The Information Commissioner has ruled that the BBC is entitled to refuse to disclose the salaries of its on-air talent following a request under the Freedom of Information Act, but ordered it to name its highest-paid executive in Northern Ireland.
Controller Anna Carragher was the highest-paid employee at BBC Northern Ireland in 2005, when she earned between £100,000 and £131,000, the corporation disclosed in response to the ruling.
In the decision announced last week, the Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, ruled that the identity and pay band of the highest-earning employee of BBC Northern Ireland should be disclosed following an FOI request made in 2005. The request also asked for the payments made to several presenters at BBC Northern Ireland and the total cost of producing their programmes to be revealed.
Thomas ruled that requests about salaries could not be withheld on the grounds that they relate to the BBC’s ‘journalism, art or literature”, but said the corporation was right to cite grounds of commercial confidentiality and privacy to withhold details of its production costs on various programmes and the salaries of presenters John Daly, Stephen Nolan, Tim McGarry, Michael McDowell.
However, he ruled that naming the top earner at BBC Northern Ireland would not violate the Data Protection Act and that there were legitimate reasons for doing so.
‘The Commissioner believes that licence fee payers in Northern Ireland have a strong legitimate interest in access to information about the efficient and proper use of public money at the BBC,’the decision notice noted.
In making his decision, Thomas distinguished between top earners and ‘talent’who ‘are not in a position to make influential policy decisions”. While senior staff should expect greater scrutiny of their finances, presenters could ‘expect that details of their financial arrangement with the BBC would not be disclosed”.
In 2006, salary figures of BBC presenters including Chris Moyles and Jonathan Ross were leaked to the Sun after several news organisations, including Press Gazette, had FoI requests relating to BBC presenters’ salaries rejected.
Reports in the Belfast Telegraph and the News Letter this week revealed serveral other details of BBC expenses in Northern Ireland, including taxi and hospitality bills.
The BBC has come under pressure to reveal various details of its expenses in Northern Ireland after DUP MP Gregory Campbell accused the corporation of hypocrisy because its journalists were highlighting MLAs’ and MPs’ pay issues while not having to reveal many of their own expenses.