There is no doubt that some in Government are up to mischief in insisting that the BBC’s top earners are named – many politicians have a love hate relationship with the BBC and in particular the way it is funded. It may be a sad and unintended consequence of this rather silly policy that salaries will rise rather than fall. It is to be hoped it will lead to more gender equality. However, within the broadcasting industry, surprising though the salaries may seem to outsiders, none of those publicly named are being paid anything unusual or exceptional. In earning what they earn none of them have done anything wrong or inappropriate. At one level it is a lot of fuss about nothing.
Nevertheless any discussion of salaries does hold up an interesting mirror to our values. Football in the person of Gary Linekar (£1.75m) is valued more than News and Current Affairs (Huw Edwards £550km) whilst in turn sitting in a safe studio (like Huw does) is valued more than putting yourself in harm’s way as say Jeremy Bowen does (£150K).
It is also curious that Derek Thompson at £350k is paid so much more for pretending to be a nurse that we pay real nurses. Is entertaining us to be valued more than those who heal us? Money of course is not the only way of valuing people and high earners do pay more tax and the media industry does generate wealth for the nation. Nevertheless these salaries do suggest we have grown used to living in a rather Alice in Wonderland world; an upside down world where nothing is quite what it seems.
I would not want to suggest the salaries journalists earn consciously influence the way they work nor the integrity they bring to their profession. However, at some level, the size of salary must impact on a person’s world view, the circles they move in and their approach to living. Consciously or unconsciously if you are earning £150k plus you will think and question differently than if your life is one long struggle to make ends meet. This is not to say one is better than another but it is about acknowledging the significance of difference and trying to understand its impact.
Today’s revelations may mean that the questioner will now sometimes also face uncomfortable questions. Yet despite the unpleasant smell of government game-playing over all of this, there remains a deep affection for the BBC but also a nagging sense that we are living our lives with the wrong sense of priorities.