Comment

The BBC can no longer justify its vast salaries

We are always told that these are the market rates for people who could command more elsewhere; to which we say let them try

The BBC is probably congratulating itself that the Corporation’s highest-paid performer is no longer a man. Gary Lineker, the former England footballer and presenter of Match of the Day, has agreed to a new five-year contract with a £400,000 cut in annual salary.

The best-rewarded star from next year will be Zoe Ball, the Radio 2 presenter, whose pay has risen by £1m since taking over the breakfast show in 2019. Fiona Bruce and Lauren Laverne have also moved into the top 10 of the BBC’s highest-paid stars, which features four women for the first time. Vanessa Feltz is also among the top earners, the Corporation’s annual report shows.

But for most licence-fee payers, the issue around high salaries was not that men were paid too much compared with women, but that the overall levels were staggeringly high – and they still are. Fixation on the gender pay gap can blind the Corporation to the stupefaction of their viewers and listeners at the amounts being paid.

We are always told that these are the market rates for people who could command more elsewhere; to which we say let them try. In fact, Mr Lineker has demonstrated the fallacy of this, since had he been able to command elsewhere the £1.7m he was being paid last year, before his pay cut, by moving to Sky or ITV, why didn’t he move? If it is loyalty to the BBC that kept him there, £2m is a lot to pay for it.

In fact, despite all the hoo-ha of recent years, and cuts agreed by various male broadcasters, the total salary bill for on-air talent has actually gone up. So, too, has the pay of BBC executives. Perhaps the new director-general, Tim Davie, can justify that to the pensioners now required to fork out for the licence fee or face a fine.