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The Information Commissioner's Office has ordered the BBC to release information about the salaries of the stars and other staff at soap opera EastEnders.

The Beeb had previously refused to give out the information, which was requested under the Freedom of Information Act. The corporation said salary data was not covered by the Act and that giving out such information would have a competitive effect because it would effectively reveal total programme budgets. The ICO rejected both arguments.

But the ICO ruled the Beeb was right to withold info on the average and range of performers' wages because providing that information would be too expensive. Organisations are not obliged to spend more than £450 or 18 hours dealing with individual requests.

The Beeb said that all payments to performers were recorded in its ACON (Artists Contracts) database. But each performer has their own card - there is no way to search for "all EastEnders". With 331 performers over the course of a year each of their cards would need to be checked for their performance fee and repeat fee. All this information would need to be re-entered, probably into Excel, in order to get the figures requested.

The request asked how many performers were currently employed and the maximum and minimum figure since 'Stenders started. They also wanted to know how many scriptwriters were on staff, total annual staff costs, the average value of a performer contract the range of values from minimum to maximum and the total cost to the licence payer.

The BBC claimed exemptions on grounds that the information was held for purposes of journalism, art or literature. The ICO ruled that the information was held mainly for operational reasons and therefore should be released.

A spokeswoman for the BBC told us the corporation will appeal the ruling.®

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