This is a very different blog post to the one that I thought I would write on the matter of the BBC’s payment to their ‘top talent’, revealed yesterday as part of their Annual Report. I am a staunch defender of the BBC, gladly pay my license fee, and consider their output in so many different spheres to be unparalleled. I thought that I would be writing an article defending the ‘talent’ fees, saying that I was uncomfortable with their release and defending the BBC’s actions.
Whilst there’ll still be a bit of that in the article below, as I look for caveats and explanations for the cold numbers, the one aspect of the reveal that genuinely shocked me was the wide gender pay gap. This is unacceptable in 2017 and it is my hope that the forced reveal of the BBC’s fees can lead to reform in the BBC and across the media industry (as, let’s face it, the BBC will not be alone with this terrible disparity of payment between men and women). Whilst we will come onto this in due course, let’s begin by ‘zooming out’ and looking at the background to yesterday’s announcement.
Why the reveal?
It is widely considered by the industry as a whole that the forced ‘reveal’ of talent fees (as part of the new BBC Royal Charter) is unhelpful – it will lead to inflation across the board of what talent is paid. There are two sides to this particular argument – on one level, you have to accept that the BBC (despite its status as a publicly-owned broadcaster) exists in a private marketplace alongside ITV, Sky and many others. Therefore, it simply must operate on the same terms to these broadcasters when it comes to ‘commercial’ properties – sports rights, talent and other such things. ITV are beholden to their shareholders only – if they feel it is right to pay And & Dec more than £12 million per year, and their shareholders agree that this is the correct course of action for the business, then that is what will happen. Whilst the BBC’s funding model is different, it exists in the same market as ITV and thus it needs to play by the same rules.
The alternative argument is that if the BBC is using public money, that public money needs to be justified. They have revealed executive payments for a number of years (ever since Mark Byford’s pay-out back in 2010 has executive pay been a burden for the BBC’s public image) and the Conservative government has now dictated ‘talent’ fees to also be revealed. ‘The public needs to know to whom their money is going,’ the argument goes, and whilst there is an element of truth to this, I think it is not controversial to say that this is a policy brought in to deliberately weaken the BBC against commercial rivals. John Whittingdale (former Culture Secretary, responsible for this Charter Renewal negotiation) clearly believes that the BBC, as a public broadcaster, should be smaller, leaner and less competitive with commercial rivals. That is his (and his party’s) ideological position and it is from this background that we saw yesterday’s announcement.
Whilst it is perfectly desirable that the BBC is given a greater degree of scrutiny, this scrutiny should not directly lead to a weakening of the BBC in the commercial marketplace in which they operate, and there is a very real chance of the ‘talent’ reveal doing this.
Why so much money?
Let me tell you a true story.
The year is 2006 and Chris Evans is returning to the public consciousness following his well-publicised fall from grace in the early-00s. He currently hosts a weekly show on Radio 2, which is becoming well-received by the listeners. All is going swimmingly, when he is called into a meeting by his agent. As Evans documents in his 2010 book Memoirs of a Fruitcake, it is with an unnamed commercial radio manager:
In a nutshell, [the radio station manager] wanted me to take over the reins of something that was once great but was currently fading, in an attempt to make it great again. I thought about what he had said for all of a second before informing him that though I was honestly flattered, I was very happy working for the BBC and although I was only appearing on a weekly basis, I hoped it would lead to more. It wasn’t about the money so much as the platform. Unpeturbed, he then told us about the money. Suddenly it did matter. No wonder he had been cocksure, with that showstopper up his sleeve.
Now here is the thing. I loved my Radio 2 show. I’d received more-than-favourable reviews and I could feel the audience beginning to forgive me my mistakes of the past. I also felt a deep loyalty to Lesley for believing in me, not to mention a growing bond with Helen, who had given up the chance of working on much bigger shows to help me with mine. But the job the man was offering was one of the best in the land, and for a truckload of cash.
Evans, Chris. Memoirs of a Fruitcake (pp. 243-244). HarperCollins Publishers. Kindle Edition.
To cut a long story short, Chris Evans went to his Radio 2 bosses (the aforementioned Lesley Douglas and Helen Thomas) with news of his offer from commercial radio. In return, they offered him the daily ‘Drivetime’ show with the opportunity to take over from Terry Wogan at breakfast if all went according to plan – and the rest is history. There is no doubt that Evans was offered less money by the BBC, but he remained at the Beeb because he enjoyed the platform and loved the radio station.
(It is widely considered that this unnamed radio show was the Capital Breakfast Show, then the domain of Johnny Vaughan. As it happened, Vaughan remained as host of the show for a number of years.)
It’s quite clear that had Evans taken the offer from commercial radio, he would have been paid more than he is even today by the BBC. In order to remain competitive with star talent like Chris Evans, the BBC do need to pay fees that are ‘in step’, if lower, than commercial media. The BBC have the platform and the reputation, but those alone are not enough for talent. Talent do need to be paid a competitive rate, or they would all desert the BBC for commercial pastures.
