She has presented Radio 4’s Today programme for only two months, but it seems Martha Kearney already feels hard done by. ‘I’m not paid the same as John Humphrys’, she recently lamented, confirming that the newest member of the team has arrived brimful of entitlement.
Martha’s moan about gender pay differentials at the BBC – the latest episode in this long-running series – occurred a few days ago at the Hay Festival and was directly addressed to her programme editor Sarah Sands, with whom she shared a stage for an event titled Behind the Scenes at Today.
‘Martha, you have only just been elevated to the station’s flagship news programme. The BBC and I graciously arranged a job swap for the mutual benefit of you and your fellow complainant Sarah Montague. The time for you and your agent to whine about the pay for moving to this prestigious slot was during the negotiations before you accepted the position, not a few weeks after you have begun, and certainly not in this forum. Your insolent and self-aggrandising attempt to embarrass in public both me and the organisation which has generously rewarded you for 30 years is shameless grandstanding. We’ll continue this on Monday morning – report to my office.’
No, this wasn’t the memo Ms Kearney received on her return to work.
However had it occurred in a business that is a competitive and self-financing enterprise, it is how an infuriated boss might have responded to public ingratitude from a newly promoted underling. But this being the cloistered bureaucracy of the BBC, sheltered by its enforced public funding, editor Ms Sands was entirely sympathetic. Her contrite response was that the pay of John Humphrys – who insists he has taken three voluntary cuts – had been determined ‘before my time’, ‘when the market was different’, and she urged Martha to ‘keep the faith’. No doubt this soapy reciprocation between Kearney and Sands had been agreed beforehand, and to their mutual amusement both wistfully ruminated upon the BBC immediately imposing a ‘civil service banding’ to create a nirvana in which ‘everyone is paid the same’.
Martha Kearney is represented by KBJ Management, the agency that helped make Claudia Winkleman the BBC’s highest-paid woman. For the record, according to the pay list published last July the BBC paid Kearney a salary of between £200,000 and £250,000 (the same banding as her new colleague Mishal Husain); her subsequent move to co-host Today cannot have harmed Martha’s income, which already was the envy of most men, as well as women, within the Corporation. In fact, the (relative) pauper of the five-person presenting team now appears to be Justin Webb, who last year was reported to be in the pay bracket that is £50,000 below both Kearney and Husain.
During a joint appearance last November, Webb ribbed his Today colleague Nick Robinson for being ‘paid £100,000 or so more than me essentially to do the same job’. Unsurprisingly, at that time Justin did not also dare similarly chide Ms Husain, a prominent pay protester whom one suspects would have reacted less jovially than the affable Robinson.
The fact is that individual bargaining at the BBC has produced some substantial pay differentials between men, including those hosting the same programme; however, these male disparities do not fit the narrative of institutionalised gender discrimination, which again was evident at Hay-on-Wye from the joint jeremiad by Martha Kearney and Sarah Sands.
In an earlier interview given to Radio Times, Kearney disputed the notion that she had been hired by Sands to soften the Today programme, though her view is that being a breakfast-time show it should have a ‘friendly tone’. Evidently Martha becomes more combative when the subject under discussion is her own pay.