Time The BBC Stood Up To Better Paid Male Stars?

Isn't it always the way -- the giant of British broadcasting that was yesterday telling the public how advertisers needed to do more to banish gender stereotypes in advertising today finds itself guilty of the worst type of gender imbalance -- two in three of its top earners are men.

That's the result of the BBC being forced to reveal the names of all staff earning more than GBP150,000. It will have come as little surprise to see Chris Evans at the top of the pile, at GBP2.2m, and Gary Lineker, GBP1.7m, not so far behind. What might have not been so predictable was that there would only be one woman in the top ten and she would be Claudia Winkelman, earning GBP450,000 for presenting "Strictly Come Dancing." The BBC also admits there is a pay disparity for people with a BAME (black, asian and minority ethnic) heritage.

The Director General, Lord Hall, has been frantically doing tv and radio interviews to admit that the gender imbalance is wrong and more work needs to be done to encourage inclusion and quality. He has also been at pains to point out that the BBC has taken 25% off its talent bill over the last four years. With such eye-wateringly huge sums, it leaves the person in the street wondering what stars used to be paid, and if rates really are higher in the commercial tv space, what on earth are those guys on?

The BBC is not alone here, of course, although it can be singled out as reporting on a problem it is only exacerbating itself. Over a lifetime, women have been estimated to earn GBP300,000 less than men and campaigners at the Fawcett Society claim women are paid, on average 13%, less than men.

So the BBC has a lot of explaining to do, particularly when male stars are being paid nearly twice as much for appearing in the same tv or radio show as their female counterparts.

Surely the only solution is to increase pay to close the gap?

Or is it? What about bringing pay down? Let's not forget that we still face the prospect of job reductions and journalists having their allowances slashed by the BBC in a bid to balance the books. How are these massive salaries going to look against cuts being made elsewhere?

Also, if you ask male stars to take a cut, who among them can refuse and say they are worth more than their female counterparts or believe the BBC has a magic money tree to raise female pay to bring in parity?

The BBC needs to ask itself what it stands for. Clearly it can't be seen to support larger salaries for men, but also, can it support these large salaries in the first place? OK -- so there are a lot of people who are at the top of their game and are national institutions who are on a large salary that many may deem is roughly fair. But take a look at the list and there are some mega salaries. Huw Edwards is on half a million pounds a year to read the news. Is he twice as good as Mishal Husain, who earns less than half as much? Is she only worth half what it costs to employ Matt Baker to talk about his farm on a Sunday and add a bit of commentary to gymnastics here and there?

If you belong to the camp that says these guys deserve massive salaries because they could earn more in commercial tv and radio, then ask yourself this -- could they? For the top football pundits, let's not forget that there is only so much football to comment on, only so many ex-players to consult on-air over how the game is developing. Plus, there is no tournament this summer. 

How many commercial tv or radio shows are out there that could afford more massive salaries when you consider that tv advertising is undergoing a lean period right now, as is radio? It's an empty threat, on the whole, that these stars could all walk out en masse and find better-paid jobs in commercial tv.

Remember this -- a lot of these guys will earn a lot more money from the public appearance money they earn and the commissions their production companies get from them being a major face or voice on the BBC. Will they risk GBP20k a night handing out awards at trade shows for a commercial tv show that might or might not get recommissioned, depending on how advertising revenues goes?

Sure -- some would go, and I can bet you that right now some commercial tv stations will be looking at seriously underpaid women and contacting their agents right now. But on the whole, if you want parity, why not cut? It's what the BBC is doing in newsrooms the length and breadth of the country. So why not call the bluff of top talent and see how many the commercial sector can afford to immediately absorb.

See how many come back a year down the line when a downturn in tv advertising means they are unaffordable.

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