Tom Peterkin: The BBC must tackle unequal pay

Laura Kuenssberg is paid less than many other high earners but has a far harder job, says Tom Peterkin.
Laura Kuenssberg is paid less than many other high earners but has a far harder job, says Tom Peterkin.
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‘The BBC is really hurting,” declared Jeremy Vine as the storm erupted over the big salaries lavished on its “stars”.

The Beeb may have been hurting, but any personal pain felt by Mr Vine is likely to have been cushioned by the not inconsiderable package he receives courtesy of the corporation.

For presenting his lunchtime Radio 2 programme, Mr Vine receives a cool £749,000 – a salary of quite breath-taking proportions for most of the members of the public who contribute to his phone-in show.

But hang on, it isn’t quite as simple as that. Defenders of the BBC’s largesse might make the point that Mr Vine’s contribution to the BBC is more than simply chairing a radio discussion programme and spinning a few discs.

He’s also on the telly –his pay covers his stints as the Eggheads quiz-master. Admittedly it is far easier to ask the questions than answer them, but perhaps his employer has calculated that his knack for gentle badinage with Judith Keppel makes the Vine brand something worth splurging licence fee cash on.

Back in the real world, however, there was a very different take on the great BBC pay stushi.

“Are you embarrassed to pick up your pay cheque?” was one of the questions put to Mr Vine by an angry member of the public who rang his radio show on the day his salary was published.

“Errrr … (pause) … I just feel very lucky every day is the answer to that,” was Mr Vine’s non-answer to Harry Jones, a former miner from Glamorgan and no stranger to hard shifts.

Undeterred, the Welsh miner proved himself to be an effective inquisitor (perhaps the BBC talent scouts should think about giving him a highly paid radio phone in show).

“Do you think you are over-paid?” he asked. “I don’t really want to answer that because I don’t think it’s the moment for me,” was Mr Vine’s rather lame response.

Displaying a journalistic talent for getting the nub of the issue which would have done either of the broadcasting Jeremys (Vine or Paxman) proud, Mr Jones signed off in devastating fashion.

“How can you justify the amount of ­money you are earning? All of you are grossly overpaid,” he thundered.

Later viewers of the evening bulletins were treated to the strange spectacle of BBC journalists reporting on the controversy engulfing the organisation they were working for.

As the BBC bent over backwards to report the story in its usual balanced manner, there was no escape that imbalance was at the very heart of this story of pecuniary excess.

The publication of the salaries of the 96 BBC employees earning more than £150,000 revealed a troubling gender pay gap and a race divide. The list was dominated by men. The £499,000 earned by the highest paid women Claudia Winkleman of Strictly Come Dancing fame was way behind the biggest male earners like the disc jockey Chris Evans (£2.2 million), Gary Lineker (£1.79 million) and Graham Norton (£899,000). Furthermore, the £2.2m paid to Chris Evans (the highest earner of all those on the list) was roughly the same as all black and minority ethnic high-earners put together.

For an organisation famed for being politically correct, something has gone seriously awry when it comes to equality.

Take, for example, the case of Laura Kuenssberg, the BBC’s incredibly able and industrious political editor. She took home near a quarter of a million pounds last year – a formidable amount by most standards. Yet her salary is dwarfed by the almost half a million earned by Matt Baker of Countryfile and The One Show (the programme that people have on in the background while they fiddle with their remote to find something more interesting).

Mr Baker’s facility for presenting unchallenging television programmes cannot be compared with the instant analysis and round-the-clock reporting required from someone in Ms Kuenssberg’s position during these complex political times.

Not only does Ms Kuenssberg rise to these challenges admirably, but she also has to put up with the appalling online abuse. So much so that she had to be given personal protection during the general election.

Of course, talents like Ms Kuenssberg should be well-rewarded and there is validity in the argument that big wages have to be paid in order to stop the BBC big names from being poached by their commercial rivals.

But in an austerity era that has seen falling real wages for most people, the sight of former England strikers picking up almost £2m a year for bantering about the footie can be hard to take.

The BBC remains a hugely impressive organisation with a variety of output that is the envy of other broadcasting outfits. But it has got in a real pickle in they iniquitous way it dishes out the wonga to some of its biggest names.

Both the Prime Minister Theresa May and Culture Secretary Karen Bradley have expressed surprise that men are treated so much more generously than women.

Already the UK government has indicated that some of the big male earners should take a pay cut. Otherwise the corporation will be forced to publish the names of all those earning more than £100,000 – a move that could expose more of its high-profile employees to embarrassment.

The BBC should take action. Doing so would restore some of its credibility and show that it recognises that what many of its “stars” do ain’t exactly rocket science.

That was a point made by veteran Today broadcaster and Mastermind presenter John Humphrys, who at least had the decency to be mildly embarrassed by his £619,000 salary.

Mr Humphrys admitted he was “not worth tuppence ha’penny” compared with “a doctor who saves a child’s life or a fireman who rushes into Grenfell Tower”. Quite.