from the BBC over that period of time. The BBC has always had a rich heritage and tradition of sport.

Mark Thompson: Yes.

Mr Sutcliffe: We are all hoping that sport development continues in what we call "the decade of sport". So why then the decision to pull back from certain sports, to not bid for, I think, it is horse racing that you have come out of and things like that? There are a number of sports where you are not going to get involved; what is the thinking behind that?

Mark Thompson: The BBC is currently figuring out ways to make around 16% savings in its spending between now and the end of the charter. I actually set a slightly higher target for the organisation of 20% to make sure there was some money to actually invest in quality, to continue to invest in a digital future, and very few parts of the organisation can be left untouched by that. Like you, I believe that having a strong portfolio of sport is very important to the BBC, but we are having to make tough choices. Both in the case of horse racing and in the case of the decision to share Formula One rights, we looked very hard at our spend, we looked very hard at the audiences. I think the only way we could have kept horse racing would have been a much bigger commitment to horse racing. We would have been very happy to carry on showing and paying for the races that we did show. Understandably, the people who control the rights of horse racing, in a sense wanted to find a broadcaster to take virtually everything. We did not think it was a time when we could do that.

With Formula One, the decision to share the rights, it was our idea, we approached both the rights holder and Sky with the idea of sharing the rights, was to save money, which would mean that we would not have to cut BBC programmes elsewhere. What is encouraging so far with Formula One-it has been a great success for Sky-is audiences on the BBC for Formula One remain extremely healthy. We have half the Formula One matches live, the other half we have 75 minutes’ highlights of each of the other games. We are still getting very healthy audiences for Formula One, and we have saved well in excess of £30 million a year by doing this, which is a significant part of the total savings we have to make across the BBC.

Q52 Mr Sutcliffe: Do you think there is more room for those sort of partnerships, in the sense of-

Mark Thompson: We have quite a few right now. We are showing the Euro 2012 in partnership with ITV. We have often been open to partnerships. You could argue that rugby is split between the BBC, ITV and Sky, for example. But we recognise that the public want a significant portfolio of sports from the BBC. We will have to recognise the realities. We have to strike good bargains where we can. We have renewed the highlights of the premiership, the rights we use in Match of the Day, pretty much at par; pretty much. We are paying very slightly more but as part of this deal we also get iPlayer on demand rights. So I would regard it as paying roughly flat for the next three years. If you look at the live rights, they have gone up by 70%. So we are trying to strike good bargains on behalf of the licence payer, but we want to get the best portfolio we can, given the constrained means that we have.

Q53 Mr Sutcliffe: We are just seeing now with the Premier League packages with BT being involved, so what I would hope is that there are opportunities for those partnerships to develop-

Mark Thompson: There are. Live soccer, those packages imply £6 million as a right to deal per match and that is not, in my view, a good use of the licence fee.

Mr Sutcliffe: No. I am not thinking you can be doing that, but in other sports that principle of using other partners that might want to get involved. Thanks.

Q54 Jim Sheridan: Just very briefly. You will probably recall the corporation came in for some criticism in relation to England’s World Cup bid, in terms of the Panorama programme.

Mark Thompson: Yes.

Jim Sheridan: We have now had recently the Panorama programme on Ukraine. Is that likely to be causing any more friction between-about tonight and about supporting England tonight?

Mark Thompson: Well, my-

Steve Rotheram: Can we just check the transcript then?

Mark Thompson: It is true that the Panorama about certain unsatisfactory and arguably corrupt practices at FIFA in the run-up to the selection of the 2018 and 2022 host nations of the World Cup, and indeed I have to say before that, in my first months as Director General, the Panorama about corruption inside the IOC when London was trying to get the 2012 Games, were both points where I came under quite a lot of pressure. I haven’t felt any pressure over the Panorama recently about racism in Ukraine and Poland-significant pressure.

Chair: I may be about to change that, but go on, yes.

Mark Thompson: Let’s hear what the Chair has to say. My view is that Panorama should look at sport as it looks at any other subject, and I would defend Panorama’s right to do that. I have been entirely resistant to suggestions that it is inappropriate for Panorama to look at these topics, or that we should influence scheduling decisions about our journalism because of some other considerations. For me, the impartiality and the independence of our journalism is paramount, and I have not been prepared, as editor-in-chief of the BBC, to trim that because it is inconvenient or is likely to lead to embarrassment.

