A BBC presenter has attempted to get to the meat of the matter over the corporation’s gender pay row, asking one of his bosses: “Why do on-air people get paid more if they have a penis?”
Eddie Mair, presenter of Radio 4′s PM programme, was grilling the BBC’s Director of Radio, James Purnell, when he asked the question most observers have been floating all day but in the most pointed way yet.
The corporation was on Wednesday forced to reveal a huge gender pay gap exists among the best known and highest paid presenters after publishing for the first time a list of on-air ‘talent’ earning above £150,000 a year.
The figures show the top four male presenters across the BBC were collectively paid almost four times the total amount of the top four female presenters.
The revelation, prompted by a long-standing Tory and media campaign for transparency, has brought about a day of criticism of the BBC and the publicly-funded body making clear it wanted to close the gap.
The highest paid male BBC star was Chris Evans, who trousered at least £2.24m last year.
He was joined by Gary Lineker (at least £1.75m), Graham Norton (£850,000), and Jeremy Vine (£700,000).
Meanwhile, the top female earners were ‘Strictly’ host Claudia Winkleman (at most £499,999), the ‘One Show’s’ Alex Jones (at most £449,999), Fiona Bruce and Tess Daly (both at most £399,999).
The most common refrain through the day among critics was: is one Gary Lineker worth 10 Clare Baldings?
It came to a head when Mair, who earns between £300,000-£349,999, gave Purnell a rough ride.
After suggesting the former Labour MP and Cabinet minister got his first job as an “old boys thing” as he was not interviewed for the post, Mair went hard.
Mair: “Why do on-air people get paid more if they have a penis?”
Purnell: “Look, it’s not to do with that ...”
Purnell continued that divide was the result of an “historic pattern” of the way pay was figured out, before arguing the ambition was for gender pay equality that would involve the corporation’s “brilliant talent pipeline”.
“What is a ‘brilliant talent pipeline’?,” Mair asked, baffled, before the pair talked over each other and Mair questioned whether the BBC’s plan was to “cut the pay of men or increase the pay of poorly paid women?”
But Mair wasn’t finished there, next asking: “Why are you using public money to discriminate against women?”
As Purnell suggested the BBC paid below-market rates, Mair wanted to know “is the Prime Minister right or wrong” after Theresa May said women appeared to be paid less for the same job at the BBC.
Purnell: “Someone like Chris Evans, for example, if you got all of his listeners together it would cost less than 1p per week.”
Mair: “That’s not what I’m asking you. The Prime Minister says the BBC is paying women less for doing the same job as men. Does that happen?”
Purnell: “Overall the pay gap in the BBC is 10% ...”
Mair: “You’re answering a different question ...”
Purnell: “No, I’m answering your question ...”
The interview won plaudits.
Mair later wanted to know if it was fair the job he took at the BBC as director of strategy was not available to women. He was appointed in the aftermath of the Jimmy Savile scandal.
Purnell: “In exceptional circumstances that does happen. And I think you’ll agree Savile was exceptional circumstances.”
Mair: “You think it is fair your job was not open to a woman?”
Purnell: “I think what matters is running the BBC well. I think that in a moment of crisis (Dircctor General Lord Hall) wanted someone to come in and prepare how we would run as a new management team.”
Mair: “It was never tested, was it? It was never tested if a woman could do a better job than you?”
Purnell: “You’ll have to judge us on our record.”
Mair has earned a reputation as one of the BBC’s most unforgiving interviewers, and appears to be involved in a running battle with Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.
He last month damned the Tory MP’s blundering interview over the Tory manifesto (“It’s not a Two Ronnies sketch. You can’t answer the question before last.”) and previously labelled Johnson a “nasty piece of work” to his face after listing a series of the ex-London mayor’s misdemeanors.