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Viewers pay8p a minute to moan at BBC
[April 23, 2006]

Viewers pay8p a minute to moan at BBC

(The Mail on Sunday Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge)VIEWERS who want to complain about BBC programmes - or presenters' salaries - are being forced to call a premium-rate phoneline costing almost three times the normal rate.

Callers who ring the BBC switchboard and ask to be put through to a duty officer - paying the normal rate of around 3p a minute - are told to call back on an 8p-a-minute 'information line'. But they are not told about the extra cost of calling the 0870 number.

The BBC claims it makes no money from the phoneline, which is run by computer firm Capita and charges almost three times the national rate.

However, as Capita takes all the profits in return for staffing and maintaining the line, the system is subsidising the Corporation - which already receives GBP3billion a year from licence-fee payers.

Last week this newspaper revealed that calls to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs' bird flu hotline were being charged at up to 10p per minute.

In response, telecoms watchdog Ofcom announced charges for 'rip-off' 0870 lines would be brought down to the same rate as normal national charges - but not until 2008.

The Corporation is reeling from a succession of salary leaks, including the revelation that Jonathan Ross earns GBP530,000 a year for his threehour Saturday show on Radio 2 - amounting to more than GBP56 a minute - and Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman collects almost GBP1million a year for his work.

When The Mail on Sunday called yesterday to complain about the size of Mr Ross's salary, the conversation with the duty complaints manager took 3 minutes 15 seconds, adding up to a cost of 26p.

Under the old system it would have been less than 10p.

Last night the BBC said it allowed Capita to keep the normal 'profit' of 2.5p per minute on 0870 numbers in return for an 'efficient service'. The line generates gross revenues of more than GBP5,000 a week.

A Capita spokeswoman said the service was outsourced to achieve 'efficiency and professionalism'.

Peter Hitchens: Page 35

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