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
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.”