The BBC “overdid it” with its coverage of a raid on Sir Cliff Richard’s home, director-general Tony Hall has admitted.
“We reported accurately what happened,” Lord Hall told MPs on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee today.
“But my own view is we overdid it, I think the helicopter was overdoing it.
“My own judgement, and judgement on hindsight is always a very fine thing, is it was something to report, but down the bulletin.”
The 77-year-old singer successfully sued over BBC coverage of a South Yorkshire Police search of his home in Sunningdale, Berkshire, in August 2014, following a child sex assault allegation.
Lord Hall said today: “One of the reasons we are not appealing is because I think the nature of the coverage was over-the-top.
“We approached Sir Cliff’s lawyers and I approached Sir Cliff on a couple of occasions suggesting could we sit down and try to sort this out without going to the court.
“Sadly but I guess understandably the legal view came back which was: ‘We don’t want to talk and we are prepared to settle if you say you have acted illegally.’ But I don’t think we acted illegally.”
Asked about how much the case has cost the corporation, Lord Hall said: “I can’t tell you yet, the process is not at an end, but might I say and repeat what I said in public and a variety of places.
“We really are very sorry for what Sir Cliff has been through and I think there are two issues for us, one is the nature of the coverage and then one is the principle we were wanting to establish through carrying on with the court case.”
Lord Hall added that the BBC has an insurance policy which “will cover most of those costs”.
Lord Hall also discussed the recent departures of some of the BBC’s biggest names, saying the disclosure of its highest salaries was “no doubt” a “significant factor” in some of its losses.
Eddie Mair, who presented BBC Radio 4 current affairs programme PM for 20 years, left the corporation last month to host a drivetime show on commercial radio station LBC.
Despite reports, Mair insisted his decision to leave had not come because he refused to take a pay cut, writing in the Radio Times that he in fact had offered to take one.
“None of my thinking has been influenced by the BBC’s pay problems,” he wrote.
Meanwhile Chris Evans shocked his Radio 2 breakfast show listeners last week when he announced he would be leaving the station after 13 years to return to Virgin Radio.
Evans was the BBC‘s highest earner when the salaries of stars at the corporation were first revealed last year, taking home up to £2.2m.
Accounts published this year showed the Radio 2 DJ had dropped to around £1.6m since stepping down from Top Gear.
“Of course, we will lose people and indeed have lost a couple of people for a large number of reasons,” Lord Hall said.
“But, no doubt, disclosure, and the fact that people know their pay, has been a significant factor in some of those losses.”
Lord Hall told the committee that broadcasters Evans and Mair had quit for a “number of reasons” but that “undoubtedly, knowing what’s been going on, that disclosure has been a factor in their decision to leave”.
The BBC chief said Evans, who he hailed as “an extraordinary figure”, wanted a new challenge and “of course that’s why he is leaving” but added: “I don’t think there is any doubt, disclosure has made it harder for us to retain people like that.”
Lord Hall said of Evans: “I think the pressure on him, when it came to the annual disclosures, was quite hard. For three or four days he was the centre of a lot of attention.
“If you are a presenter that’s something you have to bear into consideration when you think about where you want to work in the future.
“I take my hat off to him. I think he’s been through that with an extraordinary amount of gusto. He’s a remarkable presenter … And he’s a loss to the BBC. He’s a loss to our audiences.”
Evans described Virgin Radio as his “spiritual home” and said “I’ve got to keep climbing” when he made the announcement last week.
Picture: Victoria Jones/PA Wire