Today presenter John Humphrys is used to doing the grilling but this afternoon he bravely faced up to questions about his large pay packet – and the comparatively lower wages of his BBC colleagues – following the publication of a list revealing the BBC’s top on-screen earners.
The veteran broadcaster told the Media Show on Radio 4 that he was “not happy” about the lower salaries earned by colleagues, especially female presenters Sarah Montague and Mishal Husain – a disparity he described as “strange”.
“I am not happy with that…I think they all do a brilliant job. But Sarah [Montague] for instance is not on the list which seems to to me to be very strange indeed and… Mishal who earns a lot less than me and so do the others who earn a lot less than me and I don’t think that is right.”
Humphrys paid tribute to Montague and to Husain, saying they “both do a brilliant job”.
The fearsome interviewer took home between £600,000 and £649,999 in the year to April 2017, according to BBC figures.
His Radio 4 colleague Mishal Husain earned between £200,000 and £249,000 in the same period while fellow Today broadcaster Sarah Montague is not on the list of BBC stars earning more than £150,000.
Humphrys admitted that he would be prepared to consider a lower pay packet if offered one but said that that “was a question for the BBC”.
He admitted that he had taken “a couple of sizeable pay cuts” recently and said he approved personally of the pay figures being made public.
He added that in terms of his market value he had been offered a doubling of his salary by a rival radio broadcaster eight years ago but that he declined because he loved his job and the BBC which he said was “in his soul”.
Humphrys was revealed to be the Corporation’s highest paid news broadcaster according to salary details released by the BBC on Wednesday 19th July.
As well as the Today programme, Humphrys is also quiz master on BBC television show Mastermind.
The findings among the news staff have caused particular embarrassment to the BBC which has already admitted the problem of a gender pay gap with two thirds of the published list of 96 top earners being men.
BBC director general Tony Hall did point out at a press conference that Sarah Montague is not the lowest paid Today presenter, saying: “I don’t want to talk about individuals when it comes to the Today programme but let me just say that you would be wrong to say that the lowest paid member of the presenting team was a woman. Leave it at that.”
A senior BBC source suggested that the lowest paid was actually Justin Webb. His pay is listed at between £150,000 and £200,000 but, according to the source, his Today earnings, not including his pay for other BBC work, are lower than Montague’s for her work on the programme.
Asked whether the publication of the pay figures would present a “lawyer’s charter” for the BBC, with many women seeking to claim gender discrimination because of their pay, Hall said: “We will be working carefully and managing carefully our relationships with the talent we depend on.”