Q55 Chair: I should declare I am Chairman of the British-Ukraine Parliamentary Group in Parliament. I fully agree, Panorama is entitled to produce hard-hitting investigative reports, but you should be aware that there is profound concern in the Ukraine administration and in the embassy-and I have raised this with David Jordan-so if you could at least seriously listen to the complaints that they have about that programme.

Mark Thompson: Well, of course. We are talking about two different topics, or at least two parts of the topic. One topic, should Panorama be able to do it. Now, I would say I watched the programme on transmission. I wasn’t involved before. I watched it. I will and my colleagues will of course consider any complaints people have made. I have to say my prima facie reaction to the programme is that it was a very strong piece and, indeed, many of the things it was featuring it was able to film and show you on camera what it was doing. But of course if there are complaints then we will consider them.

Q56 Chair: That is all I ask. It has caused concern.

I do not want to return to the specific topic of the pageant, which I think we have probably exhausted, but the general observation-and I don’t want to specifically attribute Mark Damazer, but I think what he was saying is a widely held view-that the BBC, possibly in response to people like us pressing it on reach or audience figures, has tended to-in popular parlance-dumb down, and that you have tried to appeal to a wider audience by perhaps becoming less intellectual in some of the coverage. Do you think there is any justice in that criticism?

Mark Thompson: No, I don’t. I think Gillian Reynolds was pretty close to accusing Radio 4 of dumbing down by devoting a day to James Joyce’s Ulysses. Again, Radio 4 devoting an entire day to Ulysses, last year Life and Fate, the Grossman classic, science on the BBC-science is transformed on the BBC, not just on Radio 4 but on BBC 1 and BBC 2, our Darwin-well, look at Brian Cox and the series of programmes that Brian Cox-

Q57 Chair: No one is arguing that there is not extremely high quality programming on the BBC, and obviously you can point at things, like Brian Cox and James Joyce, and so on, but-

Mark Thompson: You don’t think that counts for-

Chair: No, it does count but I am just giving you an example. The last election was one of the most extraordinary outcomes, profound constitutional implications for this country. Were you happy that the BBC had as commentators on it Bruce Forsyth and Joan Collins?

Mark Thompson: I think you should be careful, though, because I thought the BBC covered in 2010 election night but crucially the days after the election. What is fascinating is I think in previous-

Q58 Chair: But the boat was a mistake, wasn’t it?

Mark Thompson: I am absolutely happy to accept that that boat, the famous "Ship of Fools" was not our finest hour.

Chair: Ah, right, so you do accept that-

Mark Thompson: Well, what is really important to say, though, is the incident-I see my colleagues from the Daily Mail writing now. The false move to make in the game is to say because not every aspect of the OB on the boat was as good as we would have wished it to be, that, therefore, the BBC’s coverage of the 2010 election was a fiasco, is utter nonsense. We were there. Every previous election I have been involved in, you would have expected ITV, you would have expected Channel 4 to be on air. The Tuesday night, one of the most momentous and exciting nights for political coverage, BBC was there with completely straight and outstanding coverage from David Dimbleby down. I thought on election night that particular OB did not work, but I think it is to be honest a canard to imagine that it is a sensible pathway to take one thing in a programme that hasn’t quite worked and somehow get that to stand for the entire programme, to use it as a kind of metonym-to use a fancy word-of the entire programme, because this didn’t work or because of one remark by one presenter the whole day was a fiasco, in fact the whole event was a fiasco. That is nonsense, and it is simply not borne out by public reaction.

Q59 Chair: I think there is a middle way. I am not saying that-

Mark Thompson: No. But, to be honest, the mis-reporting of these things, probably including these remarks, means that that is taken in some newspapers as the totality of the truth, and that because one little bit of what was an entire election campaign, the first set of debates with prime ministerial candidates, and so forth, and this extraordinary aftermath, which I thought the BBC did brilliantly over many days, exhausted people continued to cover it over many days, that all of this is somehow put in the balance with a couple of moments on deck on the ship and, therefore, the whole thing-

One of the frustrations, if you like, in looking at some of the print coverage is exactly that kind of distortion. But what is interesting over this period is the gap between the trust that is placed in the BBC and the trust that is placed in British newspapers has never been wider. Over this period trust in the BBC has gone up, and that is not something you can say about every news provider in this country.

