By Sam Saunders
This time last week, the BBC was forced by the government to publish the identities and salaries of their top ‘talent’ earners, here defined as those people who earn over £150,000 in the corporation. All in all, 96 people earnt more than that sum for the year 2015-16, with Chris Evans coming in as the top earner, with a salary of between £2.2 and £2.5 million and Claudia Winkleman as the top earning woman at the corporation. Her salary clocks in at between £450,000 and £500,000. Whilst these figures are of course enormous, they should not come as a surprise to any of us, as they are simply representative of today’s market and reflect the pay that I’d wager many other stars earn at say, Sky or ITV. Indeed, it was recently revealed that the editor of the Daily Mail, Paul Dacre, earns around £1.5 million a year, showing these figures are hardly atypical of the modern showbiz market. Furthermore, Gary Lineker, who is paid around £1.7 million for his work on Match of the Day and BBC Sport, has claimed that he has turned down numerous offers from other broadcasters that include salary packages highly exceeding his BBC pay. This would not surprise me, as Lineker is probably paid a larger amount for presenting BT Sport’s Champions League coverage than his BBC work. So, whilst Lineker obviously prefers to work for the BBC, it’s become apparent in my view that the BBC must pay their top talent these figures, or the less loyal would simply take up positions with other broadcasters. It is also rather unfair on the BBC that they have been forced to reveal this information in a way that no other broadcaster or company would be. Therefore, the BBC has come under fire for certain issues highlighted by these figures, which I believe are probably prevalent in many organisations across the country.
The most shocking of these are certainly the disparities in the salaries of women and ethnic minority pay when compared to white men at the BBC. The highest paid woman, Claudia Winkleman, was paid around five times less than the highest earning man, and there are other notable absentees from the list, such as Emily Maitlis, despite the fact that her co-presenter on Newsnight, Evan Davis, does appear on the list. Similarly, John Humphrys, presenter of Mastermind and the Today programme on Radio 4, earns in excess of £600,000, whereas co-presenter and newsreader Michel Husain earns more than £200,000 and Sarah Montague, another co-presenter on the Today programme, doesn’t make the list. A similar story is seen with ethnic minority presenters, as the highest paid newsreader, Huw Edwards, had a salary of more than £550,000 whereas George Alagiah made in excess of £250,000. And I know that of course it is difficult to compare many of the salaries, as Huw Edwards is often the face of the BBC news team during special reports and has fronted many documentaries, but the pay gap is still worryingly large.
Whilst I disagree with the policy that has forced the BBC to reveal the list of its highest earners, if it leads to some actual change in the difference between the pay of female and male stars and those from ethnic minority backgrounds, then I am all for it. I only think that the overriding emotion that should be drawn from these figures should not be shock at the highest salaries (although you could be forgiven in Chris Evans’ case) but a sense of injustice. If this can pressure the government, the BBC and other companies to change the ungrounded pay inequalities in Britain, then it can only be a good thing.