London, Nov 2 : The British government is learnt to have urged the BBC to end the culture of "fat cat" pay for top presenters, else it would risk a cut in its 3.4 billion-pounds-a-year of public funding.
According to official figures, the BBC's top 50 highest paid executives earn up to 14.3 million pounds a year between them, with 50 managers earning more than 190,000 pounds last year. Director-General Mark Thompson gets a package of 816,000 pounds per annum.
According to timesonline.com, the country's Culture Secretary Andy Burnham has issued a warning that the seven-figure contracts given to stars such as Jonathan Ross are "undermining licence fee payers' confidence" in the broadcaster.
Burnham is understood to have told BBC Sir Michael Lyons that the Corporation needed to show "sensitivity and an awareness of where the public are", added the report.
Ministers believe the recession has fuelled hostility to the elite presenters who are insulated from the economic downturn.
Ross, who is currently on an 18 million-pound three-year contract, was last week suspended without pay for three months over obscene telephone calls made to Andrew Sachs, the Fawlty Towers actor, during a Radio 2 show. The row puts BBC chiefs in an awkward position. They are keen to hang on to Ross, but they cannot renegotiate his salary until his contract comes up for renewal next year.
The Corporation faces a political backlash after the lewd phone call scandal involving Ross and Russell Brand. The row led to Brand quitting the BBC and also claimed the scalp of Lesley Douglas, controller of Radio 2.
Ross (47) is planning to "reinvent" himself during his enforced absence and will have to curb the lewd behaviour that has made him such a controversial figure. "He'll come back as a different act," said a source.
Sir Michael Parkinson, the veteran chat show host, attributed Ross's behaviour to a "fit of madness". He said: "Jonathan should have more oil in his lamp, frankly - more sense. He's very good at his job but he's given to fits of madness now and again and I think he had one on this occasion."
A source close to Burnham said: "Andy is by instinct a friend of the BBC and would not dream of undermining its operational independence. But if it is going to make a case for the licence fee, the BBC needs to show a certain sensitivity and an awareness of where the public are. He believes it will be harder to argue the BBC's corner unless it is seen to be tackling the salary culture."