Q60 Dr Coffey: Hello, Mr Thompson. Sorry, we had a division on our Delegated Legislation Committee. It is quite unusual, hence my delay.

Mark Thompson: I have asked for your YouView box to be brought here, so I can give it to you personally but it hasn’t arrived yet.

Dr Coffey: As you know, I am very excited about the imminent launch of YouView, and I was really hoping it was going to be ready for the Olympics on a wide basis, partly because of the commercial opportunity to be able to go and watch every single hour of the Olympics at any one point, which I believe from memory was the original vision. We heard from a good source today that, although there are a few out on trial, the reality is the launch will not happen until the autumn. I seem to recall before it would definitely be ready by the Olympics. David Abraham said that from Channel 4, "Absolutely, it will be ready. It won’t be ready in time for the Jubilee but it will be ready by the Olympics". What has happened?

Mark Thompson: I believe we have hundreds of boxes out currently; hundreds-400.

Dr Coffey: You can’t go to a shop and buy one.

Mark Thompson: We will have thousands ready, I hope, before the Olympics.

Dr Coffey: You do?

Mark Thompson: I do.

Dr Coffey: Excellent.

Chair: That is not many in a population of 60 million.

Mark Thompson: Well, as you know, I am very ambitious. I don’t expect and I have never expected to get 60 million YouView boxes away.

Chair: No.

Mark Thompson: Historically, these things take time to get out to the market, but we have very, very large numbers. Our partners have very, very large numbers of orders for boxes now, tens of thousands of orders for boxes in the system. The boxes, in terms of the final stages in their development, are performing very well. There are still one or two hurdles to go through but I am very bullish about YouView. I think it is going to be a great success, and, if I may say so, I remember reading about the iPlayer, which was also frankly a rather troubled project that arrived about 18 months/two years after we originally hoped it to. Just at the moment when the obits for iPlayer were being written and people congratulating themselves on predicting what a terrible thing it was going to be, we launched it and it has been one of the biggest things the BBC has ever done. I think YouView is looking really good actually. It is true we will not have a very, very large number of boxes out there in time for the Olympics. I do hope we will have an opportunity to demonstrate to the Committee, when you want to. That would really help if I could read it, but there we go.

Q61 Dr Coffey: I share your excitement. I have seen a bit of a demo, admittedly not a live one, and I seem to recall when Freeview came out it was really the European Championship some time ago. It must have been 2008, or perhaps earlier, when ITV pushed out the matches on ITV4, and you had to get Freeview if you wanted to watch all that. I just wonder if you have missed your commercial opportunity really?

Mark Thompson: I think the key thing is IPTV turns out to be quite difficult to do. Google and Apple are two of the most successful and most powerful technology companies in the world. I think if they were here today they would accept that neither Google or Apple are yet satisfied that, despite the fact they have been working very hard on this, they have yet found a killer solution. I believe that the philosophy we are bringing to bear with YouView, which I have had a significant part in formulating, which is essentially that people will want this device or want a television-like experience. They don’t want a kind of search box or a kind of QWERTY keyboard. They want something that feels like television, but which gives them more choice and more functionality than television. By combining conventional TV with the web is the right way forward, and I think the user experience now, the interface is very, very exciting. I think it is going to be a very, very good thing indeed.

I think if you want me to predict-it is possibly a fool’s errand to predict-I think the take up on it will be very rapid. We want to make sure, just as we did with iPlayer, we have a completely stable product that really does deliver on day one. I went up on Christmas Day to try the iPlayer-Christmas Day 2007-frankly, wondering what would happen when I went to the website and clicked on the box. I clicked on the box, and there was a big peak on the first day, it worked. We want people to have the same experience with YouView, and I think that Alan Sugar, our chair-a big character by the way-Richard Halton, our chief executive, and the team are doing a really good job, and I am very bullish about it.

Q62 Dr Coffey: Well, without being too cheeky, do you think you should be saying to Alan Sugar, "You’re fired for not getting it out on time for the Olympics"?

Mark Thompson: I am hoping-

Dr Coffey: You are hoping it will be?

Mark Thompson: I am hoping I am going to be able to give him a very big cigar to congratulate him.

Q63 Chair: 40 days; it is not very long. Within the next 40 days-

Mark Thompson: We already have hundreds of boxes out there already in-

Chair: How have they got them, because I have not seen any?

