Big businesses are paying leading BBC news presenters tens of thousands of pounds to host events, according to newly released documents that show how financial institutions are employing the public broadcaster’s leading stars.
Andrew Marr, the £360,000-a-year host of BBC One’s Sunday morning politics show, was paid at least £5,000 extra by talking to staff and clients at the wealth management firm Brewin Dolphin on a Zoom call at the end of March.
A screengrab of the call seen by the Guardian shows Marr hosted the paid external event from a meeting room in the corporation’s Broadcasting House headquarters while wearing a BBC lanyard.
Responding to a question about Marr, a BBC spokesperson said: “We understand the logistical challenges brought on by the pandemic, but we would remind all staff there is a clear difference between using meeting spaces for BBC-related events compared to anything external.”
The Radio 4 presenter Justin Webb topped the league table of BBC stars with the most paid external events, receiving at least £20,000 during the first three months of this year for external work conducted on top of his £250,000 annual salary for hosting the Today programme.
He was paid at least £5,000 for hosting a breakfast briefing for the City-based management consultancy Proxima, and similar fees from the financial services trade body CISI, the car manufacturers’ trade body SMMT and the wealth management magazine CityWealth.
The actual amount received could have been higher as the BBC register requires staff to declare only whether each booking was worth more or less than £5,000.
For years, many high-profile BBC presenters have topped up their salaries by taking substantial fees from private companies to host awards shows, moderate panel events, and interview guests. Their presence helps attracts interest to the events, while presenters often viewed this income as making up the difference between their salary and what they felt they could earn at commercial news outlets.
However, following a series of scandals about conflicts of interest potentially affecting news coverage, the BBC’s director general, Tim Davie, has required that on-air journalists and senior executives publish details of their external event bookings in a regularly updated pay register.
The new disclosure log covers only January to March 2021, when the number of events and awards ceremonies was severely curtailed due to the Covid-19 lockdown. Despite this, dozens of prominent on-air presenters still registered payments for events conducted over Zoom and other video-conferencing services, although some staff said they were disappointed that unpaid speeches to schools and charities were not included on the list.
Some of the event bookings directly cross over with the topics covered by the journalists involved. Spencer Kelly, the host of BBC World’s Click technology show, was paid at least £5,000 by chairing a panel for the technology company Cisco. The home editor Mark Easton took a similar amount from the National Housing Federation, which represents the country’s housing associations.
The BBC Breakfast host Dan Walker received more than £5,000 for hosting an event for the wealth management company St James’s Place, and a similar sum from the Co-op.
The Irish law firm Mason Hayes and Curran hired the Newsnight host Emily Maitlis for a webinar to celebrate International Women’s Day, while other companies that hired BBC staff for speaking events in this period included Google and Microsoft.
The new rules were introduced after a series of scandals including the BBC’s North America editor, Jon Sopel, giving a paid speech for the tobacco company Philip Morris, and the former editorial director Kamal Ahmed taking £12,000 to speak at a hedge fund conference.
Eyebrows were raised in the BBC newsroom when Boris Johnson announced officially in 2019 he would be standing to be Conservative party leader while being interviewed by the BBC News host Huw Edwards at an insurance industry event. Both were being paid to attend when the headline-grabbing news was broken.