Leaked audio of a hot mic chat reveals two of the BBC’s top–paid journalists, John Humphrys and Jon Sopel, exchanging disparaging remarks about BBC China editor Carrie Gracie’s decision to resign over the news organization’s notorious gender pay gap.
The audio of the conversation was shared by BuzzFeed on Saturday after transcripts had been leaked to British media in recent days.
In the exchange, Humphrys, a host of Radio 4’s Today program, and Sopel, the BBC’s North America editor, are heard belittling Gracie’s outspoken criticisms of what The New York Times has described as a “startling gap in pay between [the BBC’s] most senior male and female journalists.” As Splinter previously reported, the top seven earners at the BBC are all men, according to a pay list released last summer.
That pay gap at the publicly funded news organization was highlighted yet again after Gracie, a widely respected international editor, decided to quit because Sopel earns more than £200,000, while Middle East editor Jeremy Brown earns more than £150,000, and Humphrys earns more than £600,000. Gracie had been earning £135,000, according to news reports.
She turned down a subsequent BBC offer for a slight raise, which would have left her still earning less than her male colleagues.
As heard in the audio:
JH: Can you hear me Sopel?
JS: Humphrys I can hear you.
JH: Good, slight change of subject—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, you know, like our Middle East editor and the other men who are earning too much.
JS: I mean, obviously if we are talking about the scope for the greatest redistribution I’ll have to come back and say, well, yes, Mr. Humphrys, but…
JH: And I could save you the trouble as I could volunteer that 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?
JH: 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?
After the transcript of the conversation was leaked, Humphrys told ITV News that it was just a “jokey” exchange.
“We are in habit, Jon and I, of winding each other up and the purpose of this jokey—I emphasize jokey—exchange was a bit of mutual mickey-taking, and that is all it was,” he said, according to the BBC. “If people took a different message from it, it could only be because they didn’t appreciate that it was a joke.”
Humphrys said he actually believes in “equal pay for equal work.”
The BBC called the hot mic conversation “ill–advised.”
But Miriam O’Reilly, who won an ageism case against the BBC in 2011 after being dropped from a rural affairs program at the age of 53, had a different take on the conversation.
“This was the attitude of these back slapping entitled males,” she tweeted on Thursday.