Dr Coffey: There is a trial, isn’t there?

Chair: Oh, so these are self-selecting?

Dr Coffey: I don’t know, but I can’t-

Mark Thompson: It is a mixture; it is a mixture.

Q64 Dr Coffey: Can I ask you about the exit from TV centre? Obviously technology is one of the big challenges there and trying to unpick many years of all that wonderful thing. What kind of lessons have you learned from other things that you hope can be carried forward to try to make sure it is done as efficiently as possible? We all know it costs about-what is it?-£2 million a month to keep TV centre running.

Mark Thompson: We have recently successfully completed Pacific Quay, which is a full broadcast production centre, and Salford Quays. The new Broadcasting House is coming on stream now, and all of these projects are delivering now on time and on or under budget. We are getting much, much better at trying to understand these things and we are going to try to bring all of those learnings into the television centre. The thing about television centre is it is partly a business of vacating a particular set of premises, indeed selling those premises. It is also an opportunity to completely refresh a lot of equipment that, as you know, is now on its last legs. Television centre is absolutely-has been for some years-teetering on the edge because a lot of the underlying technology, indeed, power and water mains are way, way beyond their design life.

So what we hope we can do is look at the other big BBC projects. The other massive project we have not talked about is switchover. It is something that is fascinating after eight years. This was flagged as one of the biggest topics when I arrived as Director General. A number of worthies-I think that David Elstein came here and said, "I’ll take off my hat. This is the biggest civil engineering project in British history. You’re giving it to the BBC. They haven’t a clue". It has gone very smoothly.

Dr Coffey: It has, yes.

Mark Thompson: It has gone very, very smoothly. I think we are now getting very good, as an organisation, at the integration of project management of all the skills you need to deliver these projects. So I hope we can bring it all to bear on television centre.

Q65 Dr Coffey: Can I ask one last question about the relationship with the trust. I don’t know if you do know that my view, my hope, ambition, is to try to persuade the Government to remove the trust and put the board back together as one. Are there any lessons you have learned from the trust relationship on why you think they should stay separate, or what advantage can you see if they could recombine? You have non-execs now on your board-

Mark Thompson: I do.

Dr Coffey: -and I wonder why that can’t be put back together?

Mark Thompson: Can I say that one of things I am going to really miss is governance weekly and opening up each week the sort of fascinating and endless debate about the governance of the BBC, but I wish you all well with it.

Firstly, practically, I think the present arrangement is working pretty well. In the early years of the trust there was a lot of anxiety about this, but I think two things happened. One, I think under Michael Lyons the trust genuinely began to win the confidence of other broadcast and other media players, that it was taking the market impact of the BBC seriously. I think also the trust’s service reviews have begun to persuade people at large-a piece by David Liddiment in the paper today, alongside the service licence review of BBC 1-that the trust is much more at arm’s length in terms of reviewing the BBC’s performance, than the BBC governors were beforehand. There may be more than one way of skinning this particular cat, and doubtless to say there will be many happy hours discussing different models. The trouble with an integrated model is the issue of who holds the BBC to account for the spending of the licence fee. The BBC gets a lot of public money, and ideally you want an arm’s length body that is looking at whether the money, as it were, it gives to the BBC is being spent well. If the people who are doing that are integrated completely with the management, the danger is you don’t get quite the amount of accountability you want.

I think having non-executives on the executive board has been very good, because I think it brings lots of private sector and business expertise into the BBC. So in areas like technology, we have really great advice to turn to in the executive board from Mike Lynch and others. But I think having a body that gives the BBC the licence fee, and that is the ultimate, if you like, shareholder on behalf of the public with the BBC does work. People say, "Can’t that be Ofcom?" I think Ofcom’s job is slightly different, actually. Ofcom’s job is more of a pan-industry body. It is much more a body that is there to review. If for example Ofcom is going to do a review of the whole of commercial media in the matter of plurality in future years, would it be really appropriate they were also spending the licence fee inside the BBC? As it happens, I think the current model has a lot to be said for it but, as I say-

Dr Coffey: I will send you my paper. Can I just say, finally, thank you for doing what you did for local radio. I really appreciate it. I think colleagues around the country really appreciate that the local area has been served-

Mark Thompson: Thank you.

Dr Coffey: -and also sports programming, so thank you.