This is where I thought my article would finish – as you can see, I don’t have any particular problem with the money paid to ‘talent’ by the BBC, given the way the media industry operates. But I didn’t account for the astonishing pay gap between men and women. I was shocked to see the figures, and was determined to do some further analysis behind these disquieting figures.
The Gender Pay Gap
The headline figures do not look good. They do not look good at all.
- Chris Evans (the highest paid male at the BBC) earns over £2,000,000
- Claudia Winkleman (the highest paid female) earns below £500,000
- Winkleman is joint eighth in the ‘rich list’
- The top seven are all male
It’s worth spelling those facts out because there is no excusing them. They are shocking and I hope the level of public outrage that has been seen over the last 24 hours will encourage things to be rectified across the media industry as this is simply not good enough. End of.
But, for my sins, I am naturally inclined to think critically about these kind of emotional reactions (as I had when seeing the figures), and the first question that springs to mind is, ‘are there any reasonable justifications for this’?
The first obvious answer is that Chris Evans works very hard and does more hours than Claudia Winkleman. He is contracted to Radio 2 for 35 weeks a year to do a three-hour breakfast show. It is the most listened-to breakfast show in Europe and the highest profile programme on BBC Radio in the entertainment genre.
In addition, for the year that the report covers, he was responsible (as lead presenter and creative lead) for one of the BBC’s most important entertainment franchises, Top Gear. Naturally, this role would have been well-paid. The BBC needed Chris Evans to take over Top Gear more than Chris Evans needed the BBC to ask him. Given all the utter nonsense that he had to put up with from the press with regards his private and professional life in the first half of 2016, you can see how this figure begins to be justified. Evans was beginning work at 6am at Radio 2, finishing at Top Gear at 3.30pm, all whilst doing lots of high-profile filming abroad and the press reporting his every move in a negative light.
We now, of course, know that Top Gear with Evans did not work out and he is no longer responsible for the show. It remains to be seen whether or not this will impact his earnings when next year’s report comes out. Equally, we know that Matt LeBlanc was paid by BBC Worldwide for his part in Top Gear, as he does not feature in the list. Therefore, it is possible that this figure for Chris Evans is only for his Radio 2 work and he was paid for Top Gear through BBC Worldwide. I would consider this unlikely, but we will only know for certain when next year’s report is released.
In comparison, Claudia Winkleman hosts Strictly Come Dancing for three months a year, she is regular host of the Film programme and hosts a weekly Radio 2 arts programme. I am sure that she has other commitments, which I don’t know of, but she is hardly as ubiquitous as Evans and nor is her work as high-profile, although Strictly is clearly a very important show for the BBC. In a sense, this excuses the pay differential.
Except it doesn’t.
Why isn’t there a female across the BBC with the portfolio and profile of Chris Evans? Or Gary Lineker? Or Huw Edwards?
I am convinced that the problem isn’t really that women are paid less than men at the BBC to do the same job (although I have no doubt that this does go on and is inexcusable). No, the problem is that men are still being given the ‘plum jobs’ and are being rewarded handsomely for it.
The second critical question to these figures that I asked myself was, ‘Is this an anomaly?’ ‘Has there previously been a female who has earned more than Winkleman does now?’
I can’t think of one (if you can, please comment below!) – whilst previous doyens of BBC light entertainment such as Jeremy Clarkson and Terry Wogan would have been on this list in years gone by, I can’t think of a female who would have been.
Therefore, I see the pay as a symptom of women not being given the same wide portfolio as men at the BBC. And when they do, they must be paid equally.
Now, gender isn’t the only gap here. Gary Lineker is clearly paid more than other BBC Sport presenters because he is a former England footballer, doesn’t ‘need’ to do the BBC job (he is not a journalist by trade) and he has become a very important BBC face. Whilst Sue Barker is an excellent television presenter (technically superior to Lineker in many ways), she does not have the same profile and therefore it is unexpected that she would not quite receive the same pay packet. This is a sad indictment of the profile of women’s tennis (the sport from which Barker is a former professional) versus men’s football. But Barker should be high up on that list as a principal presenter for BBC Sport and she isn’t, which is deeply disquieting.
I am not pretending, incidentally, that gender is the only problem. The lack of BAME personnel is also disturbing and the BBC needs to address this in the same manner as the gender gap.
It’s easy to say that the solution to the ‘talent list’ gender problem is simply to ‘pay women the same as men’. Well, yes, of course. I am not arguing against that.
But if the BBC paid their female talent the same as they pay their male talent on a pro-rata basis, then the list wouldn’t look hugely different. The real problem is one of superiority of profile for men. Chris Evans is paid the most because he is the most high-profile (on a pro-rata basis) BBC entertainment presenter. Why isn’t there a woman with a similar portfolio to him who earns the same?
That is the question that needs to be answered. We can’t see a solution overnight, but we have to hope that with each passing year of the BBC’s Annual Report being published, the disparities decrease. And, moreover, we need to see more females in high-profile entertainment and news positions across the BBC – and we need to ensure that they are paid properly for it, too.