BBC bucks

Pub­licly funded broadcasting cor­po­ra­tion forced to dis­close salaries of top-earn­ing stars

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - BUSINESS - BY JILL LAW­LESS

The pub­licly funded BBC was forced to pub­lish the names and salaries of its high­est-earn­ing ac­tors and pre­sen­ters Wed­nes­day, un­leash­ing a na­tional de­bate about fame, gen­der, race and the use of tax­pay­ers’ money.

The list shows that the BBC pays 96 on-air per­son­al­i­ties at least 150,000 pounds ($195,000) a year — mean­ing most earn more than the prime min­is­ter, who gets 150,000 pounds.

The broad­caster’s best-paid star, ra­dio host Chris Evans, earns more than 2.2 mil­lion pounds ($2.9 mil­lion).

The BBC was com­pelled by Bri­tain’s gov­ern­ment to pub­lish the salaries of on-air tal­ent, which had pre­vi­ously been se­cret. The in­for­ma­tion is sen­si­tive be­cause the BBC is funded di­rectly by tax­pay­ers, through a 147-pound (about $190) an­nual levy on ev­ery house­hold that owns a tele­vi­sion or watches the BBC on­line.

The salaries were pub­lished in bands, rather than as ex­act fig­ures. Evans, who fronts a daily ra­dio break­fast show, gets be­tween 2.2 mil­lion pounds and 2.25 mil­lion pounds. “Match of the Day” soc­cer host Gary Lineker re­ceives be­tween 1.75 mil­lion pounds and 1.8 mil­lion pounds, while talk-show host Gra­ham Nor­ton is paid be­tween 850,000 pounds and 900,000 pounds.

Sev­eral stars of soap opera “East­End­ers” ap­peared on the list, which also re­vealed that ac­tor Peter Ca­paldi earns more than 200,000 pounds a year as the star of sci-fi series “Doc­tor Who.”

The fig­ures ex­pose a gen­der pay gap at the top of the BBC. Two-thirds of the top earn­ers are men, and the high­est-paid woman - “Strictly Come Danc­ing” host Clau­dia Win­kle­man - earns less than a quar­ter of Evans’ salary. News an­chor Huw Ed­wards is paid over 550,000 pounds, some 200,000 pounds more than Fiona Bruce, who does much the same job.

The high­est earn­ers are also largely white. No eth­nic-mi­nor­ity star is paid more than 300,000 pounds a year.

BBC chief Tony Hall said the list showed “the need to go fur­ther and faster on is­sues of gen­der and di­ver­sity,” but de­fended the high salaries.

“The BBC does not ex­ist in a mar­ket on its own where it can set the mar­ket rates,” he said. “If we are to give the pub­lic what they want, then we have to pay for those great pre­sen­ters and stars.”

Most of the salaries are not par­tic­u­larly high by in­ter­na­tional - and es­pe­cially U.S. TV stan­dards. Talk-ra­dio host Howard Stern earned $90 mil­lion in the year to June 1, while Fox News an­chor Sean Han­nity was paid $36 mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to a list com­piled by Forbes mag­a­zine.

In Bri­tain, com­mer­cial net­works ITV and Sky pay some top stars more than the BBC. But they are not re­quired to dis­close the amounts - and the money doesn’t come from the pub­lic purse.

The BBC list doesn’t in­clude on­screen tal­ent paid by out­side pro­duc­tion com­pa­nies. That may ex­plain the ab­sence of big­name stars in­clud­ing na­ture pre­sen­ter David At­ten­bor­ough and “Top Gear” host Matt LeBlanc.

Con­ser­va­tive law­maker John Whit­ting­dale, who brought in the dis­clo­sure re­quire­ment when he was Cul­ture Sec­re­tary, said tax­pay­ers de­served to know who at the BBC was earn­ing high salaries “and reach a judg­ment for them­selves of whether that is good value for money.”

But oth­ers ar­gued the in­for­ma­tion would erode pub­lic sup­port for the BBC - and likely drive salaries up, as BBC staff who aren’t on the list de­mand raises.

Steven Bar­nett, pro­fes­sor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions at the Univer­sity of West­min­ster, ar­gued that the dis­clo­sure drive had “noth­ing to do with trans­parency.”

“I think this was a de­lib­er­ate cam­paign to un­der­mine and desta­bi­lize an in­sti­tu­tion that some self-in­ter­ested par­ties would like to see weak­ened,” he said, point­ing to some politi­cians and ex­ec­u­tives at the BBC’s pri­vately owned ri­vals.

AP PHOTO/FRANK AUGSTEIN

A man walks out­side the main en­trance to the head­quar­ters of the pub­licly funded BBC in Lon­don, Wed­nes­day, July 19. The BBC pub­lished the names and salaries of its high­est-earn­ing ac­tors and pre­sen­ters, com­pelled by Bri­tain’s gov­ern­ment to pub­lish the salaries of on-air tal­ent which had pre­vi­ously been se­cret.

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