The BBC salaries row has revived an old discussion about the value of celebrity and what was once called "a culture of excess" at TVNZ.

The release of BBC pay deals has revealed that one-time Top Gear presenter Chris Evans was the top-paid star, bringing in at least £2.2 million ($3.8m) last year; that only a third of the top earners are women; and the top seven are all men.

In this country, TVNZ and RNZ are dismissing calls for a similar release of their stars' salaries.

Radio NZ salaries are far lower than TVNZ's, but RNZ is understood to be dealing with an issue involving a woman presenter being paid less than a man doing a comparable job.


Radio NZ declined to comment.

I believe TVNZ celebrity pay is under more control now than it was in the heyday of big audiences for news shows.

Art's sake

Mike Hosking, the host of TVNZ's Seven Sharp, was no shrinking violet when it came to defending the status quo.

On this week, he twice criticised calls for the publication of state media pay deals.

Hosking is believed to be New Zealand's best-paid broadcaster. As well as being Newstalk ZB's breakfast host, he is paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to appear each weeknight on Seven Sharp.

My understanding is that he is paid significantly more than his co-host Toni Street.

Hosking presented his view that the market, rather than sexism, affects pay levels.

However, I think he over-egged his response when he said newsreading was an "artistic pursuit".


"A job varies in value because the outworkings of that job might well vary widely depending on who does it," he said.

"Age and experience might play a role but, speaking from experience, factors like skill and market demand play far greater roles."

Winning brands

In my opinion, the question is whether media looking at ratings over-estimate the importance of celebrities, and under-estimate the power of their own news brands to attract viewers.

Two examples spring to mind. The first was Paul Holmes, once the highest-paid person at TVNZ, who left in 2004 after 15 years to join Prime TV.

The replacement show - called Close Up and presented by Susan Wood - held up in the ratings.

And in 2005, Holmes was unable to compete against Wood, John Campbell's new show and Shortland Street.

More recently, MediaWorks has had a similar experience.

Many doubted that TV3's breakfast show could survive after Hilary Barry and Paul Henry left.

But The AM Show, headed by Duncan Garner, Mark Richardson and Amanda Gillies, has largely matched Paul Henry in challenging the competition at TVNZ.

Now, TVNZ is looking at changes to the Seven Sharp format. Head of news and current affairs John Gillespie said that reviews were normal practice and no major changes were planned. But inevitably they will be looking at its presenters, their value to the show and their appeal to the intended audience. That, after all, is the market.

TVNZ might well feel grateful to Hosking. In 2013, the original Seven Sharp performed badly in the ratings. At the time, sources said this was partly due to management meddling.

In 2014 Seven Sharp changed, incorporating Hosking as the man in charge. Soon after, Jesse Mulligan left and Seven Sharp adopted a more traditional format. After MediaWorks fell out with John Campbell and TV3's Campbell Live was replaced by Story, Seven Sharp came into its own.

Woman's work

TVNZ chief executive Kevin Kenrick has baulked at demands to talk about his staff's wages.

The broadcaster sees itself as being the same as a private sector media company, which would not be asked to reveal that information.

"People talking to me have gone back more than 10 years to the days of Judy Bailey," says Kenrick. TVNZ is not the company it was then, he says.

Ironically, given that the BBC argument is about underpaid women, the last attacks on TVNZ were about Bailey earning more than others.

In 2004, her $400,000 was doubled to $800,000 and that fact was leaked to media.

It was not made apparent that the increase was to take account of her being the sole presenter, and that the contract only lasted a year.

She left in October 2005.

Former TVNZ chairwoman Joan Withers has taken a high profile in the battle for gender equity and has just written a book, A Woman's Place, which the publisher describes as "a call to action for women to set their sights on the top of the corporate ladder". She and Kenrick insist TVNZ has made strong progress in offering equal employment opportunities for women.

Certainly, there are more women in senior roles than there were in Bailey's time.

In May, Cate Slater replaced Jeff Latch as head of content.

Yet female former staff I spoke to suspected that women were still being paid less for the same job.