‘I can’t see any conceivable way the anchor of a national news broadcast is only making $80,000 a year’ by Theresa Tedesco

May 13, 2014

Source: National Post

Peter Mansbridge, the CBC’s chief anchor and one of the most recognizable faces in Canadian television news, apparently earns little more than a media librarian at the public broadcaster — a fact that is raising questions and collective eyebrows across the country.

According to the 184-page submission made by the CBC to the Senate’s transport and communications committee, Mr. Mansbridge’s maximum salary scale for 2013 is just under $80,500, the same as Linden MacIntyre, long-time host of the Fifth Estate, while ballpark figures for other high-profile radio and television hosts ranged from $60,000 to $77,390. At the same time, a media librarian and dozens of lesser-known reporters, producers and hosts, were listed with annual salaries in the $53,000 to $80,485.22 range, while some senior project managers received as much as $117,200 and $160,500 maximum for a director of advertising and branding.

What is noteworthy is not so much that some Canadians may find it hard to believe that Mr. Mansbridge would be paid in line with rank-and-file employees who lack his tenure, experience or profile, but that the salary scales seem so implausible they have inevitably generated more scrutiny.

“I can’t see any conceivable way the anchor of a national news broadcast is only making $80,000 a year,” said an industry executive who asked not to be named. “The going rate for national anchors in Canada is a minimum of $500,000, but it’s much more than that. He couldn’t be working as long as he has at the CBC and still be making $80,000.”

Inside the Senate, which began studying the CBC amid diminishing revenues and federal funding, the response has been incredulous. “Some of this stuff looks like fiction,” said Liberal Senator Terry Mercer. “I don’t think we’re getting the full picture.” It was a sentiment echoed by others in the upper chamber, where there is now chatter of possible subpoenas.

CBC president Hubert T. Lacroix provided the “salary classifications” last month in the wake of numerous requests from the Senate for specific salary details of some employees. In a letter dated April 9 to Dennis Dawson, chair of the Senate’s standing committee on transport and communications, Mr. Lacroix insisted individual salaries are protected under the federal Privacy Act, a position he has also taken with Parliament.

The annual pay packets of Canada’s top television news anchors is a closely guarded secret, mostly for competitive reasons in part because two of the three national news anchors work for companies in the private sector and are not required by law to publicly disclose the figures. In the absence of a logical comparative, it is worth noting that Steve Paikin, host of TV Ontario’s Studio 2, took home $302,622.32 last year, according to the province’s annual Sunshine List of salaries for top-paid public-sector employees. And according to a former senior executive at Global News, an anchor at BCTV was paid close to $1-million more than a decade ago.

Although the CBC figures may seem unbelievable, nonetheless, it should not imply the public broadcaster is being dishonest. It’s established practice in the private sector that base salaries are kept low, between 10% and 25% of total pay, while bonuses tend to be large. For example, it wouldn’t be unusual to find a banker who earned a salary of $200,000 but collected an additional $2-million in performance bonuses.

Ken Hugessen, a compensation expert, says it would be “most unusual” to find bonuses with those kinds of multiples at the public broadcaster. Another industry expert who spoke on the condition of anonymity concurred, saying “I find it unlikely he’s getting a performance bonus to make up the slack.”

Instead, Mr. Hugessen suggested there may be supplemental compensation programs that generate a greater portion of Mr. Mansbridge’s take-home pay. For example, he may be receiving an “allocation equity bonus that might be four or five times the salary,” to structure his compensation in a way that could get him from a base salary of $80,000 to a total of $500,000 or more. These could include contractural arrangements that may require him to participate in certain activities, such as his interview show Mansbridge One on One, that generate income for the CBC from which he may collect certain royalties.

“It’s a fair question to say these numbers seem off of what any reasonable Canadian would anticipate,” Mr. Hugessen said. “It doesn’t surprise me that people will be curious why someone who is arguably the face of the CBC would be in that lower pay range.”

So why does it appear that the CBC is obfuscating and may be trying to low-ball the salaries of some of its employees? Blame it on a fear of sticker shock. Currently, there is enormous pressure on the public sector to contain costs and the “compression on the compensation of the highly compensated in any public entity has been a real challenge,” said Mr. Hugessen. “The pressure to keep compensation low is extraordinary.”

The annual public outrage over CEO salaries shows how companies can be put on the defensive trying to explain why some salaries may equal value for the money because people just seize on the numbers. By trying to avoid sensational headlines and protect private information, the CBC may have opened the door to further examination from the public — and from disbelieving senators who are themselves in the spotlight for expense scandals. “The likelihood that this will go away is low,” predicted Mr. Hugessen.

© National Post