The BBC director-general has stood by the channel’s reporting of a police raid on Sir Cliff Richard’s home, but admitted the corporation “overdid it”.
Lord Hall faced questions from MPs on equal pay, mistakes made by BBC News in the case of Sir Cliff Richard and delivering good value for money for licence fee payers at a select committee hearing.
When asked about the BBC coverage of Sir Cliff, Lord Hall repeated an apology to the pop singer, but said the BBC felt the story was in the public interest.
Explaining why the BBC did not appeal the judge’s decision in the case, Lord Hall said: “Because I felt we overdid it to be blunt… if we were to appeal we’d be unlikely to win, cost licence fee money and prolong what Sir Cliff had been through, so I felt on those counts we should not appeal.”
The director-general also highlighted wider ramifications of the case pointing out “this is an issue for reporting which – rather than judges – parliament should decide. MPs should say what is right for us to report”.
Lord Hall told the digital, culture, media and sport committee that free licence fees for the over 75s will be reviewed by the BBC’s board.
He added: “The concession, as it’s currently formulated, comes to an end in June 2020… We, the board, have to decide what to replace it with.
“We know that those over 65 or over 75 consume many, many more BBC services than others.”
Last month Jeremy Corbyn used his Edinburgh TV Festival speech to call for the BBC to publish the class of its staff – essentially to tackle the dominance of middle-class white men.
This was hot on the heels of Sir Cliff’s court case victory, when he sued the BBC over their coverage of the police search of his home.
Carrie Gracie was the first of a host of female BBC stars to hit the headlines over complaints that she was not paid in line with her male counterparts as Asia Editor for the BBC.
In another difficult moment for Lord Hall he was asked specifically why Sandi Toksvig is paid 40% less than her predecessor Stephen Fry on the show QI.
Lord Hall said when independent production companies make programmes for the BBC, they control budgets.
“We’ve taken presenter pay down by a quarter,” he explained.
“It’s right to put a framework on how we pay our top presenters. A proper code to why one job is worth more than another job…
“We can’t pay mega sums others in the commercial sector might be able to pay,” he said, expressing regret that publishing pay has led to the BBC losing talent including Chris Evans.
“Disclosure has been their factor in their decision to leave,” he added.
Defending how the BBC should continue to deliver quality content under funding restraints, Lord Hall warned: “We have to consider very, very carefully how we make ends meet… we are not at that point yet but it’s coming.”
He described the changing media landscape as a reason the BBC should be cherished.
He said: “Look at the amount spent on UK content – £2.1bn, £150m of that is from Netflix and Amazon – the vitality of the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky is important to preserve and grow a TV production sector which is second to none.
“I have long been worried about the future of that when we are all under pressure,” he added.