BBC director general calls informal 'get together' as pension negotiations stall and a second strike looms
The BBC director general, Mark Thompson, last night briefed the corporation's stars on the fallout from the licence free settlement and the impact of last week's 48-hour strike.
Thompson used a drinks reception to tell leading talent there will be no new offer from management over changes to the BBC pension scheme. He addressed the audience and took questions from guests.
Members of the National Union of Journalists took industrial action over the proposed changes that forced many live news shows off air on Friday and Saturday. A second 48-hour NUJ strike is due to begin on Monday.
Thompson also offered reassurances about the future of the World Service, which the BBC agreed to fund as part of the hastily negotiated licence fee settlement agreed with the government last month.
Guests included broadcaster Andrew Neil, comedian Paul Whitehouse, Top Gear presenter James May and Huey Morgan, the front man American group the Fun Lovin' Criminals who is a BBC 6 Music DJ.
Other attendees included Today Programme presenter Sarah Montague – who presented the show during the strike on Saturday – and Radio 3 presenter Suzy Klein, who hosted Newsnight Review last Friday night after the programme's regular presenter Kirsty Wark declined to cross picket lines. Jana Bennett, director of BBC Vision, also attended.
"It was the BBC endeavouring to get back a bit of goodwill with presenters. It's really difficult while Jana Bennett, Mark Thompson and Mark Byford are all earning as much as they are," claimed one leading showbiz agent.
"None of them are like my clients, who could be out of favour next week for no reason. They are cushioned – and they expect my clients to take a pay cut. It's a bit rich."
A BBC spokesman described the meeting as a "get together" and said it was a scheduled event.
Thompson has hosted a series of informal meetings with talent every few months. At a similar gathering in June last year, he told an audience including Terry Wogan and Bruce Forsyth that some of them would have to take paycuts of 40% as the BBC sought to reduce costs.
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