The Truth Shall Make You
BBC AND THE MYTH OF COMPETITION
Amid the outrage – political and – over the BBC’s revelation that it pays its male “stars” considerably more than their female counterparts a more fundamental problem has been completely overlooked.
The Corporation’s justification for paying eye-watering sums of public money to such “talent” as Chris Evans (£2.2 million), Gary Lineker (£1.75 million) and Jeremy Vine (£750,000) is that there is “a market” for such people, and that to compete the BBC must pay vast salaries.
This is pernicious and dangerous myth. The BBC’s charter contains no requirement for it to compete in any such market for presenters (and the vast salaries revealed yesterday are almost exclusively paid to presenters) or anyone else. Nor did it used to do so.
I joined the BBC in 1983. I was hired – for the princely sum of £11,000 a year – as a researcher on Roger Cook’s Radio 4 investigative series, Checkpoint. Commercial broadcasters paid much higher salaries, but it was understood and accepted that because the BBC was paid for by licence payers it would not try to match them. There was, as a result, a career path, well-trodden by lowly production staff and stars alike, which led from the Beeb to ITV. My predecessor on Checkpoint had just availed himself of this, and three years later both Roger Cook and I were bought by Central Television for its new series “The Cook Report”. I have no idea what Roger’s fee was, but my salary almost doubled.
And no-one – inside the Corporation or without – questioned the principle behind this. The BBC was a Public Service: just as with the Civil Service, people then joined its ranks accepting that the quid pro quo for taxpayer funding was a duty to serve, not profiteer.
When and why did this change ? Step forward Margaret Thatcher and her disastrous belief that greed was not just good, but God. The keynote of her decade of economic and political vandalism was that the market – and only the market – should rule. The old post-war consensus and the belief in public service were thrown on the scrapheap, replaced by the new creed of casino capitalism.
I detailed the damage this caused to the most essential element of British broadcasting – the programmes themselves – in my recent submission to the Government’s consultation on Channel 4 (blog posts passim). It is an uncomfortable fact that while both the range and quality of programmes has degenerated (as, not co-incidentally, have audience figures) the salaries paid to senior managers and the “stars” they hire have exploded. Put simply, these people are paid vastly more for achieving a great deal less.
The BBC salaries row will die down quickly. The public will shrug its shoulders and get back to worrying about how to get by in today’s miserable economy. The press and media will sadly – not join the jots between the two issues.
I have spent the past year working on a new book which highlights how we got into the current mess. The book tells the story of one of the more unlikely alliances of the 1984-1985 miners’ strike: , in the middle of the most turbulent period of post-war Britain, and in what was the most bitterly fought industrial dispute for a generation, a group of young and idealistic gay men and women made common cause with a very traditional community in the South Wales coalfield, and helped to keep them alive as Mrs. Thatcher’s government sought to starve mining families into submission.
The story of that seemingly unlikely alliance between Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners and the coalfields of Dulais Valley was dramatised in the (very fine) feature film, Pride. My book is a companion to that movie. To write it, I met and interviewed the men and women of both communities; doing so brought home the importance of ideals, integrity and service.
The Thatcher government set out to destroy all of those qualities: it is her creed – greed over need, the market ruling every aspect of our lives – which links the devastation wreaked on Britain’s coalfield communities and the obscene spectacle of the BBC paying Chris Evans £2.2 million to be a national irritant.
 Pride” The Inspiring True Story Behind the Hit Film. John Blake Publishing – on sale August 10.