The BBC is to make public the pay of some its best known on-screen stars this month.
And with the Corporation’s enemies already sharpening their knives ahead of the disclosure of earnings of top name personalities, thought to include the likes of Graham Norton, Chris Evans, Gary Lineker and newsreader Huw Edwards, RadioTimes.com understands that one area of controversy could be over a potential disparity between the genders.
With the actual figures still a closely guarded secret, sources have suggested that some BBC executives are “nervous” about “potentially embarrassing” examples where men who perform similar on-screen roles to their female colleagues receive higher earnings.
One particular area of possible scrutiny is believed to be news presenting where the roster includes an array of big names stars such as newsreaders Huw Edwards and Fiona Bruce and political editor Laura Kuenssberg.
The BBC denied the suggestions and said that people should wait until the BBC earnings of around 100 of its top stars earning in excess of £150,000 a year are made public in the coming days.
“We don’t recognise this story and people should wait and see what the data actually says rather than relying on uninformed gossip – people might be surprised,” said a senior source.
The source added that “the BBC has a good record compared with others” when it comes to pay equality.
The indications from the BBC so far suggest that the Corporation believes it can weather the storm.
New BBC chairman David Clementi recently told the Financial Times: “People expect to see top talent on the BBC and I don’t think you will see evidence of us overpaying people.
“It’s a pity Channel 4 and ITV are not producing their numbers at the same time. It would be very interesting and I don’t think we would come out badly in that comparison.”
Andrew Marr, believed to be one of the BBC’s highest-paid stars, admitted that the disclosures are likely to prove “uncomfortable” but suggested that reports of his salary were exaggerated.
“I’m well paid but I’m much less overpaid, perhaps, than people working for rival organisations who won’t go through this process,” he said in a discussion forum at the China Exchange last month.
Asked to confirm reports of his high salary, he said a suggested figure of £580,000 was “not true”, with the real pay packet “much less than that”.
Whether a gender pay gap emerges is of course another question and it is this area rather than the potentially inflated salaries that is understood to be concerning some BBC executives.
The BBC is expected to make the figures public later this month. It has had nearly a year to prepare the information having been notified last September by culture secretary Karen Bradley that it needed to make public the salaries of its on-air talent who earn more than £150,000. The BBC already publishes the salaries and expenses of its executive staff.
The new stipulation for on-air talent is expected to encompass more than 100 of its best-known names. In all, 109 TV and radio presenters earned more than £150,000 according to the latest BBC annual report.
The Government said the move will make the BBC “more open and transparent about its operations while making sure the public broadcaster continues to thrive in the future.”
However, many disagree fundamentally with this claim, and the proposals have been widely attacked by the BBC and – in a rare show of unity – their commercial rivals.
The BBC believes the stipulations represent a “poachers’ charter” because it would give rivals a clear idea of how to attract some of their best-known names at a time when competition in TV is intensifying.
Commercial broadcasters meanwhile are concerned the move will effectively push up the wage bill for everyone. Talent agents negotiating deals will be able to cite the salaries of rival presenters and increase their demands across the board, it is feared, making all broadcasters less capable of defending salary caps or restrictions.
At last year’s Edinburgh Television festival, ITV programmes chief Kevin Lygo called the proposal a “mean-spirited, nosey way of looking at things.”
The good news for the BBC is that the potential embarrassment of the pay figures will only last one year.
Salaries for star news presenters and journalists will be capped following a review of pay in news.
The Corporation has also reportedly been moving BBC presenters on to the accounts of its production arm BBC Studios.
This means that the earnings paid out by BBC Studios is to be private after it was launched as a commercial business earlier this year. However the move will have no impact on Radio and News presenters so those salaries will continue to be disclosed year on year.