BBC Pay Report Finds "No Evidence of Gender Bias," Promises to Address "Unfairness"

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The U.K. public broadcaster unveiled proposals to respond to key issues raised by an audit, as well as broader criticism voiced since it revealed in the summer that two-thirds of its highest-paid stars are men.

The BBC on Tuesday published a report on its pay system for on-air talent in its news and current affairs department, which it commissioned with accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers following criticism of its gender pay gap, acknowledging shortcomings of its current pay structure and offering to right them.

The BBC emphasized that the report found "no evidence of gender bias" but promised to address "unfairness" and "create a fairer and more equal" system.

The PricewaterhouseCoopers report found that "too many pay decisions [were] being made at local levels because of the absence of clear pay frameworks" and "a lack of clarity and openness about the basis for pay decisions because of the absence of pay ranges for on-air roles."

"The BBC believes in equality. No one should be paid differently because of their gender," BBC director general Tony Hall said. "The BBC has a special role representing Britain. That is why we need to be and want to be an exemplar on gender pay, and equal pay."

He continued: "Today’s report does not find evidence of gender bias in decision-making, but it shows that we have real and important issues to tackle, particularly in some areas of news and current affairs, and I’m determined to get it right. The plans we’re setting out today go further and are more important steps in modernizing the BBC and making it fairer. We’ve already made an important start. We’re addressing unfairness in individuals’ pay and want to close the gender pay gap and have women in half of our on-air roles by 2020."

The investigation into on-air pay at the BBC found a median 6.8 percent pay gap between male and female presenters, below the 9.3 percent average across the public broadcaster.

Pricewaterhouse's recommendations include "a clear pay framework, narrower pay ranges, simpler contracts and allowances and improved transparency." The BBC unveiled proposals to respond to key issues raised by the report and broader criticism voiced since it revealed in the summer that two-thirds of its highest-paid stars are men.

The BBC caused much debate and headlines over the summer when it was forced to publish a list of its highest-paid presenters, revealing that the highest-paid man earned more than four times what the highest-paid woman did. 

Tuesday's came out just weeks after BBC China editor Carrie Gracie resigned in protest over unequal pay. 

The BBC said its plans to address the inequalities include "substantial pay cuts for some men and increases for some male and female presenters," saying it has "already addressed close to half of the 230 cases raised of pay unfairness and equality by women and men, on and off air," with the rest to be concluded by the summer.

It also vowed to develop, with staff input, "an equal, fair and transparent" pay structure for on-air talent and "narrower pay bands."

And the public broadcaster promised to "do more to explain the pay of each presenter paid over £150,000 ($211,000), especially where they do more than one role."

It offered to consult with staff about the proposals before they are officially introduced. 

The BBC emphasized that it was "committed to equal pay and will not discriminate on the basis of gender, race, disability, social background or any other characteristic" but also added that "as in any organization, that does not mean everyone is paid the same." After all, "people bring different skills and experience and take on different responsibilities or risks."  

Senior female BBC journalists have made clear that they are unhappy with the status quo and also doubtful about the PricewaterhouseCoopers report, saying they were skeptical about whether the proposals would go far enough.

"For the last six months we have been calling for a transparent and systematic mechanism to address pay inequality for women at all levels, especially those working in less-well-paid, off-air roles," said a campaign group of more than 170 women working at the BBC. "We hope that BBC management seizes the opportunity to change the culture for future generations of hard-working women and men.”

It said the public broadcaster should focus on "a comprehensive strategy to correct all unequal pay decisions it has made for decades rather than on a few high-profile individuals."

Hall is set to answer questions on the gender pay gap in the digital, culture, media and sports committee of the British parliament's House of Commons on Wednesday.

Late last week, it emerged that six well-known male presenters at the BBC have agreed to take pay cuts following the growing controversy over the gender pay gap at the broadcaster.