BY MATTHEW CORRIGAN
I suppose it might have escaped your notice, but yesterday the BBC released details of how much it pays its on-air talent*. Once the news began to seep out, one or two people were rather put out. A handful of them turned to social media and began to express their displeasure… Hang on. Let’s do this properly…
At eleven in the morning there was something akin to an internet nuclear explosion on Twitter, as the salaries of the highest-earning BBC TV and radio personalities were revealed. Several stars were subjected to an afternoon of online abuse, with Chris Evans (£2M), Alan Shearer (£400k) and Steve Wright (£500k) receiving particular attention. Most bile, though, was reserved, somewhat predictably, for former footballer turned National Conscience and flavoured fried potato pedlar Mr Gary Lineker, who has managed to obtain a contract worth in excess of one and three quarter million pounds per annum, chiefly for co-presenting Match of the Day.
Here’s the thing: I have absolutely no problem whatsoever with people earning more than I do. It’s the way of the world. I can hardly promote the notion of a free market economy in one column and then complain about its effects in another. To do so would be to practise hypocrisy on the scale of the average shadow cabinet member. Admittedly, proper operation of a free market doesn’t normally require that consumers must pay a fee – on pain of imprisonment – to a particular service provider, regardless of whether or not they actually use that provider’s services. But that’s a whole different subject. For the purposes of this article, let’s just accept that the BBC pays its staff according to market value, just like any other business.
I honestly can’t get myself worked up about Graham Norton’s pay packet, or Chris Evans’, or that of some geezer from Casualty who seemed to get everyone hot under the collar yesterday. I can’t really see why the BBC deemed him to be worth a hundred grand more than his female co-star though – I can understand why she would be justified in feeling more than a little miffed – but that’s the BBC’s problem to deal with. There are laws against discrimination. Let’s hope they are being properly applied.
No, I have no problem with high-earning stars at all. As long as they turn up, do the day job and go home, what they are paid is no concern of mine. For me, the problem comes when they use the towering platform they have been afforded to push their own points of view while (and this is the important bit) roundly castigating and heaping scorn on anyone who dares to disagree.
Such individuals, largely by dint of their association with the BBC, have a far louder voice than the rest of us. When they speak, people listen. And they react. Sometimes badly.
I am acutely aware that I’m on sticky ground with regards to freedom of speech here, but hear me out. Anyone, provided they have an appropriate contract, should be allowed to rant and rave on LBC or write an angry article in The Guardian (or even The Telegraph, for that matter), but the BBC is inherently different. The BBC has a constitutional duty to provide balanced output, yet it still faces daily allegations to the contrary.
Might it not be the right, indeed honourable, thing to do for those who wish to engage in ‘robust debate’ (i.e. insulting everyone who disagrees with ‘correct’ opinions and disparaging entire sections of the population) to find an appropriate outlet in the real commercial environment and help the BBC, which they all claim to adore, avoid charges of bias?
I’ll not hold my breath.
*I am not taking the mickey here. This is the actual word the BBC uses to describe such individuals as Matt Baker, Tess Daly and John Inverdale.