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News, Culture, Equality And Wisdom
Jobs are important. Life is difficult without them. People prepare diligently and carefully for jobs, mostly, though some just fall into them. All jobs confer status, some more than others. Media jobs, and others in the public eye, attract certain attention. Sometimes it’s the profile or proximity to bright lights. But media jobs are just that, jobs; hard to get, hard to keep.
Last week long serving BBC News reporter, most recently chief editor at the Beijing, China desk, Carrie Gracie revealed in a long post on her personal website (January 7) that she had relinquished that position and returned to London because her compensation and that of the other three BBC international chief editors was not equal. “I am not asking for more money,” she wrote. “I believe I am very well paid already -- especially as someone working for a publicly funded organization. I simply want the BBC to abide by the law and value men and women equally.” All UK employers with more than 250 regular staff are required by law to illuminate salary disparity.
The story gained immediate media traction in the UK and beyond, coming on a Monday morning. Workplace gender issues, from pay parity to harassment (and worse), have become increasingly salient in broadcasting, publishing, advertising, films, government, high-tech and just about every line of endeavor, certainly those of higher profile. Women are fed up. While Ms Gracie did resign from the job in Beijing, she did not quit the BBC and co-hosted the Radio 4 Today news program all week.
More than a hundred female BBC workers publicly expressed support for Ms Gracie. Already an unavoidable news story - traditional BBC haters among right-wing publishers and the politicians who serve them raising fury - BBC news channels diligently reported the details. Staff was reminded of long-standing editorial impartiality rules - “austere,” described poynter.org (January 12) - requiring a “clear editorial separation between those reporting the story and those responsible for presenting the BBC’s case.” Hence, expressing public support implies involvement and, therefore, reporters so involved cannot report the story.
That, predictably, brought out howls of “censorship” from self-righteous BBC haters. Some also took the opportunity to whinge about over-paid BBC employees generally. “This isn’t just a matter of levelling women’s pay up, it’s a matter of pay equality,” said Culture Secretary Matthew Hancock, a new political appointee, to the House of Commons, quoted by Press Gazette (January 9). “Working for the BBC is a public service and a great privilege, yet some men at the BBC are paid far more than other equivalent public servants. Much more action is needed, especially when BBC foreign editors can earn more than her Majesty’s ambassadors in the same jurisdiction.” Later in the week he suggested, in an ITV interview quoted by the Independent (January 14), a pay-cap for all BBC employees at £150,000, the annual compensation of the prime minister, certain to bring joy to competitors.
"We have reduced the amount we pay talent by a quarter over the past five years; however, we're not competing in the same markets as politicians and other public sector jobs,” said a BBC spokesperson. “We are competing against ITV, Sky, C4, and increasingly now the deep pockets of Netflix, Amazon and Apple. We have the highest respect for ambassadors, but these are entirely different jobs and in a different market."
By mid-week the story devolved into rehashing, then bumped off completely by Donald Trump’s “shithole” outburst. But then a recording appeared, courtesy of the Sun and Times (January 11), of a telephone conversation between Radio 4 Today host John Humphrys and BBC North America chief editor Jon Sopel bantering off-air ahead of going live.
“The first question will be how much of your salary you are prepared to hand over to Carrie Gracie to keep her,” said Mr. Humphrys. Mr. Sopel, clearly resisting that line, said “I’ll have to come back and say, well yes, Mr. Humphrys, but…” Interrupting, Mr. Humphrys pushed forward: “And I could save you the trouble as I could volunteer that I’ve handed over already more than you fucking earn but I’m still left with more than anybody else and that seems to me to be entirely just… something like that would do it?” Priceless.
Mr. Humphrys is the highest paid BBC radio news employee and Mr. Sopel is BBC North America chief editor, a position equivalent to Ms Gracie’s China job. The Sun and Times are published by News UK, owned by the Murdoch family and once implicated in the phone hacking scandal.
“I used to have some sympathy with the BBC’s argument that it has to pay market rates to keep its best journalists on board,” wrote former BBC News reporter Robin Lustig in a Guardian op-ed (January 14), “but I have changed my mind. If a senior BBC journalist is offered a better-paid job by a rival broadcaster, I now think the response should simply be: Good luck.”
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