A study from the Los Angeles local of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists concludes that female broadcasters-anchors, reporters and on-air hosts-in the nation's No. 2 market earn about 20% less on average than their male counterparts, with the disparity even higher among anchors: 28%.
Releasing the study to its Los Angeles-area members last week, AFTRA said its conclusions were "graphic and disturbing." But critics found the research incomplete to support broad conclusions of sexism. And agents, academics and broadcast journalists suggested factors other than discrimination to explain the discrepancies and noted that a single, high-paying contract at a station can severely skew the averages.
Given the typical six-figure salaries-typically negotiated by agents-earned by on-air TV talent at most Los Angeles stations, "we can't expect much sympathy from the public," acknowledged a woman anchor from one of the stations that showed a significant gender gap.
The stations were not willing participants, AFTRA noted, and the survey did not include input from the market's three largest network owned-and-operated stations-kabc-tv, KCBS-TV and KNBC(TV). The union said it is entitled, under federal law, to those numbers to determine averages, medians and ratios and may take legal action to get the information. But Gerry Daley, director of AFTRA's broadcast department, said that the findings would likely be the same with data from those stations.
Patti Paniccia, a law professor and TV reporter, anticipated that the study might be criticized for not factoring experience into the salary gap. "But the truth is that women are not allowed to garner the same length of experience as their male counterparts," said Paniccia, who settled a sex-discrimination suit against CNN in 1996, and recently wrote the book "Work Smarts for Women: The Essential Sex Discrimination Survival Guide." "Looks are more important for women than for men [in broadcasting], and women are put out to pasture at a younger age. Any way you look at it, it's sexism."
Bob Papper, a broadcast journalism professor at Ball State University and supervisor for the Radio-Television News Directors Association annual salary survey, found the AFTRA study incomplete to reach a conclusion of discrimination.
Nationally, men are in short supply as both reporters and anchors, which could affect their earnings, Papper noted, and their placement among the higher-rated-and higher-paying-evening newscasts. Also, he said, some on-air talent will trade money for time off to be with family, "and agents will tell you that it's almost always women. I'm not saying there isn't discrimination. but this study doesn't compare apples with apples."
Papper's own research finds no pay difference among men and women news directors in comparable markets with comparable staffs. However, he noted, there are far more men working as news directors in the larger, better-paying markets, despite the large number of women producers. But women have advanced in recent years as executive producers, managing editors and assistant news directors.