We shouldn’t just worry about the BBC’s under-payment of its China Editor. There’s also its under-reporting of China.
Yesterday, Michael Burleigh compared the salaries of BBC foreign editors to those of British ambassadors to the same parts of the world. The fact that the former earn substantially more than the latter came as a surprise to me, but I think there’s an even more interesting disparity in the following passage:
“the estimable and now outgoing BBC China Editor… [Carrie] Gracie’s £135,000 a year is more than Dame Barbara Wooding earns as UK ambassador to Beijing (£120-124,000), while North America Editor Jon Sopel receives £200-249,000 as against the £180-184,000 salary range of our man in Washington, Sir Kim Darroch.”
In this case, I’m not referring to gender pay gaps in public life, but rather the fact that at both the BBC and in the British diplomatic service, the top China job is evidently less senior than the top America job. It’s surely time to question that hierarchy. Of course, America remains the UK’s indispensable ally, but China is rapidly approaching super-power status, if it hasn’t achieved it already. The People’s Republic is world’s second largest economy (and second to none if measured on the basis of purchasing power parity).
In many ways, China is a more dynamic presence in the world today than the stagnant West – with projects like the Belt and Road Initiative reshaping the global economy. And yet for all its growing importance, the PRC is so much less familiar to a European audience than the USA.
How Brexit Britain could help China build a new world
Michael Burleigh writes that “greater air time [is] expected of those who report from Washington, Brussels or the Middle East compared with reporting from China.” If that’s true – and there seems little reason to doubt that it is – then the BBC must update its priorities.
The allocation of the media’s attention shouldn’t reflect the world as it used to be, or the world as we’d like it to be, but the world as it is and will be.