BBC pay gap: diversity as big an issue as gender

19 Jul 2017  |  Raymond Snoddy 
BBC pay gap: diversity as big an issue as gender

While gender and lower female pay have received most attention, the new BBC salary list suggests that ethnic diversity is also an issue, writes Raymond Snoddy

By any standards it has been a remarkable few days for the advancement of the half of the population that happen to be women.

There were two significant, symbolic cracks in the glass ceiling when Jodie Whittaker became the first female Dr Who - even though The Sun failed to rise to the importance of the occasion in an appropriate way - and former EasyJet chief executive Carolyn McCall will become the first woman to run ITV.

At the same time up piped the Advertising Standards Authority with threats to toughen rules on ads that portray sexist stereotypes of gender roles.

Why, there is even talk of bans for ads suggesting an activity that is inappropriate for girls or boys, or family members creating a mess while a woman is seen as having the sole responsibility for cleaning it up.

There will now ensue a long debate about whether bans are the best way of promoting change in often subjective circumstances, rather than through the usual carrots and sticks of awards, mockery and criticism.

It was all an appropriate warm-up show for the main act - the BBC’s revelations of the names of all talent earning more than £150,000 a year from the Corporation - or at least those unable to pay themselves through a service company.

Former Culture Secretary John Whittingdale wanted to set the lifting of the veil at £450,000 a year but Prime Minister Theresa May insisted that it be £150,000, by chance the amount she earns herself.

This of course enabled the Daily Mail to fulminate about the nearly 96 broadcast stars who earn more than the Prime Minister.

Always be deeply suspicious of those who deploy the “earns more than the PM” argument.

Politicians seek the top job in their profession for power not money, their salaries are held artificially low and anyway, if they are any good at all, they make millions afterwards from speeches and memoirs.

The argument is particularly rich coming from Paul Dacre who earns more than 10 times the Prime Ministerial salary and who has seen off many Prime Ministers in his time as editor.

The argument in favour of disclosure of what the BBC pays top talent in news, sport and entertainment is clear. It is that the BBC, as a public service broadcaster funded by a compulsory licence fee, should have high standards of transparency - higher indeed than commercial broadcasters - and that the public has a right to know how their licence fees are used.

The downsides are even more obvious. The individuals involved face a torrid time on social media and there will inevitably be pandemonium caused when people doing similar jobs find they are being paid markedly different sums.

The usual law of politics will soon be at play - that of unintended consequences. A move intended to increase the downward pressure on salaries will have the opposite effect.

Top talent can be more easily poached when rivals will know precisely what it might take.

But there is one obvious benefit in disclosure - the fact we now know that only one third of the £150,000+ brigade are women, even though there have been advances in recent years.

The reasons that lie behind the gender pay gap are both obvious and historic. Men such as Chris Evans - £2.2 million - and Gary Lineker - £1.75 million - have been around for years and have had time to establish both their careers and salary structures.

Graham Norton’s relatively modest £850,000 does not include the money from his Friday night chat show which goes to So Television, his production company.

By comparison many of the higher paid women, and many of those who miss the £150,000 cut, are relatively more recent arrivals.

Overall there are 25 men on the list of those receiving more than £250,000 compared to nine women.

The new transparency, in the spirit of Dr Who and ITV, should apply pressure for greater gender fairness to rule in future and that, on balance, makes disclosure a positive development despite the mayhem caused.

While gender and lower female pay have received most attention, the new pay lists suggest that diversity is also an issue.

Another disparity fault line has opened up between white stars and lower pay for those from a black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds.

George Alagiah, Trevor Nelson and Jason Mohammad are the highest paid BAME stars on between £250,000 and £300,000.

BBC news presenter Mishel Hussain is the highest paid female from a BAME background.

Despite the nod in the direction of BAME stars in the 96-strong BBC list, this week’s headlines about rising woman, and stars' pay, has tended to overshadow that other issue of basic fairness in broadcasting: diversity.

The day before the star numbers were released, comedian Sir Lenny Henry returned to the fray at a meeting in Parliament to highlight what he called the danger of “fake diversity”.

There had been considerable progress in recent years in on-screen diversity, something more representative of the current UK population and all broadcasters now have a diversity policy.

Yet for Sir Lenny it remained “fake diversity” when all those behind the screen from the commissioners to editors, directors, producers and cameramen, showed no such diversity.

“If the pickers and deciders remain the same then nothing has really changed,” Sir Lenny argued.

Ofcom rapidly became the main target at the meeting, which was also addressed by former DCMS minister Labour’s David Lammy, Baroness Bonham-Carter for the Lib-Dems and Conservative MP Helen Grant.

The Ofcom problem can be easily defined - the new regulator of the BBC will set targets for on-screen diversity, but it has decided it would be “inappropriate at this moment” to set targets for diversity behind the camera.

In a remarkable week for the politics of gender in the media, and in the shape of Sir Lenny Henry, diversity too, Ofcom is going to come under sustained pressure to turn its gaze behind the camera as well.

And rightly so.

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FredPerkins, CEO, Information TV Ltd on 19 Jul 2017
“Aren't we in danger of seriously going nuts on political correctness and quotas ? Take Wimbledon. Women just aren't equipped physically to compete directly with men. Their grunts at every shot don't disguise the fact that that women's matches aren't as exciting or entertaining as men's. On what basis are they entitled to equality in financial rewards, when they can't deliver the commercial return required by the organisers in what is a fiercely commercially-driven sector?

Translated to the TV sector, it seems that ability is becoming less important than gender, ethnicity and who knows what extra parameters get thrown in under the guise of diversity, in the cause of PC. So we have Soaps with scenarios that bear little relationship to what any of us recognise as reality, with scripts written to address PC issues... and overlaid with the need to represent by quota all the 'right' representations to meet the PC agenda of the government of the day.

This sounds like a totalitarian state where government takes over all employment agencies and deploys resources strictly by quotas.

"Stars" . are surely like antiques. They have no absolute or definable value, other than what someone is prepared to pay to own them at the time they are available for sale.

Are we headed for an environment where diversity overrules ability? Is it really more important to ensure that the cameraman, director or scriptwriter fits into the gender/disabled/ethnicity target, rather than the ability to do the job?

Really scary....”

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