BY JAMIE FOSTER
1 in 10 criminal prosecutions in the UK are for non-payment of the BBC licence fee. This is a staggering figure that accounts for 180,000 prosecutions involving disproportionately large numbers of women. Single mothers on welfare who must stretch their income to care for their children are particular targets of what can only be described as a regressive tax. This is a real and present issue of gender bias that should unite us all in condemnation. Oddly it is not an issue that the left wishes to take on. The right-on Twitterati, embodied by people like Phillip Pullman have been united in their support for the licence fee at any cost, describing it as value for money. Not even one has objected to the poorest being forced by threats of imprisonment to subsidise what is essentially a middle-class institution. This is not to say that the issue of gender bias has not arisen.
Amazingly the recent publication of BBC star salaries has generated a completely different argument about gender bias. This argument is based on BBC women declaring that the fact they are paid less than their male counterparts is the real issue. Here at Country Squire Magazine we are committed to the principle that no one should be paid less due to their gender, race or sexual orientation. Nonetheless it is one thing to set one’s face against discrimination, another to enter the fray on behalf of millionaires scrapping over a trough filled by the poor.
The argument over star salaries is based on the entirely unsustainable proposition that if the BBC did not pay its talent according to its own perception of the market rate, it would lose the talent to other commercial organisations. Nothing could be further from the truth. The number of people prepared to appear on TV and radio vastly exceeds the number of available jobs. The idea that the current crop of talent is selected on merit is simply nonsense. The influx of reality stars into mainstream presenting roles shows that there is a vast, untapped source of presenters out there who are equally capable of doing what is a fairly easy job. There is simply no need to stuff their mouths with gold.
Despite this fact that is exactly what the BBC has decided to do. This has given rise to presenters such as Mishal Husain complaining that her £200-250K a year is an insult compared to her colleague John Humphrys’ £600,000. It is extraordinary to imagine that this argument should be the one that takes hold of the public imagination. The BBC has stated that its bill for star salaries is millions less than it was last year as if this is a defence to paying Chris Evans over £2M a year from the licence fee. It is unimaginable that such a fee could be justified by anything like a free market argument.
Let’s deal with cold hard facts.
The licence fee, at £145 or thereabouts a year equates to roughly 40p per day. It is argued that this is value for money. In truth, the fact that such an eye-watering budget can be reduced to a tiny daily fee is no argument at all regarding its value. We are all forced to pay the fee, so it generates a vast fortune by dint of the fact there are a lot of us. Those spending the money on our behalf should be held to account to ensure that we are receiving absolute value for money. When was the last BBC executive jailed for squandering the cash a single mother would be jailed for not handing over?
It is morally indefensible for a small group of women earning more than the British PM to suggest that the real argument should be over ensuring that they are able to command as much as their overpaid male counterparts. The real argument should be over who decides on the level of compensation to be taken from this publicly sourced treasure trove.
In this country, we have arguments regularly made by the left that salaries of those in the private sector should be capped and are outrageous. At the same time, the same people argue that salaries of a similar hue are defensible merely because they are paid by the BBC. Country Squire Magazine’s view is that salaries should never be arbitrarily capped under any circumstances. They should, however, be easy to justify. In industries where wealth creators are paid a percentage of the wealth they create, it is possible to argue that their compensation is justifiable. In an industry where wealth is created by threatening the poorest in society with prison these arguments simply don’t hold up. It is time we stopped asking whether all overpaid presenters are overpaid by a similar amount and started asking what could possibly justify paying them these huge amounts at all. Not a single person should be jailed for refusing to contribute to this corrupt mess until we have our answer.
Jamie Foster is Chief Writer for Country Squire Magazine.