John Humphrys and Jon Sopel: Hot mic audio of conversation about Carrie Gracie leaked

Roisin O'Connor

The audio of a controversial hot mic conversation about equal pay between two of the BBC's highest-paid journalists - John Humphrys and Jon Sopel - has been leaked.

Humphrys, one of the main hosts of Radio 4's flagship news programme Today, and BBC management, dismissed the conversation as a “joke” when a transcript was originally published. However, the BBC was reportedly “deeply unimpressed” with the content of the recording.

After transcripts of the conversation became public, BBC Woman's Hour presenter Jane Garvey tweeted: “The Humphrys-Sopel exchange reveals, very neatly, what we're up against.”

The audio of the original conversation has since been leaked to Buzzfeed, and shows the entirety of the pair's conversation.

Asked whether his comments showed he did not support equal pay, Humphrys told ITV News: “That's complete rubbish, obviously that's complete rubbish.”

“We are in habit, Jon and I, of winding each other up and the purpose of this jokey - I emphasise jokey - exchange was a bit of mutual mickey-taking, and that is all it was,” he said.

“If people took a different message from it, it could only be because they didn't appreciate that it was a joke.”

He added: “It has absolutely nothing to do with my views on women's pay, which I repeat and have said consistently should be equal - equal pay for equal work.”

Humphrys said he had no idea the conversation was being recorded and called the subsequent leak, first reported in the Sun and the Times newspapers, “mildly annoying”. He also called the person who leaked the conversation “nasty”.

A transcript of the exchange reads:

Humphrys: “Ah... Can you hear me Sopel?”
Sopel: “Humphrys I can hear you.”
Humphrys: “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…”
Sopel: “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…'.”
Humphrys: “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 to be entirely just – something like that would do it?”
Sopel: “Don’t…”
Humphrys: “Oh dear God. She’s actually suggested that you should you lose money; you know that don’t you? You’ve read the thing properly have you?”
Sopel: “Yeah, I have. Yep.”
Humphrys: “And the idea is that I’m not allowed to talk to her about it throughout the whole course of the programme. Not a word.”
Sopel: “I mean… can we have this conversation… I’d love to talk to you about it.”

Humphrys: “Probably not now, yeah right. So as far as Trump’s concerned, what’s the top line?”

Last year the BBC listed all the salaries of its employees earning more than £150,000 a year, which revealed that Humphrys, who has presented the Today programme since 1987, had a salary of £600,000-£649,000.

It also showed Sopel, the BBC's North America editor, earned £200,000-£249,999, while Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen earned £150,000-£199,999.

At the time his salary was revealed, Humphrys said it was hard to justify, telling the BBC that the lower pay earned by his female colleagues on Today was not right and he was “not happy” about it.

Carrie Gracie quit her role as China editor after learning she was being paid less than her male counterparts.

The Independent has contacted the BBC for further comment in the wake of the leaked audio.