A leaked recording of an off-air chat between BBC Radio 4 Today presenter John Humphrys and North America editor Jon Sopel joking about the gender pay gap has sparked outrage.
The transcript, published by The Sun and in part by The Times, reveals the pair joking before Monday’s broadcast about “handing over” pay to Carrie Gracie, the BBC China editor who has just quit because of unequal pay.
“How much of your salary are you prepared to hand over to Carrie Gracie to keep her?” asked Humphrys, who then claimed to have “handed over already more than you f***ing earn”, referring to the two pay cuts he has accepted in recent years.
Humphrys added: “But I’m still left with more than anybody else and that seems to me entirely just.”
He continued: “Oh dear God she’s actually suggested you should lose money.”
On Sunday night, Gracie resigned from her role, saying that some of the BBC’s higher earning men should take pay cuts. Gracie earns £135,000 while Sopel is paid as much as £249,000.
Read the full transcript below:
John Humphrys: Ah. Can you hear me Sopel?
Jon Sopel: Humphrys I can hear you.
JH: Good, slight change of subject – the first question will be how much of your salary you are prepared to hand over to Carrie Gracie to keep her and then a few comments about your other colleagues, you know, like our Middle East Editor and the other men who are earning too much…
JS: I mean, obviously if we are talking about the scope for the greatest redistribution I’ll have to come back and say well yes Mr Humphrys, but…
JH: And I could save you the trouble as I could volunteer that I’ve handed over already more than you f***ing earn but I’m still left with more than anybody else and that seems to me to be entirely just – something like that would do it?
JH: Oh dear God. She’s actually suggested that you should you lose money; you know that don’t you? You’ve read the thing properly have you?
JS: Yeah, I have. Yep.
JH: And the idea is that I’m not allowed to talk to her about it throughout the whole course of the programme. Not a word.
JS: I mean… can we have this conversation… I’d love to talk to you about it.
JH: Probably not now, yeah right. So as far as Trump’s concerned, what’s the top line?
Humphrys has since defended the conversation as “silly banter between old mates”, according to The Sun, and told The Times: “This was what I thought was an exchange between two old friends who have known each other for 30 years and were taking the mickey out of each other. It was nothing to do with Carrie’s campaign.”
Journalist Miriam O’Reilly, who won an age discrimination case against the BBC after being dropped from Countryfile in 2011, slammed the conversation as “base, smug and condescending”.
BBC management, meanwhile, is “deeply unimpressed” with the conversation, and a spokesman said: “This was an ill-advised off-air conversation which the presenter regrets.
“The BBC is committed to getting its pay structures right and, as we have said, we are conducting a comprehensive analysis of presenter pay.
“PwC are working with us on this to ensure an objective external assessment of how we have set pay in the past, what we need to do differently going forward, and what further action we need to take immediately. We will publish that in the coming weeks.”
Journalists and politicians have taken to Twitter to denounce Humphrys’ comments.
The #Humphrys – Sopel exchange reveals, very neatly, what we’re up against. And a useful reminder to be ever careful in a room with microphones. #bbcwomen
Women who speak up are used to being laughed at. Let’s tip the power as well as the money so that it is Humphrys is now the one who is one worried that he spoke up and how it affects his career https://t.co/JNO0fwKEMY
Given several female BBC journalists weren’t permitted to report this week about pay inequality because they weren’t deemed impartial, I assume we won’t be hearing John Humphrys on the matter again, @BBCr4today? #BBCwomen
maybe I’m overreacting – but I suspect this will be the end of John Humphrys. Very hard to lead #r4today and be this vulnerable to no-credibility charges from those you are supposed to be holding to account. https://t.co/7VSqGoFRVl