Auditors confronted wall when seeking BBC

MP frustrated by cagey BBC

MP frustrated by cagey BBC

By Alex Stevenson

An MP has described the BBC’s refusal to reveal the salaries of its superstars as “ironic” given the corporation’s pursuit of MPs over their expenses.

Leicester South MP Sir Peter Soulsby claimed he was concerned the public’s interest in openness and transparency was not being helped by the Beeb’s reluctance to reveal its stars’ pay packets.

“I think it’s ironic, given the recent media interest and very legitimate interest in way in which we as MPs are paid, that the BBC itself shouldn’t also be open about what it’s paying to those who are superstars and in some cases perhaps those who are presenters of news and current affairs programmes,” he told

“I’m not trying to deflect legitimate interest in what we as MPs are paid. I think just reflecting the general perception of the public at large, that people in public life being paid with what is in effect public money ought to be open about what they’re getting and how they’re being paid.”

Sir Peter Soulsby explains his views:

A report published last week by the National Audit Office described the secrecy as being “highly unsatisfactory”. Its officials were not given access to individual salaries because of their refusal to sign a non-disclosure agreement.

“I do think that using the pretext of the Data Protection Act, as I gather the BBC has been using, to prevent openness and transparency just has so many rings of the way we in parliament, or those who are involved in parliament, tried to prevent access to MPs’ pay and allowances,” Sir Peter added.

He warned the Beeb the instinct to protect against revelations could “end in tears” as the scandals over MPs’ expenses did.

The BBC spends £3 billion a year on public money and is a hot topic in recessionary Britain. Conservative leader David Cameron proposed freezing the licence fee this year in a bid to prevent distorting the media sector.

Presenter Jonathan Ross’ vast salary, believed to be close to £20 million, came in for public scrutiny after his inappropriate comments about the behaviour of Andrew Sachs’ granddaughter.

And last year Jeremy Clarkson’s reported £1 million salary reportedly led fellow Top Gear presenters Richard Hammond and James May to call for an improvement on their own pay.

The BBC has argued revealing salaries will have the effect of driving up the fees demanded by stars.

Sir Peter suggested the need for disclosure in the current climate outweighed these considerations, however.

“It is ironic but I think what the Labour government was reflecting when it introduced that Act is even more widespread – and that is an expectation of openness and transparency in public life,” he said.

“That ought to apply to all those in the public sector – and in a very real sense the BBC is in the public sector.”