And finally... BBC comes clean over split with Christa Ackroyd
This morning’s announcement ended weeks of speculation surrounding the highly-paid Look North presenter, who has not been seen on screen for more than three months.
The BBC said in a statement: “We can today confirm that Christa Ackroyd will not be returning to the BBC and her presenting role with regional news programme Look North (Yorkshire). We wish Christa the best for the future and thank her for the contribution she has made to the programme over the last 12 years.”
It is understood concerns about Ms Ackroyd’s tax arrangements are behind the BBC’s decision.
Helen Thomas, head of BBC Yorkshire, said in a memo to staff: “I know it has been an unsettling time for you all and appreciate you bearing with me while we have tried to work things through.”
She said no decision had yet been made on who would replace Ms Ackroyd at the helm of Look North. Staff were told informally that the programme was “bigger than one presenter”, the Yorkshire Post understands.
Ms Ackroyd has received around £50,000 of licence feepayers’ money after she continued to be paid despite being withdrawn from anchoring the BBC’s flagship regional news programme.
Until today, the corporation insisted the presenter, who is paid more than £150,000 a year, had been taken off air for unspecified “editorial reasons”, but speculation suggested there had been a dispute surrounding her freelance status and payment of tax. Presenters who have been filling in for Ms Ackroyd since she went off air on February 28 are paid in the region of £40,000 a year.
A BBC insider said staff were left baffled by Ms Ackroyd’s sudden disappearance earlier this year.
“Staff have not only been asking for an explanation from them but why are we not explaining Christa’s absence to viewers. It’s become like the elephant in the room – ‘Where’s Christa?’
“It’s also been asked why we’re not covering this as a news story because it has made the news but not on the BBC itself.
“The BBC has a duty to explain, as a publicly-funded body that we all pay for, why a presenter with this huge salary is not on the air.”
The insider said the BBC had been keeping a close eye on viewing figures compared to Yorkshire Television’s rival regional news programme Calendar - of which Ms Ackroyd is a former presenter - to gauge what effect her absence was having, with results so far inconclusive.
This afternoon Ms Ackroyd told the Yorkshire Post: “I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my 12 years at BBC Look North. I wish all my colleagues there all the very best for the future. They are a dedicated and talented team and I’ve been proud to work alongside them - particularly with my friend of many years, Harry Gration.
“I look forward to the next phase as a Yorkshire journalist of more than 30 years standing.”
Shipley MP Philip Davies, a member of the Commons’ culture, media and sport select committee, insisted the corporation had a public duty to account for what had happened.
Mr Davies wrote to BBC director general Lord Hall to raise the issue last month and has received a short response confirming Ms Ackroyd has continued to be paid and promising the BBC was endeavouring to resolve the situation as quickly as possible.
The MP said: “My view is the whole thing seems to be a farce. If the BBC want to keep all these things confidential, they should become a privately-funded organisation.
“While ever they expect the public to stump up £3.5bn to fund them they have got to be more transparent. They certainly don’t pay a licence fee to pay a huge salary to someone who isn’t working.”