Q66 Chair: Just while we are on governance. As you know, because you received a report of it, I was doing an RTS event last night, and Trevor Phillips was asked what he looked for from the next Director General, and he said, "Somebody who is willing to say to Chris Patten, ‘Get out of my office. That’s not your job’". Have you ever said that to either Chris or any of his predecessors, and do you agree that there may come times when the Director General has to say that?

Mark Thompson: It is theoretically possible. I don’t believe that so far that has been a significant issue. In the central task of the editorial management of the BBC, it is absolutely understood crystal clear that, although of course the trust has a role in agreeing, as it were, broad editorial strategy, the editor-in-chief has to have the ownership of programmes before they are broadcast and the trust’s job is to review the programmes and content after it has been made public and broadcast. I think that I would say more generally with strategy it has been a good working relationship that has involved quite a lot of challenge, but I have not felt that the trust has been in a sense trying to do my job. I believed that there were very strong public value arguments in favour of local TV, and local TV may proceed in another way, but I thought there were strong public arguments for, in a sense, taking the BBC’s local offering, local radio, and thinking about a television expression of that as well as a radio expression. The trust disagreed with that. There have been one or two points along the road where the trust has taken a different view. I think if the trust had not done that sometimes you would be asking a different question. That is, how on earth can you say this governance system is working if it always agrees with what you want to do? I would say, in terms of the broad thrust of what I have wanted to do with the BBC, I have had a lot of support from the governors in the Trust and I have not felt them, as it were, getting in my way or trying to climb into the driving seat.

Q67 Chair: You have never felt improper political pressure has been brought to bear?

Mark Thompson: Certainly not from the trust. I talked about moments where, interestingly enough after these big sporting events, I thought that politicians and others were quite getting close, if I can put it like that. It did not have any effect because we did not in any way condone it or bow to it or change our views because of it. But generally this has not been a period where-

Chair: Is this in sporting events?

Mark Thompson: Sorry, I mean the series of Panoramas that I mentioned that were timed very close to major sporting events and there was a slight sense, as it were, on the phone of, "Is it absolutely necessary, just as we were trying to get the 2012 Games, to target individual members of the IOC for a Panorama ...?" Politicians often have very strong views about what we do and they have absolutely every right to do that and I have never objected to personal representations from politicians morning, noon and night. That is completely fair. I do not think that the BBC should be regarded as being so sacrosanct you cannot phone up and say, "What the bloody hell just happened there?", and some politicians do that and I think that is completely reasonable. I would rather they did that than fester away in silence.

What is interesting is I think one of the things that happened by happenstance is that I came into this job just after there had been an almighty car crash, namely the Gilligan/Kelly/Hutton crisis, for the organisation, and I think almost everyone, BBC, BBC governing body, but also I think all the parties were slightly taken aback about what that felt like. I think there was a sense of looking over precipice and not wanting to go there again. I would say generally that I would want to commend the successive Governments and Oppositions in generally taking the independence of the BBC seriously, and more generally I would say being good partners. I think it has been a good period. I would also say that I have felt that although I have had the bad luck sometimes to have had some pretty difficult things happening that needed to be explained I have generally found in this Committee, and in other parliamentary committees - I think I have had getting on for 20 parliamentary appearances as Director General - generally firm but fair questioning and a fair hearing in Parliament.

Q68 Mrs Mensch: Mr Thompson, I want to start by saying I think you have been extremely effective in your job and congratulate you on it, because I am going to ask you a difficult question, and like politicians there is no gratitude in politics-nobody ever wants to hear about what went right-they only ever ask you nasty questions about things that went wrong so I would like to preface this by saying I think you have done a terrific job. May I also say that for me you have been one of the strongest witnesses we have had in appearances before the Committee. You always push back and have done a terrific job of defending the BBC.

Mark Thompson: Let us see how I do now.

Mrs Mensch:. Your defence of the River Pageant coverage today would do the proudest spin doctor genuinely absolutely fine. That is quite amazing. You have a future in politics when you step down from this job That was the stickiest of wickets, but you ploughed on regardless. I am going to stop my alarm, sorry. That is my alarm. That was not planned.

Mark Thompson: We are still on the river, I think.

