In a different league – pay gaps at the BBC

The ongoing row over the pay packets of the BBC’s elite presenters has provoked self-inflicted pay cuts for current affairs stars like Nick Robinson, John Humphrys and Huw Edwards. It has also provided listeners with some odd programming, as presenters like Mishal Hussein cover the issue of their own supposed underpayment.

Those arguing for equal pay regularly cite the disparities between the pay of stars like Claire Balding and Gary Lineker, two of the BBC’s top sports anchors.

Personally, I feel Claire Balding deserves more money than Mr. Lineker. She has more on screen personality than affable Gary, who – while astute – is dry and hardly irreplaceable. Through her presenting work outside the world of sport she has also shown great depth and versatility. Mr. Lineker on the other hand, has limited his extra circular activities to flogging crisps and featuring shirtless on giant billboards for TM Lewin.

Gary Lineker may be guilty of deliberately perpetuating the body image issues of sensitive commuters everywhere, as he simultaneously promotes high fat foods while his buff torso looms over the nation’s stations, but is he also the beneficiary of institutional sexism? No.

There are three main reasons Gary Lineker is paid more than Claire Balding; He hosts the BBC’s biggest sports show, Match of the Day. He is a household name. Though well-known, Claire Balding is not in the same league. He is more established, having been high profile for far longer.

The same can be said of John Humphrys, who is a far more established, recognisable and – I would argue – distinctive presence on the airwaves, than all his fellow Today presenters put together.

Mishal Husain, Sarah Montague and Nick Robinson, are all entirely competent and recognisable, but they just don’t have the Victor Meldrew as cage fighter appeal that John Humphries does.

Take a look at the pay disparities between the BBC’s elite male presenters. Nick Robinson’s £250,000 a year is dwarfed by the £650,000 salary earned by Humphrys, or the £750,000 stacked up by Jeremy Vine.

Is Nick Robinson less of a man than Vine and Humphreys? Or are the issues underlying their pay differentials really about talent, notoriety and the how hard their respective agents have bargained.

This is the conclusion drawn by PwC this week, who having undertaken an assessment of the pay gap at the BBC, announced that “logical and non-gender related reasons” account for pay differences between on-air employees.

It cannot be said that the BBC pay-gap – at least at the top – is a structural issue, because there appears to be no structure operating whatsoever. The agents of newsreaders, presenters and entertainers all freely bargain for as much money as they can, creating radical disparities between colleagues often working side by side regardless of their gender.

It is somewhat unedifying to see figures like Mishal Husain arguing they are not being treated fairly, when taking home over £200,000 a year from the publicly funded broadcaster, as austerity continues.

With the expiration of the long running, big money contracts secured long ago by the likes of Humphrys, this issue will correct itself somewhat over time. However, unless pay is formally structured, disparities will always be present when people are tuning in to be informed, educated and entertained.


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