Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland BBC presenters Wendy Austin and Anita McVeigh join backlash against gender pay gap

By Adrian Rutherford

One of Northern Ireland's best-known female presenters has signed a letter demanding an end to the gender pay gap at the BBC.

Wendy Austin is among 40 high-profile women who have written to director-general Tony Hall urging him to end the sex "discrimination" revealed in a list of stars' salaries.

The frank, open letter has been signed by some of the BBC's biggest female names, including Clare Balding, Victoria Derbyshire and Angela Rippon.

Northern Ireland-born Annita McVeigh, a presenter on the BBC news channel, also added her backing to the demand to sort out pay inequality "now" rather than by Lord Hall's 2020 target.

The unprecedented show of anger follows mounting controversy over the stark difference in pay for the BBC's star men and women.

The salaries, published in the corporation's annual report last Wednesday, revealed two-thirds of those earning more than £150,000 are male, with Radio 2 DJ Chris Evans the top-paid on between £2.2m and £2.25m.

Claudia Winkleman was the highest-paid female celebrity, earning between £450,000 and £500,000 last year.

Yesterday Lord Hall said work was under way to close disparities between how much men and women are paid.

Ms Austin (65), awarded an MBE for services to broadcasting in 2012, presented Radio Ulster's flagship Talkback show for five years. In 2014 she was moved to front a new Sunday show, Inside Business.

Meanwhile, Co Armagh-born Ms McVeigh, began her career in the late 1990s with the BBC's Newsline programme.

In 2002 she moved to BBC network news, and is now a regular face on its round-the-clock news channel.

Both signed the letter, co-ordinated by BBC Radio 4 Woman's Hour host Jane Garvey, which urges the BBC to "do the right thing" to stamp out its tradition of paying women vastly smaller salaries compared with those of their male counterparts.

Other signatories include Wimbledon presenter Sue Barker, BBC Radio 4 Today programme journalists Mishal Husain and Sarah Montague, and BBC Breakfast regular Sally Nugent.

The women said they would be "prepared to meet" Mr Hall "so that future generations of women do not face this kind of discrimination".

In response to the letter, Lord Hall said "work is already well under way" to resolve the gap.

"There will be wider consultation meetings over the next two months so we can accelerate further change in the autumn. I would obviously value your contribution and thinking as part of this process," he added.

"When figures are published next year, I am confident they will look very different.

"When other organisations publish their gender pay data by next April, I want the BBC to be one of the best performers when comparisons are made."

Presenter Andrew Marr, who is paid up to £449,999, said he received a high salary because he had been around for a long time.

Speaking on his Sunday morning show, he said: "People like me, I have been around for a long time, we get paid more because we have got experience.

"I'm a bit grizzled, going a bit weird around the edges.

"But if I had been born Audrey Marr rather than Andrew Marr, I would have been out 10 years ago.

"There's a real lack of older women on the screen."

Former Conservative minister Anna Soubry, a one-time television presenter, said she kept a "very beady eye" on pay when she was a mother of the chapel at a branch of the National Union of Journalists, adding that there needed to be "fairness".

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said he would "sign the letter with them" and called on the BBC to "look very hard at itself".

"This gender pay gap is appalling," he said.

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