A cross-party committee of MPs has urged the BBC to publish the pay packets of its biggest stars if they take home more than Prime Minister Theresa May’s annual £143,462 ($189,000) salary.
Under plans for its future, the British broadcaster has already agreed with the government to reveal the earnings of on-air talent from next year if they are paid more than £450,000 ($593,000). This is equivalent to the salary of BBC director general Tony Hall.
But the Culture, Media & Sport Committee (CMSC) has urged the BBC to go further and publish salaries where stars earn more than the Prime Minister.
The BBC has always resisted this level of transparency for fear it would allow commercial rivals to tempt away its biggest stars with better offers.
But in a report published on Tuesday, the CMSC pointed out: “In a world of agents and widespread online gossip, we do not accept that this level of confidentiality is necessary to retain talent, and we are very conscious of the fact that the BBC’s performers, like management, are ultimately remunerated by the licence fee payer.”
The change would mean that the BBC has to publish the salaries of up to 261 of its stars who earn between £100,000 (£131,000) and £5 million ($6.6 million) a year. Among the broadcaster’s highest earners are Gary Lineker, Chris Evans and Graham Norton.
A spokesman for the broadcaster said introducing the transparency threshold would not be in the interest of licence fee payers. “We cut our bill for talent pay by £8 million ($10.5 million) last year, but creating a poacher’s charter by publishing the salaries of individual presenters and actors wouldn’t be in the interests of licence fee payers who say they want the best talent on the BBC,” he said.
The CMSC’s recommendations will be considered as part of renewing the BBC’s operating agreement, known as its royal charter. This process is already far along, with a draft charter due to be published when parliament returns from recess in September.
MPs criticise the ‘unusual’ way the BBC chairman was hired
The group of MPs also argued that the government’s “unusual” process for appointing Rona Fairhead as the new BBC chairman could be investigated.
Fairhead is currently chairman of the BBC’s soon-to-be abolished governing body, the BBC Trust. She was told by officials inside Downing Street, however, that she can effectively keep her job and move over to chair a new board of executives, who will keep the British broadcaster in check. The decision to allow Fairhead to see out her term until 2018 was taken in May by ex-culture secretary John Whittingdale and David Cameron, the former Prime Minister.
The cross-party CMSC has criticised the decision, arguing that the new BBC chairman should have been recruited through “open and orderly public competition.” In a report, it added that the “prestige” of the role could have attracted high-calibre candidates.
“We do not believe — even if one were to regard the offer of the post to Ms Fairhead as a re-appointment rather than a new appointment — that it would be appropriate for any minister, including the Prime Minister, simply to offer her the job,” the MPs said.
“Ministers have to have a very good reason (such as the death or incapacity of the current post holder or some other emergency) for not following due process. There was no urgency: Ms Fairhead could have been asked to stay in post until the new charter came into operation [in 2017].”
The CMSC report added that it was the “sort of unusual appointment” that could be investigated under proposals to improve public appointment processes currently being considered by the Cabinet Office.
The Department for Culture, Media & Sport is yet to respond to Business Insider’s request for comment. Whittingdale told the CMSC during a hearing in June that allowing Fairhead to see out her term would help smooth the transition to the BBC’s new governance regime.
The BBC Trust said it accepted Fairhead’s appointment to the new BBC board, noting that the process was “a matter for the government.”
A BBC Trust spokeswoman added: “The chairman underwent a rigorous and open appointment process before being appointed in 2014, which was confirmed by the Commissioner for Public Appointments as a fair and open competition.”