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From Match of the Day to mind the gap — a different kind of reporting for the BBC

Earlier this week, English goal-scoring legend and well-known crisp promoter, Gary Lineker, tweeted: “Happy BBC salary day. I blame my agent and the other TV channels that pay more.

“Now where did I put my tin helmet?”

Of course, this was in response the government ordering the BBC to disclose details of its top earners, specifically anyone who receives more than £150,000 a year (let’s assume that’s the basic salary, and not worry about additional benefits).

I’m sure, like me, you will not see this as an opportunity to pick on individuals or make sweeping generalisations along the lines of £1,750,000 seems quite a lot of money to introduce the footie (Lineker); or even that £590,000 is not a bad return for reading the news (Huw Edwards).

I also have resisted the temptation to make a subjective judgement along the lines of how come Radio 2’s Ken Bruce gets less than £300,000, whereas Today presenter John Humphreys tops £600,000.

In fairness John may be a sharp political reporter, but when it comes to a choice between Radio 4 and PopMaster, there’s only ever going to be one winner.

If, unlike me, you are interested in such matters, the details are available here.

Earnings and legal issues

In the optimistic assumption that you are still reading this, as opposed to finding out just how much Graham Norton gets paid (between £850,000 and £899,999 – but before you get too concerned that doesn’t include the fee for his Friday night chat show), there are some legal issues arising from disclosing an individual’s earnings.

Firstly, are we at liberty to disclose salaries to the wider public in all circumstances?

The other issue relates to the gender pay gap: it turns out a disproportionate number of top BBC earners is male.

Unfortunately, the broadcaster is not unique in this regard.

In relation to salary, this is clearly personal data and governed by the Data Protection Act (DPA).

Accordingly, the default position is that it should not be disclosed without the consent of the data subject (even if the subject happens to be Jeremy Vine – paid £”you’ve got to be kidding me.”)

The problem for the BBC, and other public sector organisations, is the clash with the Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation, which is all about disclosure.

FOI versus the duty to protect data

It is not unusual for the press and wider public to rely on FOI to uncover details such as high profile figures’ salary or severance packages.

The duty to protect personal data under DPA and the duty to disclose under FOI are not easy bedfellows: whether to release such details as staff wages requires a balancing act. Although, while generally favouring non-disclosure, as a rule of thumb, the higher the salary and more prominent the post, the easier it is to argue the details should be divulged.

Related to this is the fear that a lack of transparency on pay hides more sinister bad practices, including helping perpetuate the gender pay gap. The fact remains the average pay for men is greater than for women.

Paying Claudia Winkleman (the top female earner) over £450,000 is a help, but it does not by itself redress the imbalance.

Pay gap reporting requirements

Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures show that in 2016, the gap was 9.4% for full-time employees, and 18.1% for all employees.

In an attempt to improve matters, the government now requires public sector and larger private and voluntary sector employers (those with 250 or more employees), as of the snap shot date of 31 March or 5 April, to analyse their gender pay gap, and publish an annual gender pay gap report.

This should include

  • overall gender pay gap figures
  • the proportion of men and women in each quartile of pay bands
  • information on the employer’s approach to bonuses including the proportion of male and female employees who receive a bonus in the relevant 12-month period

So is it a step in the right direction?

Perhaps, but it’s still a long, long way from solving the problem.

Further in the event of non-compliance, there are no new sanctions to back up the legislation.

Some countries require full transparency. Maybe that’s the only way forward, even if Chris, Jeremy, Gary and the others may take some convincing.

Finally any employee who believes they are paid less on account of their gender could pursue a claim for equal pay.

There is already something of a social medial clamour for Clare Balding (under £200,000) to do just that. She may have no shortage of potential comparators amongst her sports colleagues. Not only Mr Lineker but also — irony of ironies — John Inverdale (over £200,000), who infamously criticised tennis player Marion Bartoli's looks on air.

It would be fascinating to see the BBC’s explanation as to how they set salaries, but that’s a subject for another day — and no doubt another blog post.

Kirk Tudhope

Inverness-based partner Kirk Tudhope heads the firm’s employment law team, he regularly represents employers, including private and public sector organisations, at employment tribunals.

Posted, 20 July 2017 by Kirk Tudhope
Categories: Employment