Why We Should Know BBC Star Salaries

Latest editorial by Mal Fletcher
Posted on: Wednesday 19 July 2017
Today, salaries of A-list BBC personalities will be publicly revealed for the first time. The move has raised big questions about privacy and whether there is benefit in revealing the wages of other segments of the population.
 
There are some important privacy issues at stake here.  We cannot have a situation where revealing the income of key BBC personnel becomes an exercise in salacious gossip mongering.  The BBC Board and the government will need to keep a close eye on how such public revelations are managed and the public's reaction to them.
 
Notwithstanding this, two important points must be raised in favour of this type of disclosure, The first is that the current revelations will relate only to people who earn more than about £150,000 per annum.
 
The highest paid BBC "star" is Chris Evans. He is apparently paid between more than £2.2 million per annum. The highest paid news personality is Jeremy Vine who is paid upward of £700,000 per year.
 
Interestingly,  the highest paid woman in any category is Claudia Winkleman who receives upwards of £450,000. The male-female discrepancy is already raising eyebrows and hackles. 

These wage levels exclude the vast majority of BBC personnel. 
 
I know more than a few BBC employees, within and beyond the metropolitan centres, who are on little more than six month contracts - and some who have no contract at all. These people, though talented abnd committed to the Beeb, have little job security and very little remuneration.
 
Overall, it seems fair that people who earn way more than the prime minister - whose salary sits at around £149,000 - and are supported from the public purse, should expect at least the same level of scrutiny when it comes to their income. 
 
Ethically speaking, the greater the level of public support, the higher should be the level of transparency and accountability. 
 
The second argument in support of disclosure - and the most important one - is that the BBC is a public entity, a public service organisation. 
 
Top leaders in corporations are required to declare their income to the share-holders. We the British licence-fee payers, are effectively share-holders in the BBC, so the principle is similar. 
 
Of course, leaders of private companies don't enjoy the kind of near-monopoly in some of their markets that the BBC does. What's more, they're subject to all kinds of risks which are not normally present in the public service arena, the risk of bankruptcy being one.
 
Outside the corporate sphere, we often read stories about over-paid heads of charities. If we are entitled to know their salaries, we are entitled to know those of high earners at the BBC, which is also directly supported by the public. The BBC is not a charity but the principle of accountability is similar. 
 
So, should private individuals in other areas of the workforce have their pay details published?
 
There may be value in publishing details of income categories, remuneration levels for certain types of work and levels of experience, but there would be little value in publishing the details for everyday individual workers.
 
Individuals who make up the main workforce of private companies should not have to reveal their income simply because their wages are not supported by taxes or other levies placed upon the public. Consumers will buy their goods and services, or not, as a matter of individual choice. If the product or service is not attractive, they'll take their business elsewhere. 
 
The private sector worker is also in an evironment that offers very few guarantees for the future of the enterprise. The BBC doesn't face that problem and the public deserves to know that it is getting value for its own money. 
 
If a BBC "star" performer is not adjudged to be offering unique value - that is, a level of service beyond what a less well paid performer might - he or she should be re-assigned. 
 
Some will counter that if the BBC does not pay top money it will not attract top talent. Whilst there is some merit in this idea, it fails to recognise the enormous wealth of talent that exists among emerging generations. 
 
In other sectors there are private companies that provide public services - on the rail network for example. They are often required to publish their top earner's salaries. 
I was informed today by a BBC interviewer that a British train driver often earns around £60,000. I was asked whether this surprised me.
 
Factored into the wage of this type of worker is the fact that many lives depend upon their skill, experience and alertness. This responsibility factor should be recognised within their remuneration. A top TV presenter, no matter how skilled or popular, carries nothing like that kind of responsibility.
 
At this point, comparisons are often made between the BBC and companies like ITV. The question is asked as to whether the rule regarding wage disclosure should apply to all TV companies or none. 
 
The point is that broadcasters such as ITV are not supported by the public purse. 
 
They must abide by all the strict laws regulating broadcasters and company law generally, but they do not call upon the public purse for their economic lifeblood. For that reason, in the area of wage structures, they should not necessarily be held to the same degree of accountability as the BBC. 

With power - or even influence - comes responsibility. With payment from the public purse should come transparency. The higher the payment, the greater should be the level of accountability.
 
 Listen to Mal Fletcher's BBC interview on this issue.