Mrs Mensch: I have to ask you, though, about one particular story. I know it is difficult to concentrate on one story but this is the most reaction I have ever had for anything in all my time in politics and it came from the Jewish community about the BBC’s total non-coverage of the Fogel massacre in Itamar. This happened just after we confirmed Chris Patten as the Chairman of the BBC Trust, and on that occasion I asked him about the BBC’s perceived bias towards Israel and Jews, about the report that was suppressed and the BBC fought against. Chris Patten said there was no such bias. I asked him what he would do if he were shown an example of anti-Semitism and he said he would ultimately take it to the BBC Trust. Two days after that some terrorists entered the house of family in Itamar. They killed the entire family. They slit the throats of the four year old child. They hacked the head off a baby who was three months old and left her decapitated corpse in her bed. The BBC ran the story on BBC Radio 4 on the 8 am news as a lead item and they put it on their website for most of the day but they never subsequently touched on it in broadcasts in any of their outlets whether on radio or even as a minor story on the 24-hour rolling news coverage on BBC News 24. They left it completely alone.

I only found out about it after the event because there had been no coverage from an American blogger entitled Dead Jews is No News. The more I went into it the more shocked I was. I wrote a little piece for the Telegraph. I remember it was the day of the Budget and was absolutely overwhelmed by the response from the Jewish community both here and abroad. There was a huge feeling that the BBC just did not care. That if a settler had entered the home of a Palestinian family, slit the throat of a four year old and left them to die, hacked off the head of a baby, that the BBC would have covered that massacre.

It is worth saying that when I pursued this, Helen Boaden, as Director of News, did give me an apology for the BBC not having covered the incident. She said that because it was a massacre of an entire family the BBC ought to have covered the incident and the Jewish Chronicle and others were grateful to receive that. Can I just ask you to comment on the total lack of coverage on any outlet apart from that one story in the morning of that massacre and just ask you to give words of reassurance to the Jewish community that the BBC, and I am sure it does, tries very hard to be even-handed in its coverage of this intractable problem in the Middle East?

Mark Thompson: Firstly, I think on the story, very straightforwardly, we got it wrong. We have said that. Helen Boaden-

Mrs Mensch: Grateful to hear you say that.

Mark Thompson: -our Director of News, she said that. We got it wrong. It was, you will recall, a very busy news period.

Mrs Mensch: I do recall that.

Mark Thompson: The bombing had started in Libya, the Japanese tsunami was still running and news editors were under a lot of pressure. Having said that, it was certainly an atrocity that should have been covered across our news bulletins that day, and we accept that. I think that is evidence of, if you like, editorial error. I do not think it should be taken as, and I certainly do not believe it is evidence of, as it were, systemic bias. I believe that we do try very, very hard to cover that story objectively and to reflect suffering on both sides, or every side, of that conflict. We tried, for example, during incidents where there has been a very big humanitarian story inside Gaza also to show the effects of rockets in Sderot and elsewhere. More broadly, you will recall, and I came under some stick myself, I also believed that the sensitivity of this story and the character of the story meant that the BBC should not show a Disaster and Emergency Committee appeal for Gaza because of the risk of people-

Mrs Mensch: I do remember that.

Mark Thompson: Many, many people thought I was wrong. I believe I was right and the reason I think that we were right was because, again, I think it might have given the sense that the BBC was more favourable and more sympathetic to one side of that dispute than the other. Israel/Palestine is one of these issues-it is not the only one, by the way. Kashmir and Sri Lanka, in a South Asian context, would be just as hot in terms of people’s sensitivity and the sense of the vitalness of being even-handed where you have to be constantly careful of what you do.

What we have done more broadly, we have appointed, in my time, Jeremy Bowen as Middle East editor to try to make sure that in coverage of Israel/Palestine and more broadly the Middle East, not only do we cover point stories, hard news stories on the day, but also we have an editor who is thinking and can help the public understand the context. Often, I think, broadcasters get into trouble when, in a sense, either the reporters themselves or perhaps the public do not understand the historical and geographical context within which things happen. Israel/Palestine, I think, is particularly an example of a story where what the story looks like depends partly on what geographical lens you apply to it and the broader you get the more you understand why things happen the way they do. I would definitely want to say-

Mrs Mensch: It is a great opportunity to-

Mark Thompson: -to all our audiences, of course to include our Jewish and Israeli audiences here and around the world-we broadcast around the world-that we do want to make sure that we are fair and impartial in the way we cover this story.

Mrs Mensch: You recognise clearly that the BBC should have covered the Fogel massacre.

