BBC's disclosure of data raises questions about pay discrimination

The BBC reveals the pay of its highest-earning stars under government pressure - and men are at the top.
Mr Tony Hall, the BBC's director general, said less than 0.25 per cent of its 43,000 talent contracts last year involved annual pay of more than £150,000.
Mr Tony Hall, the BBC's director general, said less than 0.25 per cent of its 43,000 talent contracts last year involved annual pay of more than £150,000. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (NYTimes) - Only one-third of the BBC's top-paid stars are women, and only a tiny number are black, Asian or members of another minority group, according to data that the publicly funded broadcaster published for the first time on Wednesday.

The BBC had released, since 2009, the salaries of senior managers making at least £150,000 (S$267,000). Last year, the government demanded that it also disclose the pay above that level to its on-air stars.

Although direct comparisons were difficult, because many of those named handle more than one assignment, the publication of the data immediately prompted discussion about pay disparities.

The figures were released as pay bands.

Mr Tony Hall, the BBC's director general, said less than 0.25 per cent of its 43,000 talent contracts last year involved annual pay of more than £150,000.

"On gender and diversity, the BBC is more diverse than the broadcasting industry and the Civil Service," he noted.

By 2020, the BBC intends for "all our lead and presenting roles to be equally divided by men and women", he said.

He added that the BBC had set a "rough target" that called for 15 per cent of its highest paid stars to be of minority backgrounds by 2020.

Critics were not satisfied.

Labour Party member of Parliament Harriet Harman said the "lid has been lifted" on pay discrimination, citing an "old boys' network where they are feathering their own nests and each other's, and there is discrimination and unfairness against women".

Mr Hall said the BBC was now competing for talent not only with broadcasters like ITV and Sky, but also with online media giants like Netflix, Amazon and Apple.

He cited research showing that BBC users overwhelmingly agreed that it should employ top actors and journalists "even if it means paying the market rate".