Page last updated at 19:28 GMT, Monday, 2 June 2008 20:28 UK

BBC pay stays tantalising secret

By Torin Douglas
Media correspondent, BBC News

Jeremy Paxman
How much does Jeremy Paxman earn?
The economists' report is packed with facts and figures. Unfortunately, it contains none of the ones everyone is interested in - the names of the best-paid performers and how much licence-fee income they take home.

BBC salaries have always been a hot topic. Licence-payers, politicians and rival broadcasters have regularly complained that the BBC pays some stars too much, and that its public funding from the licence fee helps push up the market rate.

But after Jonathan Ross was reported to have signed a deal worth 18m over three years, the issue became much hotter. Some say it even damaged the BBC's licence fee negotiations.

Further fuel was poured on the flames when other top stars had their pay details leaked to newspapers by a corporation employee.

Ross once joked that he was worth 1,000 BBC journalists but some news presenters such as Jeremy Paxman and Fiona Bruce also came under fire for their pay.

The BBC would not confirm the sums allegedly paid to them and to Graham Norton, Terry Wogan and Chris Moyles but the figures became lore through the cuttings.

Jonathan Ross

So the BBC Trust decided to investigate, commissioning economists to take a long hard look at what the BBC actually pays its stars, and what licence-payers and broadcasting experts think of its performance.

Some thought it might have used this report as a chance to clear up, once and for all, which stars get what - but it has not done so.

Sir Michael Lyons, the BBC Trust's chairman, said that to reveal such figures - when commercial channels do not - would make it harder for the BBC to attract top talent.

Not only do most stars want to keep the details confidential, he said, but in any negotiation the BBC would be at a severe disadvantage if it had to reveal what it paid all its performers.

The report contains some tantalising revelations but they do not go far enough to satisfy those who want the nitty-gritty.

It says that the very top talent - the top 30 to 40 stars across TV and radio - each earn over 1m a year in appearance and contribution fees. It says the top ten can earn well over 2m.

Secret lists

It also reveals that the BBC has a list of its top 50 "named talent", whose earnings seem to be growing "significantly faster than the recent 6 per cent annual rate for total talent spending".

There's also a list of the top 100 named talent in TV, including those working for broadcasters and for independent producers. Again, it does not name them - Sir Michael said if it did, their agents would simply ask for even more.

Journalists at the news briefing made clear their frustration, not just at the lack of names, but also what they believed to be a lack of clarity in the findings.

One said he had thought he had understood what was a fairly simple issue - are they paid too much? - until he started reading the economists' report, which runs to 140 pages, plus appendices.

The fact is that it is a very complex issue, however much we try to simplify it.

Take radio performers such as Terry Wogan and Chris Moyles. The commercial radio companies say the BBC pays them far more than their rivals could afford.

But the BBC says the competition for talent in radio is not just between the BBC and commercial radio but across the entire entertainment industry.

Many key BBC performers have careers in TV and film, print journalism and the wider music business.

In those cases, it says, the BBC is in competition for the talent's time and it is hard to make a meaningful comparison.

Which is why we journalists go back to writing about Jonathan Ross and his reported 18m over three years. That is something everyone can have a view on.

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