Piers Morgan: Gary Lineker would be paid more if he moved to ITV
Piers Morgan has defended Gary Lineker's £1.75 million salary – saying he would be paid more if he moved to ITV.
The Match Of The Day host's pay packet remains unchanged since last year, unlike some BBC stars who have had pay cuts.
And the BBC has come under fire for handing a number of its stars pay rises while at the same time axing the universal, free TV licence for over-75s.
Morgan defended Lineker, the BBC's highest-earner according to its published list.
"If I were Gary Lineker, I'd come out and whack this, I'd call their bluff," he said on his ITV show, Good Morning Britain.
"He fights for every other underdog on Twitter. He's a good mate of mine. I completely defend him on this. I don't think he's to blame.
"If I was Gary, I'd come out on Twitter this morning and attack the decision to take the TV licences away from the pensioners.
"It would be a very brave thing to do. He'd earn himself a lot of favours from people because at the moment he's just getting killed. He's getting killed through no fault of his own at all.
"He's getting paid the market rate. He's getting paid, I would argue, less than he could get paid almost anywhere else.
"If ITV came in for Gary Lineker now they'd pay him more than he gets from the BBC. I guarantee it.
"You can say.... 'You can get a gazillion nurses for a Lineker' but that's not how the reality of the marketplace works in television."
He added: "They've got big questions to answer at the BBC".
A number of the BBC's stars, including Jo Whiley, Lauren Laverne and Fiona Bruce, have been handed pay rises over the past year.
The total talent bill has gone up by almost £11 million to around £159 million – while 75 people at the BBC now earn more than £150,000, up from 64 last year.
The amount paid to its top stars – those earning at least £150,000 – has increased, from around £19 million in 2017/18 to around £21 million in 2018/19.
The salaries of stars who work on shows such as Top Gear, Strictly Come Dancing and Doctor Who have not been published, as the broadcaster has defied calls to publish the salaries of talent paid through its commercial arm BBC Studios.
The Prime Minster's official spokesman said the BBC "needs to explain why they increased the on-air pay and total staffing costs while saying they can't fund free TV licences for over-75s."
Many have urged the Government to commit to continuing the funding for the benefit, saying it is breaking a manifesto pledge by putting the responsibility on the BBC.
BBC chairman Sir David Clementi dismissed the suggestion that the BBC could fund free TV licences for over-75s by cutting the pay of stars.
"The sums don't add up," he said. "It is clear in this report that even if we employed no stars paid more than £150,000... that would save around £20 million, a fraction of the £745 million a year and rising we would need if we extended the concession to all."
BBC Breakfast host and sport presenter Dan Walker's salary is up by around £60,000, while Today presenters Justin Webb and Nick Robinson have had rises of £85,000 and £40,000 respectively.
And they are topped by TV and radio presenter Jason Mohammad who has pocketed a £95,000 increase to around £355,000.
The BBC has said that its overall talent bill, for all of the presenters and contributors across the whole of the corporation, has increased because it has invested £239 million more in content over the past year.
And it says the proportion of the content budget spent on talent has also dropped, from 11% in 2017/18 to 10% in 2018/2019.