The Daily Telegraph

Sopel: BBC publishing salaries a ‘violation’

Ex-north America editor claims it is an invasion of privacy for broadcaste­r to reveal list of star salaries

- By Julia Llewellyn-smith and Anita Singh

Jon Sopel has said that publishing the salaries of BBC stars is a “violation of privacy”, and that he was “incandesce­nt” with rage when the corporatio­n cut his pay without consulting him. Sopel was paid an annual salary of about £240,000 as the BBC’S North America editor, a job he has since left. But in response to the corporatio­n’s gender pay row, he was among several men whose pay was cut. However, he claimed he only learnt of the reduction via the Today programme.

PUBLISHING the salaries of BBC stars is a “violation of privacy”, according to Jon Sopel, who said he was “incandesce­nt” with rage when the corporatio­n cut his pay without consulting him.

Sopel was paid an annual salary of about £240,000 as the BBC’S North America editor, a job he has since left.

Women presenters were furious when the list was first published in 2017, revealing a significan­t gender pay gap.

In response to criticism, the BBC announced the following year that several male presenters had accepted pay cuts, including Sopel.

But the 63-year-old claimed that he had no prior warning and only learned of the reduction in his wage when he was contacted by colleagues on Radio 4’s Today programme.

“They said, ‘Jon, we’d like to ask you about your salary cut’. I said, ‘What salary cut?’ They said, ‘It’s today’s headlines’.

“I was incandesce­nt. It was a fraught time, horrible. It was a bad decision to start publishing presenters’ salaries. To have everybody suddenly knowing what you earn feels [like] a violation of your privacy. I never signed up for it but now it’s enforced upon you.”

His pay was reduced to £225,000. At the time, Sopel was also caught on air joking with John Humphrys about the gender pay gap and the recent resignatio­n of Carrie Gracie, who quit as BBC China editor after discoverin­g that she was paid significan­tly less than Sopel for a comparable role.

Humphrys asked him: “How much of your salary are you prepared to hand over to Carrie Gracie?”

Sopel said: “I think John was trying to wind me up. It was 11pm in America, 4am in London, and I was trying to shut him down. When I came off the phone from him, I said to my wife, ‘Oh my God!’”

Sopel said he left the BBC despite being offered the role of political editor when Laura Kuenssberg announced her intention to step down. The job eventually went to Chris Mason. “It was super flattering to be asked,” he said. “But for seven-and-a-half years I’d had the time of my life in North America. Political editor has a higher profile, but it felt more of the same.

“And my family had big reservatio­ns about it – Laura had to have big security at times. That was off-putting.”

Asked if he had chosen to do podcasts for Global for the size of the pay cheque, Sopel replied: “The money was attractive, though being BBC political editor would have probably led to writing memoirs that were worth a hell of a lot.

“I wanted the freedom to write and say what you think, without that kind of second-guessing and self-censoring mechanism that comes understand­ably with being part of the BBC.”

Sopel worked for the corporatio­n for 39 years and said the tensions he sometimes felt came to a head during Donald Trump’s administra­tion when the president’s fake news agenda made “balanced” reporting of the facts near impossible. “With Trump you’d get ‘on the one hand’ situations when there was no ‘on the other’,” said Sopel.

“Trump says, ‘the crowd for my inaugurati­on was the biggest in American history’. You just look at the photos from Barack Obama’s and can see that is not true. Just call it as it bloody well is. My producer and I were pretty robust about doing that but the BBC has many pearl-clutchers and there was always unease.”

 ?? ?? Jon Sopel recalls how he was incandesce­nt with rage when the BBC cut his salary without his knowledge
Jon Sopel recalls how he was incandesce­nt with rage when the BBC cut his salary without his knowledge

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