Mark Thompson: In this case I believe that we made a mistake, yes.

Mrs Mensch: Thank you very much.

Q69 Jim Sheridan: You are probably aware that a number of views are being expressed about Leveson. Without opening up the whole Leveson inquiry-you may or may not wish to comment on what is happening with Leveson-but can you tell us quite categorically that through your long period in office that you were never invited in by front doors, back doors, or through the attic or anywhere else in order for people, or any party politician to get your support, or do we need to wait for your memoirs?

Mark Thompson: It must be said that I bump into politicians, Ministers and indeed Prime Ministers quite often and I often have had conversations with them, but there have been no back doors or sky lights. No politician has ever asked me to change the first words of the 10 o’clock news to "Vote Tory" or "Vote Labour". As I say, I think politicians of all parties have been respectful of the BBC’s independence. Just as a matter of common sense, one of the reasons that perhaps politicians spend less time, as it were, lobbying us than they might be lobbying others is that we do not try to tell people how to vote. Our job is to try to give people, if you like, the information and the tools they need to make up their own mind about stories. We are in a slightly different position I think from newspaper editors and proprietors.

Q70 Jim Sheridan: Leveson-are you quite happy with the way things are going?

Mark Thompson: That is a rather leading question. I gave evidence for a couple of hours in front of Lord Leveson. That was okay. What I would say, and I say this to my colleagues inside the BBC, is that it is very easy to jump to conclusions. Where we are at the moment is Lord Leveson is taking evidence, which, of course, like most people I find very interesting. Lord Leveson has not written his report. We do not yet know what the conclusions of part one of Leveson are. Secondly, a number of people have been arrested. Some people have been charged. We have not yet seen any conclusions about it and I think in a way it is very important for the BBC and for other media providers to remember-it seems hard to believe-that we are still in the quite early stages of this and there are many years possibly before we fully understand what happened.

Q71 Steve Rotheram: I do not think we are going to get through all the questions that we would like to pose, but, purely in the interest of balance, can I take the opportunity to applaud the BBC for their coverage of the problems of racism in Ukraine and Poland. I believe that forewarning people of those dangers before they make their travel plans was the right thing to do. There are always concerns about the way the BBC spends licence fee payers’ money. There might be a threshold for complaints but is there such a thing as a too high remuneration package even if it is line with what other broadcasters are paying?

Mark Thompson: To state the obvious, the BBC should always be trying to strike the best bargain it can in everything it sources and that includes on air talent and it also includes its executives and its staff. The BBC has never, certainly with senior managers and I think arguably with its stars, sought to pay as much as commercial broadcasters. It should always try to get the biggest discount it can. With the most senior managers the policy is to get somebody independent to work out what the external commercial market would be and then apply a discount of between 50% and 80%. We try to pay 50% to 80% less than what the outside expert says is the going rate.

I would say with stars we try to do something similar. As public interest and indeed public concern about the whole topic of top pay has increased we have tried to react to that. We have cut the numbers of senior managers and the pay bill of senior managers by at least a quarter. We have brought the total we spend on top pay for on air talent down so we are trying to react to that. We are painfully aware that the licence fee is paid by everyone in the country and some of the people paying the licence fee are on very, very modest incomes indeed. You always have to bear that in mind when you are thinking about what do you pay X or Y. At the same time, the public are also very clear they want the very best from us and unfortunately some things, football rights is a good example, if you want to get Premiership highlights you have to pay a lot of money and, in that case, that means more than £60 million a year for the rights.

Q72 Steve Rotheram: But you do not believe that star performers would move away from the BBC just because you cannot compete pound for pound?

Mark Thompson: The battle to hang on to people when you are paying them less than they would get elsewhere is constant. I am not complaining about it, but when I was working in Features and Factual Programme and indeed in Entertainment in the 1980s there was a classic move whereby people moved from Channel 4 to the BBC. They would be found by Channel 4, and they would move across to the BBC. The traffic is now largely the other way. Mary Portas, Jamie Oliver are two examples of people who have, partly because there are more commercial opportunities, been found by the BBC and moved the other way. I think the BBC is becoming in many ways the broadcaster who finds talent, much of which will then graduate to other broadcasters. Although that can be very frustrating for my colleagues, I think the fact that you find talent and then they move away to more lucrative jobs in other broadcasters is probably the system working. In other words, it is a good use of the licence fee to find new talent and then get people to move elsewhere.

