The BBC can’t have it both ways. It can’t claim to be a special place that does unique work and then fail so miserably when it comes to basic fairness and equality. The publication last week – forced by the government – of 96 names who earn £150k plus was 100% in the public interest and now has put the BBC right in the centre of a storm about equal pay and the treatment of women in the workplace. It can no longer be considered a special case, worthy of our admiration, even devotion, if it doesn’t sort itself out, and quickly.
Like so many people in the UK, I am huge supporter of the BBC and love the bits of it I love, a lot. I roll my eyes at some of the things it does with my licence fee but I am yet to hear of a better way of funding it. It is a good thing and it must be allowed to continue to do its thing. But it must accept its responsibility as a receiver of huge quantities of public money and even huger quantities of public support. It must now clear up its equal pay mess. I believe that clean up is much easier to do than many have suggested over the last few days.
There has been far too much talk of ‘benchmarking’ and of the need for the BBC to compete in the market when attracting and retaining the best people. Whilst I accept that there is a market for employing “talent”, the big stars who present, or star in, its biggest programmes, and the market pays very well, the BBC is simply overpaying. The reasons for individual disparities between some men and women – some even doing exactly the same job such as John Humprhys and Sarah Montague and Mishal Husain – may reflect their respective time served in the organisation – Humprhys being employed for 30 years – but it is clearly wrong, ugly and disgraceful for these differences to exist.
There is a simple answer. Bring his salary in line with his female colleagues – offering him a new contract on less money – and if he doesn’t accept, let him go to ITV, Sky or elsewhere. The reality is that many of these big stars would not leave in any case – they often love the BBC as much as we the viewing and listening public do – and if they do leave, they leave. Big deal. It is not the end of the world. As an aside, Mr Humphrys should have been asked to leave some time ago. It’s time to call the bluff of some of these big stars and get these salaries in line.
The BBC is not commercial TV or radio – it needs to compete not on salaries but on other things; quality, journalistic and production integrity, prestige and on the simple but fundamental difference that the BBC can make because of its unique status and no other broadcaster can. It needs to start asking ‘would you do the job for less?’ and if so it should bring these salaries into lie with each other – especially for the same job, exactly as the 1970 Equal Pay Act envisioned.
The BBC is paying too much for too little. It needs to stop. Well done to the government for pressing the BBC to publish these figures. Well done for letting fresh air and light in for us all to see. Well done to Jane Garvey and colleagues for pressing the BBC to do better on equal pay. The challenge has been laid down to Tony Hall now – he needs to step up and deliver so that the BBC so many of us love will stlll be there for future generations. Surely Gary Lineker can take a pay cut to make that happen. If he can’t, give him a red card and promote someone from the reserves.