Male presenters at Television New Zealand earn an average $40,000 more a year than their female counterparts, a gender pay gap the state-owned broadcaster spent two years trying to keep secret.
Figures released by TVNZ following a two-year investigation and an adverse ruling by the Ombudsman show an average gender pay gap of 17 per cent among the broadcasters' highest-profile staff such as Simon Dallow, Wendy Petrie, Hilary Barry and John Campbell.
The data shows the majority of TVNZ's 20 highest-paid presenters were men, who between 2017-19 earned an average of $254,510 a year. Women in the group were paid $210,597.
TVNZ chief executive Kevin Kenrick defended his management of the gap, and said focussing on a small subset of his organisation's staff was misleading.
"I think we would all acknowledge the gender pay gap is a real thing across all industries. We look at it holistically, and the total gender pay gap at TVNZ is 4.6 per cent and we expect that is going to decline further in the next 12 months," he said.
Employment consultant Dr Miriam Hughes said the data unearthed by the Weekend Herald was "concerning".
She said the Equal Pay Act made the issue clear-cut: "If you are not paying male and female employees who are doing substantially the same work the same pay, you are breaking employment law."
Kenrick denied TVNZ was in breach of the law.
Hughes was not surprised to hear of the two-year battle required to make the data public: "Why do people hide things? They know what they're doing is wrong. Once the information is out there and acknowledged, then the pressure is on them to do something about it."
Requests for an interview with broadcasting minister Kris Faafoi over the broadcaster's transparency and its gender pay gap were declined. A spokesman for Faafoi said the minister "doesn't wish to comment on TVNZ operational decisions".
Equal employment opportunities commissioner Dr Karanina Sumeo said Faafoi's non-response was "not helpful".
"This being an operational matter? It's a legal matter, it's a national matter, this gender pay gap. We need our leaders to not trivialise this."
Sumeo said the data obtained by the Weekend Herald was "quite revealing" and would assist women within TVNZ, and in related industries, agitate for better pay. "If you can see it, it's empowering; It's empowering to people who don't know they're being underpaid or undervalued."
Minister for Women Julie Anne Genter said: "Women working in the media, just like every other sector of society, should be paid fairly for the work they do. Pay transparency enables workers to know how their pay compares with other employees, and drives change to close the gender and ethnic pay gap."
The Weekend Herald first requested gender pay gap information from TVNZ in January 2018 following controversy in Britain where vast disparities at the BBC for on-air talent triggered resignations of female staff and sweeping pay cuts for male talent.
TVNZ refused to supply the information requested under the Official Information Act - a breakdown of average salaries for the 10 highest-paid men and women in both on-air and off-air roles - citing privacy concerns.
It became apparent that privacy concerns were rooted in so few women being employed in top-paying roles that releasing average pay rates by gender could allow the identification of individual salaries.
The matter was referred to the Ombudsman who, following a two-year investigation, ordered the information released with amendments to mitigate privacy issues - expanding the dataset from 10 to 20 - first proposed by the Weekend Herald in February 2018.
In his decision Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier wrote: "There can be no doubt that the gender pay gap is a significant public issue, touching on core human rights. The Government has recognised the importance of this issue and in 2018 it announced a commitment to eliminating the gender pay gap within the public service, of which I note that TVNZ is a part."
Kenrick blamed the overworked ombudsman's office for length of the delay, and rejected suggestions he sought to prevent embarrassing information becoming public. He said his opposition to release was solely motivated by privacy concerns for his staff.
"We had a difference of opinion: It went to the referee, and we accept the referee's decision," he said.
The Weekend Herald is aware of a number of employment disputes concerning gender pay equity within the broadcasting industry that are now the subject of non-disclosure agreements.
Parallel requests for information to RNZ showed the comparative percentage pay gap - and gross salaries - were around half that of TVNZ. Over the 2017-19 period, amongst the 20 highest-paid on-air presenters, men were paid an average of $123,931, and women $117,482, representing a gender pay gap of five per cent.
A spokesperson for RNZ said the broadcaster had policies "specifically aimed at, not just reducing, but eliminating the gender pay gap".
Similar requests sent to broadcasters MediaWorks and NZME, the latter of which publishes the Weekend Herald, saw requests for numerical and salary breakdowns by gender go unanswered. Neither organisation is subject to the Official Information Act.
A MediaWorks spokesperson said they "acknowledge that the gender pay gap is an issue for all industries" and work had begun scoping the scale of the issue for their organisation.
NZME radio boss Wendy Palmer said the company was committed to reducing the gender pay gap, and on-air staff were paid according to performance.