A leaked recording of Radio 4 presenter John Humphrys joking about the BBC’s gender pay gap has reignited a debate over gender equality at the corporation.
The Today host was recorded discussing the recent resignation of China editor Carrie Gracie with the BBC’s North America editor, Jon Sopel.
Mr Humphrys was heard asking his male colleague, “how much of your salary you are prepared to hand over to Carrie Gracie to keep her”, before adding: “Oh dear God she’s actually suggested you should lose money. You know that don’t you?”
BBC management was said to be “deeply unimpressed” by the comments, which sparked calls for Mr Humphrys to be replaced for Friday morning’s programme.
Ms Gracie took a dramatic stand on the issue of gender pay equality earlier this week when she announced she was stepping down from her post in China and returning to London, accusing her employer of unlawful salary discrimination.
Her resignation refocused the spotlight on the BBC’s gender pay gap, following the publication last summer of its highest-paid stars’ salaries.
Ms Gracie said she learned last year that of the four international editors at the corporation, two men had earned more than their female counterparts.
In the pay disclosure, Mr Sopel was listed as having a salary of between £200,000 and £249,999, while Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen earned between £150,000 and £199,999.
Europe editor Katya Adler did not make the list.
Ms Gracie said on Monday morning she earned £135,000 as China editor, and was offered an increase of £45,000 when she complained about the discrepancy.
In the leaked exchange, Mr Humphrys - who took home between £600,000 and £649,999 in the year to April 2017 - reportedly said: “The first question will be how much of your salary you are prepared to hand over to Carrie Gracie to keep her. And comments about your other colleagues, like our Middle East editor and the other men who are earning too much.”
Mr Sopel is said to have replied: “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. . .'"
Mr Humphrys then added: “And I could save you the trouble as I could volunteer that I’ve handed over already more than you f***ing earn. But I’m still left with more than anybody else, and that seems to me entirely just. Something like that.”
To which Mr Sopel was said to have responded, “Don’t”, before his colleague said: “Oh dear God she’s actually suggested you should lose money. You know that don’t you?”
Miriam O’Reilly, who won an age discrimination case against the BBC, was leaked the recording but said she had not passed the tape to The Sun and The Times - the two papers to first run the story.
Mr Humphrys sought to downplay the comments, telling The Times the conversation was “an exchange between two old friends who have known each other for 30 years and were taking the mickey out of each other”.
He added: “It was nothing to do with Carrie’s campaign.”
A BBC spokeswoman said: “This was an ill-advised off-air conversation which the presenter regrets.
“The BBC is committed to getting its pay structures right and, as we have said, we are conducting a comprehensive analysis of presenter pay.”