Equality or propaganda?

03 July 2019 | Liz Bowen
Ever since the BBC published its list of highest paid stars back in 2017, the furore around the gender pay gap and general equality across the organisation (and many, many others) has continued to rage.

But over the past two years, more and more women have been chosen to front some of the BBC’s most popular TV and radio shows; we have a new female Doctor, females now front two of the biggest slots on BBC Radio 2 – breakfast and drivetime, and Claudia and Tess remind us to ‘keep daaaaaancing’ every Saturday night from September to December.

That’s not to say it’s all been smooth sailing, however. Not long after the list was published and national outrage ensued, it was announced that many presenters would be teaming up on popular shows to undoubtedly improve the gender balance, including BBC Radio 1’s Matt and Mollie and Alice and Dev, and BBC Radio 2’s Simon Mayo and Jo Whiley. For fans of the latter, you’ll know Simon Mayo, one of the station’s longest serving presenters, has since resigned after fans complained of the “lack of chemistry” between the pair. He too admitted the upheaval, to such a long-standing and successful show, had been “difficult and upsetting”.

You do have to question how well these new partnerships were genuinely thought through, and how much of it was simply a knee-jerk reaction to the aforementioned furore.

This week, the BBC released its latest star salaries list and lo and behold, the top 10 now includes THREE women; Claudia Winkleman, Zoe Ball and Vanessa Feltz.

Now, aside from the whole male-female divide, the figures on the list confuse me anyway – why and how Graham Norton earns around half of Chris Evans’ former salary when he is surely one of the corporation’s biggest stars is beyond me, but hey ho, that’s just personal preference, I guess.

The list this year is interesting though. In January, it was announced that some of the BBC’s biggest male ‘stars’, including Jeremy Vine, Huw Edwards and Steve Wright, would be taking pay cuts, while others have been given hefty pay rises - the total talent bill has risen by £11m.

The new list means the corporation’s overall gender pay gap has fallen from 7.6 per cent to 6.7 per cent.

However, while the list shows that huge strides are being made and that deserves a definite high five, many have questioned how much this represents genuine merit or is simply a PR move to position the BBC in a better light.

If it was planned as a PR stunt though, the timing is dubious to say the least. It’s backfired massively, given that huge £11m pay rise has come amidst the recent controversy that the BBC will no longer be providing free TV licences to around 3.7m pensioners from June 2020.

Everyone’s favourite presenter, Piers Morgan, has been most vocal about it, claiming the move could be “the beginning of the end” for the BBC, while Twitter (and Morgan) have admonished the corporation for making the tax-payer pay the “extortionate” salaries while breaking their pledge to pay free TV licences for so many.

Let’s be honest, the timing could not be worse, but it does seem like the corporation’s hands are tied. If nothing had changed re the gender pay gap, people would blast the BBC for not being progressive enough (again) but one has to wonder then about its choice to increase salaries to such an extent while breaking a pledge to the people that make its stars ‘worthy’ of those salaries.

Definitely one to think about, but as with any PR, it pays – literally, or perhaps not so in this case – to remember that the customer is always right and ‘public relations’ really is the name of the game.