Controversy surrounding the BBC: Why we should care…
• The license fee makes the BBC a Public Responsibility
• Political Bias – where do we draw the line of impartiality?
• Gender Inequality in 2017?
• Significant pay gaps in many areas
• Lack of Diversity in its ranks
Since its creation in 1927, the British Broadcasting Corporation has played a pivotal role in shaping British culture, and by doing so, has been the focal attraction of a significant amount of harsh criticism. The well-established global network has provided multiple generations of the British public and foreign audiences with decades of entertainment and news coverage, yet has become the subject of equally infamous accusations. These accusations range from holding political bias to an unfair portrayal of certain groups within our society. However, recently the topic of discussion has been around gender pay gap, after the BBC released official documents in July 2017 displaying its TV stars who earn above £150,000 (which is more than the Prime Minister earns in a year). The public’s attention has been sharply directed to not only the large amount of earnings of these individuals, but more importantly who was earning these high six-digit figure salaries. It was revealed that of the 96 on-air male and female ‘talent’ paid £150,000 or over, only 34 were women compared to the 64 male stars. In addition, the total cost of the 96 personalities was £28.7 million. It may be confusing to the youth as to why controversy surrounds this issue as it stems further than just the issue of gender inequality. Anger has been directed towards the BBC for many years, but has been gaining a sheer amount of momentum very recently. Despite there being individuals such as myself who see the BBC as a powerful tool in conveying news and entertainment to millions of citizens effectively, many hope that this latest evidence of a gulf between the salaries of its stars is the final blow to end the public service corporation.
The main concern of many is that the BBC receives funding from the license fee (which is currently £147), and hence, is funded by public money. The license fee is needed if individuals seek to watch or record live TV programmes on any channel, and the BBC claims it ‘allows the BBC’s UK services to remain free of advertisements and independent of shareholder and political interest’. However, the latter is the issue with many. In light of recent political events such as the EU referendum, the presidential election of Donald Trump and the General Elections of 2015 and 2017, some say that the BBC has held a somewhat more favourable stance towards specific political agendas, such as the Remain campaign during the referendum. Thus, this anger, in addition to recent reports of £28.7 million of the public’s money being spent on 96 stars alone, is infuriating for sceptics across the country. Is this the final blow they were waiting for? Maybe not, as the argument to be had is whether these stars are worth the money, and ultimately that becomes a matter of opinion and is much less objective.
Chris Evans came out top, earning between £2.2 and £2.5 million per annum, this salary could be considered just, considering he anchors the most popular radio show on the most popular radio station in the country. However, the salary paid to Gary Lineker which is £1,750,000 – £1,799,999 per annum, despite only appearing to present Match of the Day once a week, is much harder to justify. In regards to the use of public money to fund the BBC, the main question to be asked concerns its worth, is it a powerful tool or a waste of money which could be redirected to better causes?
The issue of the pay gap between the genders is a much more evident one, and one which is a concern to all, but the interesting thing now will be to analyse how the BBC will manage the situation. Lord Hall, the Director-General of the BBC has pledged to close the gender pay gap by 2020, but how will this be done? Does he wish to give female stars a pay rise and use more public money, or alternatively ask male ‘talent’ to take significant pay cuts? Neither situation is ideal, but Lord Hall raises a fair point when he states: “On gender and diversity, the BBC is more diverse than the broadcasting industry and the civil service.” Within the UK, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that on average the pay for full-time female employees was 9.4% lower than for full-time male employees. Thus, the issue of inequality of pay between the genders is certainly not specific to the BBC, if anything, it betters other industries and it has only made headline news because it is such a pivotal part of our lives and British culture.
But the revealing of these figures didn’t just expose a worrying pay gap between the genders, but also a terrifying lack of BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnicity) individuals who earn above £150,000. ‘Equity’, a trade union stated: “The apparent pay gaps in gender and for those from a black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) background are troubling.” And they’re certainly right, just 10 people on the list were from a minority ethnic background, and they tended to fall into the lower end of the earnings scale. But is this a different issue, one which is perhaps more of a concern? The fact that nearly a tenth of the highest earners were from a BAME background may highlight a lack of diversity and representation, and may be an important eye-opener for casting directors. All we know for certain, is that this is an additional issue for Lord Hall, who will be brainstorming his options on how to tackle the evident inequality within his corporation.
The importance of disclosure of salaries for a public corporation such as the BBC should never be understated, as it is vital that we understand where the public’s money is being directed to. But the main argument regarding this issue, which many activists exercise in their attempts to promote further disclosure amongst other large corporations, is that it generates a large extent of trust and security amongst employees. But has this possibly had the opposite effect to what it could have achieved, and more importantly, to what extent is this damaging for the BBC?
From a personal point of view, I would love to see a strong, impartial BBC continue, one which presents the facts and continues to entertain and engage the British public, provided the issues regarding pay inequality are resolved. But why should we care at all? Well, whether you like it or not, chances are you have immersed yourself into the content which the BBC provides, and very soon we’ll be paying the license fees. In its current form, in light of the recent controversy, would you support the public funding of such an organisation?
By Dan Lawes
Editor, YouthPolitics UK
Let us know what you think by contacting us via the contact page. Should public money fund the BBC? Is the anger held against the BBC justified? How could the issues regarding unequal pay be resolved?