BBC stars to be forced off screen as pay is re­vealed

Key news pre­sen­ters may step aside to pre­vent a con­flict-of-in­ter­est row as de­tails of pay re­leased

The Daily Telegraph - - Front page - By Anita Singh and Robert Men­dick

Some of the BBC’S lead­ing news pre­sen­ters may fail to ap­pear to­mor­row, to avoid a con­flict-of-in­ter­est row as their six-fig­ure salaries lead the news. Pre­sen­ters are bound to re­main ob­jec­tive, but sev­eral may find them­selves among the 100 or more BBC stars earn­ing more than £150,000.

THE BBC may stand down some of its lead­ing news pre­sen­ters to­mor­row to avoid a po­ten­tially dam­ag­ing con­flict-of-in­ter­est row, as bul­letins are led by dis­clo­sure of their own six-fig­ure salaries.

News and cur­rent af­fairs pre­sen­ters are bound by ed­i­to­rial guide­lines to re­main ob­jec­tive in their cov­er­age and can­not ad­vance a po­si­tion on “po­lit­i­cal or in­dus­try con­tro­versy or any other con­tro­ver­sial sub­ject”.

But with the re­port ex­pected to re­veal that high-pro­file fig­ures such as John Humphrys, Fiona Bruce, Kirsty Wark and Laura Kuenss­berg are among the 100 or more house­hold names earn­ing more than £150,000, it is felt that they will be un­able to re­port the sub­ject with im­par­tial­ity.

Man­age­ment is in talks about how to cover the story without breach­ing BBC rules. Pro­pos­als in­clude re­plac­ing usual pre­sen­ters with lesser-known names or draft­ing in a ju­nior reporter who will fo­cus on just that story across the day’s bul­letins.

A source said bosses were anx­ious about how to han­dle an un­prece­dented sit­u­a­tion. “There are loads of peo­ple wan­der­ing around the BBC right now wor­ry­ing about con­flict of in­ter­est. This is a highly sen­si­tive is­sue for us, be­cause of course some of the big­name pre­sen­ters will be on the list.”

The re­port is ex­pected to re­veal that Humphrys earns far more than his col­leagues on Ra­dio 4’s To­day pro­gramme, par­tic­u­larly his fe­male co-pre­sen­ters Sarah Mon­tague and Mishal Hu­sain. The BBC is braced for a row over an “em­bar­rass­ing” gen­der pay gap.

But Humphrys will avoid a po­ten­tially awk­ward day at the of­fice as he is ab­sent from the rota un­til Fri­day, in what sources in­sist is a co­in­ci­dence.

John Whit­ting­dale, the for­mer cul­ture sec­re­tary who ush­ered in the plan to dis­close BBC pre­sen­ter pay, said: “I wouldn’t nec­es­sar­ily ob­ject if some­one con­duct­ing an in­ter­view with me was on the list, but it does make things a lit­tle dif­fi­cult.”

Kirsty Wark, be­lieved to be one of the high­est-paid fe­male cur­rent af­fairs pre­sen­ters at the cor­po­ra­tion, is sched­uled to present News­night to­mor­row.

Char­lotte Moore, BBC di­rec­tor of con­tent, has warned that pre­sen­ter pay could go up as a re­sult of the dis­clo­sures “be­cause if ev­ery­body knows what ev­ery­body else is be­ing paid, they will go, ‘I want to be paid that’.”

But Mr Whit­ting­dale said: “That is some­thing for the BBC to deal with. Trans­parency is gen­er­ally a good thing. And if there is a mas­sive gap in pay be­tween Sarah Mon­tague and John Humphrys, then Sarah Mon­tague is per­fectly en­ti­tled to ask for more.”

The ma­jor­ity of names on the list will be light en­ter­tain­ment or sports pre­sen­ters, with Gary Lineker, Chris Evans and Gra­ham Nor­ton ex­pected to be among the top earn­ers. Some of the names “will come as a sur­prise to view­ers”, sources said.

A BBC spokesman said: “As with any story, we will make sure that our cov­er­age is im­par­tial.”

The salary list marks new ter­ri­tory be­cause pre­sen­ters could find them­selves at the cen­tre of dis­cus­sions about their own pay. A source said: “The BBC will not hold back on this. We will be su­per-rig­or­ous.”

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