It’s been a long held belief to never ask a woman her age or a man his wage. Yet, only last week, BBC was forced to reveal the wages of their top earning presenters by the government. As expected, many interesting disparities emerged. However, what was even more startling was how uncomfortable this made most of us feel. Was it fair to these presenters to have the details of their earnings so publicly exposed? Was it fair to the rest of us? Who would this disclosure benefit?
Even as Jeremy Vine squirmed on air upon being questioned about his salary by an ex coal miner, and whether he thought he was deserving of it, the wage gap between the blue collar and the white collar was set out in no uncertain terms by this forced revelation by the Beeb. Did a presenter have more value than a coal miner? Did he risk his life and limb to put food on the table for his family?
Forget about presenters for a minute. Let’s look at footballers. A Premier League footballer makes more in a week than most of us do in a year. All for kicking a ball with flair. Why is it that movie stars, sports stars, models, pop stars and the like rake in the moolah while nurses, teachers, fire fighters, police officers struggle to make a decent wage? Do we, as a society, have the pecking order all wrong?
Of course it can be argued that ‘talent’ needs its own rewards. While anyone can do the more pedestrian jobs, there can only be one Cristiano Ronaldo, and he’s worth every dollar he gets. So also, there is only one Chris Evans and he presents the most popular slot on the most popular radio station, and therefore deserves every penny of his 2.2 million salary. It can also be argued that for most of these top earners, their shelf life isn’t that long, and therefore the adage of ‘make hay while the sun shines’ applies to them.
There is no denying that we all need a bit of sunshine in our lives. And by that I mean, the entertainment of our choice. For some of us it maybe watching sport, for others it maybe getting lost in music, or going to the movies or listening to the radio daily. We are happy to pay good money to be entertained. Yet, does this justify over inflated wages?
A study done some years ago revealed that Britons would rather talk about sex than income. Bedroom antics were more blithely revealed than earning figures, and that’s saying something. Talking about money is polite society’s last taboo. Why? Because talking about money is seen as tasteless. For those who are more privileged than others, on account of their backgrounds or professions, perhaps it sets off a few guilty twinges too. Who is to say?
BBC’s pay grades have not just revealed the glaring disparities between them and us, but also amongst them. Firstly the gender disparity. The highest earning female presenter happened to be number 8 on the list, and earned a fourth less than the highest earning male. The highest earning minorities presenters made even less. Could this be on account of being lesser talents? Or, is it because certain hierarchies are so entrenched in these institutions, that only a big reveal like this would shine a light on them?
What is crystal clear is that there is a massive imbalance in the way pay scales are structured. Whether these are presenters, sportsmen, entertainers or CEO’s of large corporations, it is grossly unfair that a section of society, however deserving, makes so much more than an equally deserving section that puts in the hard graft, and comes away with so little.
In Japan, the average CEO earns 16 times more than the average Japanese worker. In America, it is 319 times more. Fair?
So, whilst this pay reveal may have momentarily disrupted the cushy lives of these undoubtedly talented, but also undoubtedly lucky presenters, what it has unwittingly done is create a debate around the contentious issues of value, worth, disparity and discrimination. Let’s hope a redressal isn’t too far off.