BBC to Disclose More On-Air Talent Pay Under New Government Plan

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Karen Bradley, Britain's new culture secretary, publishes a draft of a new charter for the U.K. public broadcaster, which calls for it to disclose which show hosts, news anchors and other stars are paid more than $198,000.

Karen Bradley, Britain's new culture, media and sport secretary, on Thursday published its draft of a new BBC charter that details how the U.K. public broadcaster will be run, and what duties it has, for 11 years starting in 2017.

Its current charter, which was in effect for 10 years, runs through the end of the year.

The draft, which outlines how the BBC is funded, run, overseen and what its main objectives are, confirms most of the key elements of a May government "white paper" that unveiled various planned reforms and measures designed to lessen the impact of the BBC on such commercial rivals as ITV and Sky, on which industry companies and people were able to comment.

Among the more controversial parts of the Thursday draft is a clause that calls for more disclosure of pay for big-name on-air talent than originally planned.

Funding plans from earlier in the year were confirmed on Thursday. The white paper called for a continuation of BBC funding via a license fee of £145.50 ($192) that taxpayers pay every year and that will increase with inflation starting in 2017 after having been frozen in recent years. The government reiterated, though, that longer-term, the fee will be reviewed and could be discontinued. Closing a license fee loophole, viewers will have to start paying to access the BBC iPlayer VOD service.

The white paper also confirmed that the BBC Trust governing body would be scrapped in favor of a unitary board for the broadcaster, while U.K. media regulator Ofcom will become the external regulator of the BBC. On Tuesday night, Rona Fairhead announced that she would resign as BBC chair.

Here some more key points from the charter draft:

— The BBC gets to make the majority of appointments for the new 14-member board, with the government, choosing five of them, including the chair. Five members must be independents, with the four others being BBC executives.

— The BBC would be required to publish the names of the currently 109 on-air hosts and performers, including news anchors, sports announcers, talk show and entertainment show hosts, with salaries in excess of £150,000 ($198,000), with pay initially disclosed in bands of £50,000 ($66,000). Talk show host Graham Norton, former Top Gear host Chris Evans, Strictly Come Dancing host Claudia Winkleman and former soccer star Gary Lineker are among the talent expected to see their pay band disclosed under the new approach.

The original plan for the pay disclosure focused on on-air talent earning more than £450,000 ($595,000) a year. But now that amount has been drastically reduced. The BBC has opposed detailed star pay disclosures, arguing this would give competitors a better idea how to poach top names. Currently, the BBC discloses the amounts received by its highest-paid stars in broad terms and broad bands without details the pay of specific people.

— "Distinctive content" must be at the heart of the BBC programming schedule, the charter says. "It is right that the BBC makes popular programs, but popularity must not be the only measure of success," explained Bradley.

— The charter will run for 11 years, with a “health check” at the halfway mark.

Bradley also presented the draft in parliament. "The BBC produces world-class programming that is admired and respected by millions around the world," she said Thursday. "The BBC’s next charter will help it adapt to the changing digital world and continue to thrive into the future."

She added: "License fee payers have a right to know where their money goes. By making the BBC more transparent, it will help deliver savings that can then be invested in even more great programs."

Bradley also wrote in an editorial in The Telegraph on Thursday: "Our new charter will make sure the BBC thrives for years to come." Calling it "a cherished British institution," she said the new disclosure requirement for star payments "rightly brings the BBC in line with the rest of the public sector, where civil servants above the threshold are named."

Fairhead said on behalf of the BBC Trust: "Today’s draft charter is validation of what the public have told us they want — a strong, bold BBC, editorially independent, effectively governed and which places audiences at its heart. Long, tough, but ultimately constructive negotiations have put the BBC on a strong footing for the future."

But she added: “We don’t agree with the government on everything and are disappointed with the decision on the disclosure of presenters’ pay. We don’t believe this is in the long-term interests of license fee payers."

The next stage in the BBC charter review process will be parliamentary debates of the draft before final approval. The charter is scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1.

"Given the fundamental reforms set out in the draft charter and the need to ensure there is a smooth transition, the organizations involved will need time to implement these complex changes," said the British government. It has therefore allowed for a period of transition with the new BBC board and Ofcom fully taking on their new governance and regulatory roles on April 3. "The BBC will continue to operate under the current arrangements during this transitional period," it said.

BBC director general Tony Hall said that "all major broadcasters have questioned the merit of the proposal" on talent pay disclosures, adding: "The BBC is already incredibly transparent, and we publish what we spend on talent pay — a bill which has fallen in recent years. The BBC operates in a competitive market and this will not make it easier for the BBC to retain the talent the public love."

But he concluded: "Overall, we have the right outcome for the BBC and its role as a creative power for Britain. It lays the foundation for more great programs and journalism. The BBC has always existed to inform, educate, and entertain. We will do that with renewed energy and vigour.”