Monday, July 6, 2009

EVEN BLOODY TORIES GET IT, says the guardian

* John Plunkett

Jeremy Hunt

Jeremy Hunt: 'To be director general of the BBC is a privilege, just like it is to be an MP – and I don't think we do it for the money.' Photograph: David Levene

The BBC director general, Mark Thompson, is paid too much money and needs a "reality check", the shadow culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said today.

Hunt, speaking at the Radio Festival in Nottingham today, was also sceptical about government plans for a 2015 analogue radio switchoff date, saying it risked coming too soon and angering listeners and voters.

The Conservative culture spokesman added that Thompson's total remuneration package – £816,000 last year – was a "huge amount of money".

"I think to be director general of the BBC is a privilege, just like it is a privilege to be a member of parliament and I don't think we do it for the money," Hunt said.

"We have got into a ratchet effect with public sector salaries benchmarked against the private sector. I think £816,000 is too much for the director general of the BBC. It is a huge amount of money and one of the areas where we need to have a reality check."

Hunt told radio executives in Nottingham that a future Conservative government would be "wholeheartedly behind the digital switchover of the radio industry", while questioning whether the 2015 date set by Lord Carter's Digital Britain report last month was achievable.

"I think 2015 is unrealistic unless we do more between now and 2015 than is currently planned. I would find it difficult to recommend to prime minister Cameron as things stand now that there should be switchoff in 2015," Hunt said.

But he added that Digital Britain did not address the inadequacies of digital audio broadcasting - DAB - coverage, or who was going to pay to improve it. And he said while progress was being made to develop in-car digital radio, not enough was being done.

The prospect of millions of analogue radio sets becoming redundant would be "incredibly unpopular" among listeners and "very environmentally unfriendly", he added.

"We don't want to switch off a lot of listeners at precisely the time the radio industry needs every listener it can get," he said.

"We need to think about the listener, the consumer, and ask whether we are really going to say that 120m radio sets will become redundant in 2015, or whether we want to have a smoother migration path in the way we had the migration from tape, to CD, to the iPod.

"If the market hasn't got to the place where it needs to be by 2015, should Ofcom be given the power to extend that deadline? So we have switchover but we don't necessarily have switchoff in 2015.

"We need to find things that make digital radio and DAB radio a lot more exciting to consumers than it current is. At the moment, people feel there is a small improvement in quality but apart from that the benefits are small. In fact, for many people they question whether there are benefits at all.

"We have to work together to make this happen. There is a lot that has to happen to make sure we don't end up with angry consumers and angry listeners."

He mooted the possibility of a swap scheme where people could exchange their analogue radios for digital audio broadcasting (DAB) radios for free as one way of encouraging further digital radio takeup.

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