LONDON — Only one-third of the BBC’s top-paid stars are women, and only a tiny number are black, Asian or members of another minority group, according to pay data that the publicly funded broadcaster published for the first time Wednesday.
Like the National Health Service, the BBC is seen in Britain as a central institution of public life, but it is competing in a rapidly changing environment and faces growing demands for transparency and accountability.
The broadcaster is largely financed through an annual license fee of 147 pounds, or about $191, paid by nearly all British households, but it also receives commercial and other income, most of it generated from abroad.
The BBC had released, since 2009, the salaries of senior managers making at least 150,000 pounds, but last year, the Conservative government demanded, as part of the renewal of the broadcaster’s governing charter, that the BBC also disclose the pay above that level from license fee revenue to its on-air stars. (The prime minister, Theresa May, is paid just over 150,000 pounds a year.)
The data began to dribble out Wednesday morning after the television personality Piers Morgan posted some of the figures on Twitter, in apparent violation of a journalistic embargo.
Although direct comparisons were difficult, because many of those named handle more than one assignment, the publication of the data, an annex to the organization’s annual report, immediately prompted discussion about pay disparities. (The figures were released as pay bands, rather than as precise numbers.)
Tony Hall, the BBC’s director general, said that less than 0.25 percent of the broadcaster’s 43,000 talent contracts last year involved annual pay of more than 150,000 pounds.
“On gender and diversity, the BBC is more diverse than the broadcasting industry and the Civil Service,” Hall said, though he added that the disclosures highlighted “the need to go further and faster.”
By 2020, the BBC intends for all “all our lead and presenting roles to be equally divided by men and women,” he said. Of the top talent hired or promoted in the past three years, he said, more than 60 percent were women.
Hall said the BBC had set a “rough target” that called for 15 percent of its highest paid stars to be of minority backgrounds by 2020; of those hired or promoted in the last few years, nearly 20 percent belong to minorities.
Critics were not satisfied. Harriet Harman, a Labour Party member of Parliament, said the “lid has been lifted” on pay discrimination, citing an “old boys’ network where they are feathering their own nests and each other’s, and there is discrimination and unfairness against women.” The BBC has long faced criticism from commercial rivals, including newspapers and television channels owned by Rupert Murdoch, and from other media owners, who regard its prominent position as a bar to their ambitions.
Hall said the BBC was now competing for talent not only with broadcasters like ITV and Sky, but also with online media giants like Netflix, Amazon and Apple.
He cited research showing that BBC users overwhelmingly agreed that the organization should employ top actors and journalists “even if it means paying the market rate.”
Gerry Morrissey, the leader of the labor union BECTU, which represents thousands of engineers, technical workers and other production staff who make a small fraction of what the on-air stars take home, called for a yearly minimum salary of 20,000 pounds.
The list revealed that Chris Evans, who hosts BBC Radio 2’s breakfast show, was the highest-paid male celebrity, with a salary of at least 2 million pounds. Claudia Winkleman, who hosts “Strictly Come Dancing,” the British equivalent of “Dancing with the Stars,” and BBC Radio 2’s arts program, is the corporation’s highest-paid female celebrity, earning between 450,000 pounds and 499,999 pounds (which also happens to be the pay range for Hall, the BBC chief).
Social media sites lit up with comments on what appeared to be pay disparities. For example, Laura Kuenssberg, the political editor of BBC News, makes 200,000 to 249,999 pounds, less than Nick Robinson, a BBC Radio 4 anchor and her predecessor in the role, who makes 250,000 to 299,999 pounds.
Gary Lineker, a former soccer star who now hosts the highly watched “Match of the Day” highlights program, earned 1.75 million to just under 1.8 million pounds.
In contrast, the BBC’s highest-paid female sports figure, Sue Barker, a former tennis champion who plays a lead role in the broadcaster’s Wimbledon coverage, earned 300,000 to 349,999 pounds. Huw Edwards, one of the main anchors of the BBC’s flagship “News at Ten,” earned 550,000 to 599,999 pounds; Fiona Bruce, another main anchor, made about 200,000 pounds less. Some of the personalities came forward to defend their pay. Andrew Marr, an author and news broadcaster known for his hard-hitting political interviews, said in a statement that he was paid 400,475 pounds a year — for “the weekly Sunday morning show, my radio work, documentary commissions, television obituaries, and work on big news events.” Marr said his annual salary was 139,000 pounds less than it had been two years ago.
Several stars of the long-running soap opera “EastEnders” were on the list. And the actor Peter Capaldi, who is in his final season as the star of the sci-fi series “Doctor Who,” was paid more than 200,000 pounds a year.
“The right has for a long time targeted the BBC as wasteful and inefficient, as part of its free-market agenda,” said Tom Mills, a sociologist at Aston University in Birmingham, England, and the author of “The BBC: Myth of a Public Service.” Top salaries at the broadcaster had increased in the 1990s, he said, partly in response to pressure to make the BBC more commercial.
He said the BBC should consider a ceiling on salaries, perhaps based on a multiple of the salary of its lowest-paid workers. The high salaries, he said, contributed to a growing public feeling that the broadcaster was elitist.