Behind the Headlines: Big Boys Club?

Behind the Headlines: Big Boys Club?

Olivia Crawford

For the first time in the corporation’s history, the BBC has revealed the salaries of its highest paid talent. Olivia Crawford reports on the media’s reaction in this week’s Behind The Headlines.

What happened?

For the first time in the corporation’s history, the BBC has revealed the salaries of its highest paid talent. Published earlier this week, the list features 96 BBC stars who earn over £150,000 a year. Chris Evans topped the register with a yearly salary of £2.2 million, followed closely by Gary Lineker who receives £1.75 million a year. All in all, the total bill for the 96 stars amounts to £28.7 million.

BBC bosses were forced to disclose these figures under the terms of the new BBC Royal Charter, which was introduced earlier this year. The Government argued this measure was introduced for transparency purposes, as disclosed salaries refer to pay from the licence fee alone. However, the list does not take into account income from independent production companies or the BBC’s commercial arm, BBC Worldwide, which has seen stars such as Graham Norton and Matt Le Blanc paid over the £150,000 threshold.


Why is it important?

Directly funded by UK taxpayers through the licence fee, there is a certain expectation of the BBC to produce exceptional content and provide an excellent service to the public. At face value, the salaries look extravagant, especially given the ongoing debate over the public sector pay cap. This was referenced by the Prime Minister earlier this week during PMQs, where she commented, “Some people in the public sector are very well paid!” However, as voiced by Bloomberg, these salaries also highlight that BBC talent is largely underpaid in comparison with their competitors.

The real issue exposed here is the list’s lack of diversity. The top six highest earners are all white men and only a third is female. Claudia Winkleman, the only woman to make the top ten, earns five times less than Chris Evans. More broadly speaking in the UK, the gender pay gap is 18% and in 2016, Deloitte estimated the gender pay gap won’t close until 2069. It’s an issue which is by no means limited to the BBC, but the unveiling of who earns what at the corporation has certainly exposed the divide for the public and media to scrutinise.


What’s the reaction been?

From the Guardian to The Mail, the story has received blanket, national and international attention. The Guardian headline on Thursday led with ‘BBC facing backlash from female stars after gender pay gap revealed’ and the BBC itself reported ‘BBC pay: Male stars earn more than female talent’.

On social media, senior female broadcasters began using the hashtag #notonthelist, in response to accusations of a gender pay gap – the hashtag trended in the United Kingdom on Wednesday, as the public joined in the campaign, criticising the BBC. Indeed, high-profile women at the broadcaster have already publicly addressed the issue, including Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis. At a recent TechUK conference she joked “you’re an industry doing so well, soon you’ll be able to afford a BBC man”.

Politicians have of course had their say too. Harriet Harman, veteran Labour MP and former shadow culture secretary, called on the BBC to solve the “discrimination and unfairness against women”. Corbyn, has also promised to cut the biggest pay checks if Labour is elected in the next election.


Best Headline

“AWKWARD! Louise Minchin shoots Dan Walker an unimpressed look when he says ‘today is going to be a fun day’ as it’s revealed only HE made the BBC rich list” – The Sun, 19.07.2017


What’s next?

The dust is still yet to settle. Employment lawyers are now considering legal action against the corporation, who may in breach of equal pay laws. In addition, murmurs in the media world have speculated that male BBC talent could be asked to take a pay cut.

In the immediate aftermath, it is possible that other broadcasters could use this as an opportunity to criticise the corporation’s record on gender and racial diversity – releasing their own, more credible performance history in this area. For now, the BBC has released a statement which takes a more long-term approach – “By 2020 we will have equality between men and women on air, and we will also have the pay gap sorted by then too.”

In many ways this is just another chapter in a long line of disputes concerning the BBC and its licence fee. This new information provides yet another opportunity for the Government and other broadcasters to call for the fee to be scrapped and resources scaled back.