By JILL LAWLESS
LONDON (AP) — The publicly funded BBC was forced to publish the names and salaries of its highest-earning actors and presenters Wednesday, unleashing a national debate about fame, gender, race and the use of taxpayers’ money.
The list shows that the BBC pays 96 on-air personalities at least 150,000 pounds ($195,000) a year — meaning most earn more than the prime minister, who gets 150,000 pounds.
The broadcaster’s best-paid star, radio host Chris Evans, earns more than 2.2 million pounds ($2.9 million).
The BBC was compelled by Britain’s government to publish the salaries of on-air talent, which had previously been secret. The information is sensitive because the BBC is funded directly by taxpayers, through a 147-pound (about $190) annual levy on every household that owns a television or watches the BBC online.
The salaries were published in bands, rather than as exact figures. Evans, who fronts a daily radio breakfast show, gets between 2.2 million pounds and 2.25 million pounds. “Match of the Day” soccer host Gary Lineker receives between 1.75 million pounds and 1.8 million pounds, while talk-show host Graham Norton is paid between 850,000 pounds and 900,000 pounds.
Several stars of soap opera “EastEnders” appeared on the list, which also revealed that actor Peter Capaldi earns more than 200,000 pounds a year as the star of sci-fi series “Doctor Who.”
The figures expose a gender pay gap at the top of the BBC. Two-thirds of the top earners are men, and the highest-paid woman — “Strictly Come Dancing” host Claudia Winkleman — earns less than a quarter of Evans’ salary. News anchor Huw Edwards is paid over 550,000 pounds, some 200,000 pounds more than Fiona Bruce, who does much the same job.
The highest earners are also largely white. No ethnic-minority star is paid more than 300,000 pounds a year.
BBC chief Tony Hall said the list showed “the need to go further and faster on issues of gender and diversity,” but defended the high salaries.
“The BBC does not exist in a market on its own where it can set the market rates,” he said. “If we are to give the public what they want, then we have to pay for those great presenters and stars.”
Most of the salaries are not particularly high by international — and especially U.S. — TV standards. Talk-radio host Howard Stern earned $90 million in the year to June 1, while Fox News anchor Sean Hannity was paid $36 million, according to a list compiled by Forbes magazine.
In Britain, commercial networks ITV and Sky pay some top stars more than the BBC. But they are not required to disclose the amounts — and the money doesn’t come from the public purse.
The BBC list doesn’t include onscreen talent paid by outside production companies. That may explain the absence of big-name stars including nature presenter David Attenborough and “Top Gear” host Matt LeBlanc.
Conservative lawmaker John Whittingdale, who brought in the disclosure requirement when he was Culture Secretary, said taxpayers deserved to know who at the BBC was earning high salaries “and reach a judgment for themselves of whether that is good value for money.”
But others argued the information would erode public support for the BBC — and likely drive salaries up, as BBC staff who aren’t on the list demand raises.
Steven Barnett, professor of communications at the University of Westminster, argued that the disclosure drive had “nothing to do with transparency.”
“I think this was a deliberate campaign to undermine and destabilize an institution that some self-interested parties would like to see weakened,” he said, pointing to some politicians and executives at the BBC’s privately owned rivals.