BBC presenters John Humphrys and Jon Sopel are facing a backlash after mocking the gender pay gap that has divided the broadcaster.
In unguarded comments made while off-air, the Radio 4 Today show presenters are reportedly heard discussing the salary of Carrie Gracie, the BBC’s China Editor who quit the post after revealing she was being paid less than male colleagues doing the same job.
The conversation is said to have been recorded before Monday’s programme went to air, and Humphrys reportedly asks Sopel, the corporation’s North America Editor, how much of his salary he would “hand over” to Gracie to keep her at the corporation.
The 74-year-old host, who was paid between £600,000 and £649,999 in the year to April 2017, making him the BBC’s highest paid news presenter, then jokes that he’s “handed over more than you fucking earn”.
Sopel, 58, earned between £200,000-£249,999 over the same period, while Gracie’s salary was £135,000.
The exchange happened before Humphrys co-presented the programme with Gracie.
But BBC management have taken a tougher line, with a source at the corporation telling HuffPost UK bosses were “deeply unimpressed”.
According to The Sun, the conversation went:
HUMPHRYS: “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, like our Middle East Editor and the other men who are earning too much…”
SOPEL: “If we are talking about the scope for the greatest redistribution I’ll have to come back and say well, yes, Mr Humphrys, but…
HUMPHRYS: “And I could save you the trouble as I could volunteer I’ve handed over already more than you fucking 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?”
HUMPHRYS: “Oh dear God. She’s actually suggested that you should lose money; you know that don’t you? You’ve read the thing properly have you?”
The exchange was reportedly leaked by former Countryfile presenter Miriam O’Reilly, who was sidelined by the corporation over accusations of ageism. But she later denied she was the source of the story.
O’Reilly wrote on Twitter that she had been due to discuss the pay gap on Today, but her appearance was scrapped.
A BBC spokesperson 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.”