The BBC Pay Gap: Two Perspectives

The BBC recently released the details of the salaries of its highest-paid stars, a move which has reignited the discussion around the so-called ‘pay gap’.

Two people, with differing political opinions generally, express their views on the release of the figures and the issues around them. Neither saw the other’s responses before writing their own and as such, the following provides an insight into a spectrum of thoughts and concerns, as well as two different sets of priorities.

 

First impressions

S: The BBC, over more than 60 years of service, has provided a veritable mountain of quality content across a broad spectrum of genres and media. As a state-funded and endorsed body it still has a measure of gravitas and authority over its sibling; Channel 4 which was established by Margaret Thatcher with the specific intent of having no public funding, leaving it free to be more critical of the state. However, this public nature means all of its funding is provided by the taxpayer. Is it the best investment? And are there areas in which it can be more efficient?

N: Although I’m very conscious of the gender pay gap as a concept and see it as something that needs to be actively combated – whether that’s via encouraging women to ask for pay rises, breaking through societal norms that cause women to go part-time when they otherwise wouldn’t or valuing more highly female-dominated professions – I hadn’t thought of the BBC specifically as somewhere where the pay gap might be a significant problem within the organisation. Also, the important thing here is principle: it’s not that Alex Jones is going to starve if she doesn’t get a pay rise. Why is the top male star paid 4.5 times more than the top female star? And, looking beyond gender, why are minorities paid so much less than their white counterparts?

 

Any notable commentary?

N: I saw a particularly interesting breakdown of the news that not only discussed gender, but also race and age. As well as finding that high BME (black and minority ethnic) earners fell overwhelming into the lower end of that scale, it also highlighted that BME stars are quite absent from the list of the BBC elite – there are only 10 on the released list. Predictably, the list also showed that of the corporation’s most valued stars, women were on average younger than men. I think it’s really important to consider all kinds of groups who are being treated unfairly, rather than just look at it from the perspective of gender as is generally being done.

S: Whilst the issues raised by the row are worth noting and rectifying, we must consider the possibility they are merely symptoms of a deeper systematic failure, as this article expertly presents. Beyond that, we encounter the issue of high-pay itself: should public sector workers earn anywhere near so much, even for such high-profile positions? Historically, the public sector has earned less wages in return for greater pension provisions and other benefits that were not enjoyed in equivalent jobs in the private sector. However, since the early-mid 2000s, public sector workers have on average had higher wages than their private counterparts.

 

What are the next steps?

S: The BBC will invariably cave to the demands of the presenters and raise their wages by a significant amount, which will be hailed as a great victory for feminism despite not bringing these, generally very well educated and privileged, women even close to the highest-earners overall. Meanwhile lower-class and unemployed women will continue to be targeted disproportionately by the BBC’s attack dogs at TV licensing. “Top talent” will continue to be paid corporate-level wages despite being in a publicly funded body. We will probably also get a number of naff documentaries about the fiasco airing within the next couple years.

N: Ideally, everyone who is being underpaid due to their gender or race or age would get a pay rise. I think this is unlikely – and I think it’s unlikely also that those potentially being overpaid will take a pay cut to even it out from the other direction (although there will always be some variation in pay in an organisation where roles are so varied and where public profile is part of what makes someone valuable). Because there isn’t a quick fix, I think the BBC just needs to ensure that it actively values its female and minority workers both financially and in terms of their on- and off-screen contributions to the same level that they would anyone else with comparable skills and a comparable workload. Part of it is getting to a point where female and BME talent attracts the same amount of interest as do their white and/or male counterparts so as to justify paying for their public regard – and this is a societal issue, one which the BBC cannot solve on its own.

 

Does it change your view of the BBC?

N: I was surprised, but in hindsight it is perhaps not-so-surprising, and therefore my view is not much changed. Despite its lambasting by those who object to the tiniest increase in diversity, you can see, just by watching, that the BBC is quite white, quite middle class and quite male. It’s got some great people outside those labels (and inside, for that matter), but it’s not a diverse paradise yet. This just clarified that.

S: Not especially. Whilst it provides further evidence that the BBC is far from a perfect organisation (quelle surprise), and illustrates that some civil servants and others on the taxpayer’s pound are given frankly extravagant wages for performances worth far less, it nonetheless does nothing to diminish the years of service the BBC has given us. In an ideal world perhaps some of the cash would be rerouted from top-tier wages (or those middle-managers who fail to successfully explain their role in one sentence) to the average techies and stagehands, but unfortunately that seems doubtful.

 

Final thoughts

S: Is this how public service was meant to be? When the BBC (and, I suppose, the NHS) was established as a public body, do we believe it ever went through the minds of the founders that public sector workers should be paid “competitive” wages with the private sector, “to retain top talent”? Or did they feel that the pride of doing a valuable duty to the public, along with generous retirement plans, was enough? For those who fetishize Old Labour individuals like Attlee, it is worth considering. Would he want a crisp-advertising footballer to be annually worth 11 times the Prime Minister? Food for thought.

N: In many ways, this has simply highlighted lots of problems that a lot of people already knew about, and reasserted who is truly valued in society, and who still needs to demand equality. It’s not particularly heartening, but perhaps it is good to be reminded every so often. If a high-powered BME BBC journalist, for instance, can’t be treated equally in the workplace, what hope is there for people without a public profile? It’s something than can be forgotten by some, and this kind of story helps bring those thoughts back to the fore.

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