Gabby Logan, Kirsty Wark, Fiona Bruce and Victoria Derbyshire are among the 45 female presenters who have signed an open letter to the BBC director general Tony Hall calling for immediate pay equality, after it was revealed two-thirds of top earners on the broadcaster’s TV and radio channels are men.
Mr Corbyn said yesterday that he would stand with them in demanding the “astronomical gap” is achieved with no delay – and the Labour leader said the wider problem must be addressed throughout the country.
Asked if he would back the letter, he said: “I would sign the letter with them. I think the BBC needs to look very hard at itself.”
But speaking to the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Mr Corbyn added: “It’s not just at the top level. That gets all the news – the BBC gets all the news, big companies get all the news. What about those working in the NHS, those working in local government, those working in small companies where the women know they’re being paid less than a man doing more or less equally the same job? That’s the area of discrimination that is so serious in our society.”
Mr Corbyn has previously faced criticism from within his own party over his record on advancing women’s rights, with the party’s former deputy leader Harriet Harman saying earlier this year: “We’ve been in parliament together for a long time and I’ve never seen him push forward women’s rights.”
But speaking yesterday, Mr Corbyn said: “We need to have a gender pay audit done in every company… We’d also look at the 20-to-one ratio between the chief executive and the lowest paid staff in every public sector organisation.”
Asked if that should apply to top actors such as Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch, Mr Corbyn said: “If he’s employed directly by the BBC, yes. If he’s employed by somebody else, that’s a contractual matter between the BBC and somebody else.”
Mr Corbyn was asked about pay inequality after the publication of the open letter to Lord Hall, which was also signed by Clare Balding, Jenni Murray, Mishal Husain and Emily Maitlis among others. The text said the problem had “languished for too long” and was far more widespread than among top earners.
Lord Hall was told in the letter: “You have said that you will ‘sort’ the gender pay gap by 2020, but the BBC has known about the pay disparity for years. We all want to go on the record to call upon you to act now.”
The government’s Equalities Minister, Justine Greening, agreed that greater transparency would help.
She said: “Gender pay gap reporting is one way that we can really shine a light on the companies that are doing a good job but also the organisations that have got a very, very long way to go.” She said it was “impossible not to be shocked” by the gap at the BBC.