The Daily Telegraph

BBC to switch men for women on screen

- By Robert Mendick CHIEF REPORTER

The BBC plans to replace men with women on radio and television programmes as it tries to deal with the gender pay gap. Insiders have said that, rather than raise their salaries, the BBC will seek to boost women’s pay by giving them plum jobs currently filled by male presenters.

THE BBC is planning to take men off radio and television programmes and replace them with women in an attempt to close the gender pay gap, The Daily Telegraph can disclose.

But the prospect of replacing highearnin­g male stars when contracts come up for renewal could further open up the BBC to sex discrimina­tion claims – this time by male celebritie­s.

Lord Hall, the BBC’S director-general, has promised to end the gender pay gap by 2020, giving the corporatio­n just three years to ensure women receive equal pay. This weekend more than 40 high-profile women at the BBC wrote an open letter to him demanding that he “act now”.

With the budget for “BBC talent” earning more than £150,000 constraine­d by spending controls, the BBC can only increase women’s pay by cutting that of men.

Lord Hall said last week the total budget for talent cannot be allowed to increase.

While some male stars may volunteer pay cuts, it is unlikely that the kind of savings needed can be secured. The total sums paid to 96 stars earning more than £150,000 is just under £30million. Women, who make up about a third of the list, are reckoned to receive about a quarter of the £30m total.

Insiders have said that the BBC will seek to boost women’s pay by giving them plum jobs when contracts of male presenters come up for renewal.

A BBC spokesman said: “Contracts obviously come up for renewal all the time, but we’re not going to carry out negotiatio­ns through the newspapers. Ultimately, people will be able to judge our progress when the next figures come out, just as they’ll be able to judge how other organisati­ons are doing when we all have to publish gender pay gap figures by April.”

Male celebritie­s whose presenting

jobs could come under scrutiny include Graham Norton, who earns up to £900,000 for a Radio 2 show and Eurovision; Jeremy Vine, who earns between £700,000 and £750,000 for hosting a Radio 2 show and several television programmes; Matt Baker, presenter of Countryfil­e and The One Show, who earns more than £450,000; and Stephen Nolan, who presents a number

‘Contracts come up for renewal all the time, but we’re not going to negotiate through the newspapers’

of radio and television programmes, mainly on BBC 5 Live and in Northern Ireland, for which he is paid up to £450,000.

Lawyers have warned that the BBC – already facing legal action from women for sex discrimina­tion and equal pay claims – could find itself being sued for sex discrimina­tion by men if they are dropped from programmes.

James Watkins, an employment lawyer with Slater and Gordon law firm, said: “Dropping older, better paid male

presenters raises the prospect of the BBC being sued for sex and age discrimina­tion. It is going to be difficult for the BBC to simply shift people off certain shows just because they are men.”

The BBC will gamble that male stars, already on high salaries, will not want the adverse publicity if they tried to sue for sex discrimina­tion.

Sharing the list of women who signed the letter to Lord Hall – including Jane Garvey, Sue Barker, Emily Maitlis, Sarah Montague, Mishal Husain and Fiona Bruce – Louisa Compton, editor of the Victoria Derbyshire programme, asked: “But where are all the men speaking out separately?”

Maitlis, who many were shocked to find excluded from the best-paid list, wrote on Twitter: “They are all – kindly and supportive­ly – messaging us in private – #nowgopubli­c.

Lord Hall last night said he had made the issue a “personal priority” for the past four years but recognised that “we do need to go further and faster”. He wrote: “When figures are published next year, I am confident that they will look very different.”

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