Big BBC stars are paid at “discount” rates compared to the rest of the market, the corporation’s director general has insisted, as he prepared to publish the salaries of top-earning talent.
For the first time, the broadcaster is to reveal the names of all stars earning over £150,000 - a total of 96 people, of which only about a third are women.
Speaking ahead of the announcement, director general Lord (Tony) Hall vowed to close the gender pay gap by 2020.
READ MORE: BBC star salaries revealed: two-thirds of top earners are men
He said that the total pay to top talent was around £5 million down on last year’s £31 million. And he said he was “satisfied” that all 96 named were worth what they were being paid.
Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker, who is one of those expected to feature on the list, revealed that he had turned down higher pay offers from commercial broadcasters.
Writing on Twitter, the former England striker said he had stuck with the Beeb “Because I love and value my job and BBC sport.”
Lord Hall told Radio 4’s Today programme that the BBC had reduced its spending on top talent by 25% in the past four years and 10% since last year, when 109 people took home a total of £31 million.
He said: “The total is down by £5 million on last year and that is consistent with what we have been doing over the last four years, which has been constantly reducing it.
“I completely understand that to lots and lots of people these are very large sums, but we are a global broadcaster in a very competitive market and we have to be competitive - but not foolishly.
“No-one would want us to be paying sums where it’s not at a discount on the market.
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“People expect us to have great broadcasters, great presenters, great stars, but pay them less than they would get on the market. Getting that discount right is very important.”
Lord Hall described the publication of top salaries, which was opposed by the BBC, as a “bad idea” because it could tempt other broadcasters with deep pockets to poach stars creating an inflationary effect on pay.
Details of stars’ pay will be revealed in £50,000 bands.
But Lord Hall said it was “very, very difficult” to compare the rates paid to different individuals, as their responsibilities may vary widely even if their on-air roles are similar.
Lord Hall acknowledged that there was a 10% gender pay gap between women and men at the BBC, but said this compared with 18% in UK society as a whole.
And he said: “I have said that by 2020 we will have equality between men and women on air and we will have the pay gap sorted out.”
Equalising pay will have to be managed within the constraints of the BBC’s overall budget, he said, adding: “We will be working through case by case to make sure that in 2020... I will be able to look the licence fee payers in the eye and say we have equality of pay between men and women.”
In a video message to BBC staff, Lord Hall said the disclosures “highlight... the need to go further and faster on issues of gender and diversity” but said that the corporation was “pushing ... faster than any other major broadcaster”.
The BBC says the £150,000-plus salaries represent “less than a quarter of 1%” of its talent contracts last year.
Along with Lineker, stars expected to feature on the top pay list include newsreader and Antiques Roadshow presenter Fiona Bruce and leading journalists such as Andrew Marr, John Humphrys and political editor Laura Kuenssberg.