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  1. ITV Report

Humphrys says BBC gender pay gap comments were a joke and don't represent his views on equal pay

John Humphrys has insisted that his comments on the BBC gender pay gap were a "jocular exchange" with a male colleague and it's "complete rubbish" to suggest he does not believe men and women should be paid equally.

The veteran Today radio show presenter was caught on tape with US editor Jon Sopel seemingly criticising former China bureau chief Carrie Gracie's demands for equal pay with male editors in similar roles.

He told ITV News that the exchange has been misrepresented and "it did not represent my views" in his first television interview since the recording of the conversation was leaked.

We are in the habit, Jon and I, of winding each other up and the purpose of this jokey – emphasise jokey – exchange was a bit of mutual mickey-taking and that is all it was…If people took a different message from it, it could only be because they didn’t appreciate that it was a joke.

– John Humphrys
Carrie Gracie stepped down in protest over unequal pay with men of equal seniority. Credit: PA

Ms Gracie stepped down from her position as the BBC's China editor after publication of high earners' salaries showed she was earning considerably less than colleagues in similar roles such as Washington editor Mr Sopel.

She has said that pay for top presenter and managers is "unacceptably high" and their salaries should be reduced to allow allegedly underpaid women to be given raises.

Mr Humphrys - the BBC's highest-paid news presenter - was recorded commenting on the dispute during an off-air phone conversation with Mr Sopel as he prepared to interview him for the Today programme.

In a leaked recording of the chat, Mr Humphrys tells the US editor “the first question will be how much of your salary you are prepared to hand over to Carrie Gracie to keep her" and discussing "the other [BBC] men who are earning too much".

Mr Sopel replies: “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 says: “And I could save you the trouble as I could volunteer that I’ve handed over already more than you f*** 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?”

He then adds: “Oh dear God. She’s actually suggested that you should lose money – you know that don’t you?"

The BBC had to publish details of its top earners for the first time last year. Credit: AP

Mr Humphrys stressed that his comments had never been intended to be hard by the public, but unknown to him they were being recorded elsewhere within the BBC and were given to press by a third party.

He rejected suggestions that he should no longer be allowed to present on the story - as has happened to BBC stars who have backed Ms Gracie - due to a lack of impartiality.

Ms Gracie said she left as China editor as she could not "collude knowingly in what I consider to be unlawful pay discrimination" after learning that male international editor were significantly out-earning their female counterparts.

In the pay disclosure last year, North America editor 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.

Ms Gracie said that she earned £135,000, and rejected a £45,000 pay rise offer from the corporation as a "divide-and-rule, botched solution".