Q73 Steve Rotheram: You mentioned that lots of people pay a licence fee from lots of different regions. Although we have Salford Quays in the north-west, Liverpool does not do as well proportionally as other areas in the northwest, so-hopefully you will be able to second guess where I am going with this one is-when will the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Awards return to Liverpool, as it was such a massive success in 2008?

Mark Thompson: I was there on the night and it was great. What I would say is-and I would say this if you were an MP representing another constituency as well-Liverpool and broader Merseyside is a good example of a very important big population centre. There is Radio Merseyside and big events from time to time, like Sports Personality. We brought the big global event for BBC Worldwide, Showcase, to Liverpool. We brought TV buyers from all over the world to Liverpool. We got behind Liverpool capital and culture. We hope that we will get plenty of employment, independent producers and also production staff from Liverpool and Merseyside working with us both in Salford and in London, and we hope that we can make the case for a visible BBC that is serving Merseyside and that is therefore worthy of support.

Steve Rotheram: Chair, just go back on Louise Mensch’s comments, he could be a politician, couldn’t he, because he did not answer the question?

Mark Thompson: The answer is I am not going to announce -

Q74 Steve Rotheram: Might the BBC Sports Personality be returning to Liverpool?

Mark Thompson: It is a great idea that I will pass on to my colleagues.

Jim Sheridan: You could always invite Kelvin MacKenzie to do the presentation. You would sell tickets for that.

Q75 Mr Sutcliffe: Just moving on now, Mark, to succession. We have heard earlier there are a number of potential candidates that may succeed you. Do you see that as a good thing or do you see that as a negative?

Mark Thompson: That what?

Mr Sutcliffe: The fact that there may be a potential number of candidates as opposed to somebody that you might have brought on as a deputy or something like that?

Mark Thompson: I have seen one of my roles as to make sure that there are a number of internal candidates who could be considered in this process. One of the jobs of the Chief Executive is to make sure that you have a succession plan and you have a number of people- for all sorts of reasons, not least because people leave or illness or whatever-who you hand on heart believe could do the job well. That then gives, in this case, the governing body of the BBC the chance to benchmark those candidates against the best of the external field. I have been advising the trust for a couple of years now on my thoughts about the external field as well, so that they have the best possible choices. No, I think it is a good thing. I think, to be honest, I would say historically it has been quite rare, but it is a good thing when the BBC itself has got a number of candidates but also there are some strong candidates from outside.

Q76 Chair: So you did have a succession plan, because one of the criticisms is that you did not appear to have one?

Mark Thompson: If I may say so, that is not based on any fact. Of course there has been a succession plan. I think that is made up as it were.

Chair: That is no surprise given your-

Mark Thompson: People confused two different things one of which is, is there is a single chosen heir apparent? The answer is no. There is a succession plan, i.e. a number of people to whom we tried to give the right experiences and the right development, the right promotions so they can be considered. But also we thought extremely hard about the external market. Indeed one of the things we did some years ago was appoint a headhunter who has gone on to be the headhunter who is involved in the present process to find the next head of our television division, BBC Vision. This was just over a year ago. George Entwistle was eventually appointed to that role but one of the things that headhunter was doing in the context initially of trying to find a head of Vision was looking astutely around the world to see what talent was out there that we could consider for what I knew was coming up, which was this other job.

Q77 Chair: When do you expect to wave goodbye to the BBC?

Mark Thompson: We would like to break the habit of a lifetime and achieve, if we can, a smooth transition. What I am hoping is the following things will happen: that a successor will be appointed. We will then find out when the successor might be available to start. All things being equal you would expect an internal candidate to be available rather quickly. An external candidate might take slightly longer. We will then work out a date. My own view is that extended handovers are not a good idea and so I would hope that that handover will happen sooner rather than later, perhaps September, but it might be a little bit later in the autumn, we will see.

Q78 Chair: When this Committee comes to consider the BBC’s annual report I am sure you hope desperately that you will not be back in this chair, but it is possible you could still be?

Mark Thompson: It is always a pleasure, but in this case it may be a pleasure foregone.

Chair: On behalf of the Committee, I thank you not just for this afternoon but for the help you have given to the Committee throughout your time and wish you success in whatever new role you decide to take on.

Mark Thompson: Thank you, Chairman. Thank you very much.

Prepared 2nd August 2012