The BBC was made to reveal this info as part of a new ‘Royal Charter’ - basically just a really fancy way of saying a new set of rules that control how the BBC operates.
What is clear is that people really, really care. Social media basically exploded with a kind of morbid fascination at the amount of money these stars have, anger about the gap between male and female earnings, and then also just anger that these people are paid so much by the BBC, which is paid for by the public.
First up there's the license fee...
The BBC is publicly owned, and UK viewers pay for it with a tax called the 'licence fee' of 12 pounds a month. If you can prove you don’t watch TV (including online services like BBC iPlayer) you don’t have to pay it, but most people do.
#BBCpaygap the country has things all wrong! I'm looking after sick people who are living on nothing can just about eat! 💔 my wage is poor 🚑
Finding out the BBC pays Chris Evans £2 million, funded by your £12 a month, is a bitter pill for some people to take, even before you get into the whole argument about whether it should be publicly funded in the first place.
#BBCpaygap I'd rather my licence fee went to real police, nurses and firefighters
And when you do get into the public ownership thing, it’s an absolute minefield. Whether you think it’s worth that money completely depends on your values (this seems to be coming up a lot in the UK at the moment), and whether or not you think the BBC would be more efficient and fairer if it was an independent business.
Some people think that the BBC should operate like a business, just like any other TV channel, and that people should either pay for it as a customer (like subscription services, say) or not at all. The other main broadcasters in the UK – ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 – are businesses (or ‘commercial broadcasters’), which means they’re funded by advertising revenue, and users don’t actually pay anything.
...And then yes, there's the pay gap
It’s not just about who’s paying for the BBC, it’s also about (and what genitals they have). The top seven earners in its list were men, and only one third of the 96 people earning over £150,000 were women. The best paid female star, Claudia Winkleman, earns a fifth of what Chris Evans earns (between £450,000 - £500,000, Evans earns at least £2 million).
That means that if a private business like Channel 4, Sky or even Amazon or Netflix, is willing to pay Chris Evans more than £2 million to make a competing programme about cars, then they need to be able to convince him to stay at the BBC.
The BBC is competing with those commercial companies on pretty much everything – getting the best stars, commissioning the best programmes and coming up with new ideas (it's operating in a 'market') – and those channels are allowed to spend their advertising revenues however they choose.
In that system, how much stars are 'worth' has a lot to do with what they could earn elsewhere in that 'market', rather than how much the public would choose to pay them.
John Humphreys, a BBC newsreader, put it this way: “If you compare me with lots of other people – a doctor who saves a child’s life, a nurse who comforts a dying person, or a fireman who rushes into Grenfell Tower – then of course you couldn’t argue that I am not worth twopence halfpenny." (Literally, what is that? We think hemeans not very much...)
“However, we operate in a marketplace, and I think I provide a fairly useful service. Somebody has to do the job of trying to hold power to account and speak the truth about all that stuff.”
In fact, Tony Hall (BBC boss) said that by forcing the BBC to publish its salaries, you actually encourage competing businesses to try and poach staff by offering them more money. That starts a really vicious cycle of one-upmanship, also known as wage inflation.
The BBC is saying it's going to fix its pay gap – and that could be by encouraging male stars to accept less money. A lot of stars (including Chris Evans) have said they hope the report will make sure that happens. It's pledged to achieve "equality between men and women on air" by 2020, but whether that means in pay or just in air-time is kind of unclear. Here's hoping it's both...