Sunday, January 11, 2009

Telegraph shock: People paid to do work

Sometimes, you do wonder if anyone at papers like the Mail or Telegraph weighs the opportunity to have a spot of outrage against the damage done to their reputation by running pieces like today's Sunday Telegraph piece on the government's health campaigns. It turns out the people who appeared in them were being paid:

The former Page Three girl Melinda Messenger and the television doctor Professor Tanya Byron were among those paid by the taxpayer to publicise messages on things like healthy eating and stopping smoking.

The actors Gary Lucy, Gemma Bissix and Sian Reeves, the former television presenter Donna Air and Jenny Frost, a former singer in Atomic Kitten, were also paid thousands of pounds from the public purse for appearances in adverts.

You don't say. I bet if you dug a little further, you'd find that the people who filmed the adverts also got paid. And the guy who washed the studio floor down after the shoot. It's a bloody outrage - how dare people be recompensed for doing the thing they do for a living?

You might, perhaps, be able to get a little annoyed by the money paid for certain celebrities - but the trouble is, all the Telegraph has is a total bill:
Figures released by the Department for Health, under the Freedom of Information Act, show that £89,384 was spent on the celebrities for five separate campaigns.

While the Department refused to disclose what was paid to different celebrities, each was paid about £13,000 on average.

Well done, you've managed to divide a figure by the number of people involved to arrive at a totally spurious average.

What makes it worse is that - as her agent points out - Tanya Byron's involvement wasn't even as a celebrity, but as an expert in child health and psychology.

Perhaps thirteen grand for Gary Lucy might seem a little much, but even so, it's not like it broke the budget:
Lucy, Bissix and Reeves recorded "smoking diaries" for the Government's £43million Smokefree campaign.

Diaries? Over a fairly long period of time, then? And they were quitting smoking - which is a pretty difficult thing to do, and a 24 hour task. Less than one per cent of the total budget seems like a fairly restrained fee in that context.

Why, wonders the Telegraph, can't these celebrities be more like other celebrities?
Critics have pointed out that many other well-known people, including Sir Michael Parkinson and the children's author Dame Jacqueline Wilson, took part in Government health campaigns without payment.

I'm not certain, but one would assume that Wilson and Parkinson might be - financially, at least - more comfortable than Frost and Air and, thus, able to give their time more freely.

Still, at least only the Sunday Telegraph is making itself look foolish today. Oh, by the way - where did you get the story, Telegraph?
Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat health spokesman, said he had written to the Health Secretary, Alan Johnson, to insist that the full details of all fees paid to individual celebrities be released.

He told the Mail on Sunday...