‘Talent’ is just another filter to protect the privileged, says Paul McGilchrist; pay revelations may destroy the goodwill that keeps the BBC alive, says John Keane; there’s no pay gap for freelancers at the bottom, says Tony Staveacre
Emily Bell’s critique of BBC attitudes to its highly paid presenters is well-aimed, but shares with others an unquestioning attitude to supposed “talent” (BBC is paying too much for talent it can afford to lose, 24 July). Grossly inflated salaries everywhere are now routinely justified on the basis of this mystical, unquantifiable attribute, which is of course very convenient for those presumed to possess it. It not only enables their value to be measured against entirely different criteria to other workers in the same organisation, but gives legitimacy to the invisibility of the tools used to assess it.
Talent was once the preserve of the gifted – those for whom the marriage of aptitude and competence produced exceptional expressions of a given skill. Now, however, it is simply a descriptor, identifying those whom the market favours. It has even spawned its own self-aggrandising industry among HR departments that increasingly employ “talent directors”. On the other hand, perhaps this is the dawn of a new democratising principle. Perhaps we shall see a financial premium for the many individuals who are undoubtedly extraordinarily good at their jobs in the canteens, restaurants, admin and estates departments of blue-chip companies and the BBC. Until then, “talent” in the 21st century should be recognised for what it is – just another filter to protect the privileged.