What a great triumph for feminism – three of the BBC’s ten highest-paid presenters are now women, compared with none last year. That, at any rate, is how the BBC has chosen this morning to cover the publication of its annual report. The story on the BBC website is headed: BBC Pay: Claudia Winkleman, Zoe Ball and Vanessa Feltz among top earners. We can all be proud of how our progressive-minded state broadcaster is taking a lead in the cause of equal pay.
Or maybe that’s not how most licence fee-payers will see it. The real story, buried deep within the BBC online report, is that the total pay of BBC on-air “talent”, as it likes to call its presenters, rose by £11m – or seven per cent – over the past year to £158.6 million.
The annual report contains a further detail which the BBC news operation does not seem fit to report at all – that the number of presenters being paid more than £150,000 rose from 63 to 75. Yes, this from a corporation that is bleating about being hard-up and which has decided to do away with free TV licences for the over-75s – it is paying 75 of its presenters more than the prime minister receives.
As ever, the BBC is trying to have its cake and eat it. When it is begging to keep the licence fee, it poses as a public service broadcaster. Yet when it is rewarding its top staff, it behaves instead like a commercial operation, which must pay top whack to its staff for fear of them being poached by rivals.
The two are inconsistent – if the BBC is a public-service broadcaster then it shouldn’t, by definition, be competing with commercial broadcasters. It should be doing only the things which commercial operators are not doing.
But the BBC wouldn’t get very far if it really was exposed to commercial pressures. Take this extraordinary passage from its annual report on the number of presenters earning over £150,000:
“We have met all the targets we forecast for ourselves last year, with our gender balance now showing a 60-40 male/female split compared to 76-24 last year, and with BAME levels on the list up at 20 per cent”.
Business-minded people might just be able to spot the strange omission – oddly, the BBC doesn’t seem to mention here any targets for cost-control or financial prudence, just popular woke causes (although to be fair the BBC does mention much later in its report its attempt to make ‘savings’).
For our £154.50 TV-ownership tax – sorry, “licence-fee” – we don’t even get the story of the BBC’s annual report covered properly. Once they realise how the BBC is hiding its bloated spending behind the issue of equal pay, there might just be a touch of anger from the over-75s, not least those who don’t much like BBC programmes but who are nevertheless to be forced, like the rest of us, to pay the fat salaries of the people who present them.
The sooner the television tax goes and the BBC put on a proper commercial footing, the better. If these presenters were paid from subscriptions from people who actually want to watch them, I wouldn’t really care how much they were paid.