Belfast Telegraph

BBC values men above women, with your cash

By Finola Meredith

Here's your starter for ten. What's the difference between news presenters Fiona Bruce and Huw Edwards, news anchors Mishal Husain and John Humphrys, and sports presenters Clare Balding and Gary Lineker? The answers, respectively, are in the region of £200,000, £400,000 or, in the case of Balding and Lineker, an extraordinary £1.5m pounds.

These are just some of the highly embarrassing revelations on top pay at the BBC.

And it's abundantly, incontrovertibly and shamefully clear that the female 'talent', as the BBC calls its presenters, are losing out badly to the blokes.

All five of the highest paid stars are men, with the smug Chris Evans coming in at a maximum of £2.25m, which would explain the source of that characteristic self-satisfaction.

Gary Lineker, at number two on the fat salary list, earns close to six times as much as the highest paid female sport contributor, Sue Barker.

Claudia Winkleman, in the £450,000 to £499,000 bracket, is the highest paid female employee overall.

And it's not so very different behind the scenes. Of those senior executives earning over £550,000, 100% are men.

Above £450,000, the testosterone is minimally diluted, at 89%, while of those on a salary over £350,000 the figure stands at 68% male. That's still an awful lot of ties and trousers.

The obvious question is - why? What is it about the BBC that it values its men, in such generous financial terms, so much more than its women?

Actually, a lot of it goes back to that odd term 'the talent'.

The BBC is full of these weird linguistic carry-overs from the past, such as 'recce', the name for a visit to a possible outside broadcast location.

'Talent' is from the same era: it's a music hall kind of word, evoking a long-ago world of light entertainment where women consistently played a decorative second-place role to the leading men, who were the dominant performers, swaggering in the footlights and calling all the shots.

However enthusiastically the BBC has embraced the demands of the contemporary world - eagerly responsive to social media, and politically correct to a fault - it has never really left behind the idea of the main man.

Chris Evans and Gary Lineker, Graham Norton and Jeremy Vine, Huw Edwards and John Humphrys - all different performers but they all have the swagger which defines the main man. Each one of them - yes, even Edwards and Humphrys - has a hint of that old music hall strut.

But what is that's so much more valuable than the presenting abilities of their female contemporaries? Why is Gary Lineker's 'talent' worth vast sums more than that of Sue Barker? Why is Lineker considered one-and-a-half million times better than Clare Balding?

The truth is, there's no good reason at all, it's just the way it's always been done. Authority resides in maleness, or maleness resides in authority. Either way, the women don't get a proper look-in.

Now that these stark financial facts have been revealed, the BBC will be under pressure, and could face claims for sex discrimination by female stars, unless they can show legitimate reasons for such glaring discrepancies in pay, repeated right across the upper echelons of the organisation.

It's hard to see what such reasons could be, though no doubt BBC lawyers are rushing to assemble a compelling defence.

Some may say that none of this matters very much when we're talking about presenters who are paid such astronomically high wages, so far removed from the earnings of the average person, that disparities between them are irrelevant.

If you're struggling to pay the bills, then maybe you won't care too much whether the chattering face on the television happens to be male or female, or happens to earn £300,000 or £900,000.

But I believe that all of us should care, however much or little we earn, because the BBC is doing this with our money, and that means they're doing it in our name.

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