BBC must close gender pay gap faster, says Nicola Sturgeon

Scotland’s first minister says pledge to close gap by 2020 is insufficient, as BBC continues to be put on defensive over pay

Nicola Sturgeon speaking at a BBC Question Time debate in Edinburgh during the election campaign. Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA

The gender pay gap at the BBC is unacceptable and the broadcaster should act faster in making salaries more equal, Nicola Sturgeon has said.

The existing pledge by the director general, Tony Hall, to close the gap by 2020 was insufficient, Scotland’s first minister said in a speech at the Edinburgh international television festival, where the BBC has repeatedly been put on the defensive over pay.

Sturgeon said: “I do think the BBC should accelerate here. The equal pay act passed in the year I was born, which, as you probably know, was not yesterday. These issues have frankly been going on under the radar for too long. Well, they are not under the radar any more and it’s time to up the progress.”

Earlier in the morning, Jane Garvey, a presenter of BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, said women across the organisation had told her they had been “fobbed off”, and accused Charlotte Moore, director of content, of engaging in a “classic bit of management speak” to defend the practice.

Moore, the most senior BBC executive in Edinburgh, was questioned about the pay gap on Thursday and said the corporation was “totally committed” to closing it and that it was “great to set targets that we can meet”. However, she also said the BBC needed to address “diversity in a broader sense”.

However, Garvey, who organised a letter from more than 40 of the BBC’s female stars calling for the corporation to take urgent action over the pay gap, said: “Charlotte’s done a great deal to get more women in prominent positions on television, and I respect her for that. But this is a classic bit of BBC management speak.

“It seems the top management’s good intentions haven’t filtered down the organisation, or I wouldn’t have heard from women right across the BBC who’ve been fobbed off, deceived or told they’ve picked the ‘wrong comparator’.” 

The publication last month of the BBC’s list of stars earning more than £150,000 a year revealed that the top seven were all men and just a third of the 96 people on the list were women.

In a wide-ranging speech, Sturgeon said there was a “gross disparity” between the salaries of men and women at the BBC. She praised the corporation for increasing the number of female presenters on its shows, “but it seems that in considering equal representation on some programmes the BBC forgot that there should also be equal pay for equal work”.

The Scottish leader said she agreed with the contents of the letter organised by Garvey, but she took aim at the UK government for the motivations behind forcing the BBC to publish its highest salaries.

“I think the motivation on the part of the government was clearly to wind up licence fee payers about the high salaries paid to some presenters, and encourage licence fee payers to question what was being done with public money by a public institution,” Sturgeon said.

She also criticised the portrayal of women in the media and said there was a “still a long way to go”. Sturgeon highlighted an article in the Daily Mail about her wearing the same suit five times in two years and its controversial front-page photograph of her and Theresa May after talks on Brexit that was headlined “Legs-it”.

“Almost every week I read something about myself that’s commenting on what I wear, how I look,” she said. “The front page of the Daily Mail the next day [after the talks with May] had reduced us both to a pair of legs and talked about who won the battle of the legs. Now you can laugh at that and you have got to laugh about that, but there is a serious issue there in terms of how women are portrayed in the media and how that feeds through into women’s sense of themselves and women’s willingness to come forward into high-profile or senior roles. These are really serious issues, which, yes, we have made progress around, but there is a still a long way to go.”

The gender pay gap and the lack of diversity in the media have been two key topics of discussion at the Edinburgh conference. The Channel 4 newsreader Jon Snow said in a keynote speech that reporting on the deadly Grenfell Tower fire had made him feel “on the wrong side” of Britain’s social divide and that he and others in the media had become too far removed from ordinary people’s lives.

Peter Fincham, a former BBC1 and ITV boss, said on Friday that the pay gap at the BBC was an “embarrassing mess”, and that the TV industry had to guard against allowing a “narrow breed of person” to work in it. “We don’t want every runner [an entry level job] to be someone’s nephew, niece or god child.”

The Conservative MP Damian Collins, who chairs the Commons culture, media and sport committee, called for production companies that make programmes for the BBC to reveal what they pay on-screen stars.

There were high-profile omissions from the BBC pay list – such as David Dimbleby and most of Graham Norton’s salary – because they work on programmes made by independent companies. However, Collins said this was an anomaly that people did not understand. “You shouldn’t be able to hide it simply because the money has been given to a production company and they have paid the talent,” he said.

A BBC spokesperson said: “We have committed to go further and faster than anyone else and close the gender pay gap by 2020. We’re working hard on this and people should judge us on our progress.”

Responding to Collins’s comments, the spokesperson added: “Programmes can be funded from multiple sources and the BBC is often only one of many investors.

“The decision on what’s ultimately paid to the talent and the contractual obligations rest with the independent producers, not the BBC. All this was agreed as part of the BBC royal charter, which exists for the next 11 years.”

Source: theguardian