Women in industry laud suit but find TV salaries complex

November 20, 1990|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

Women in the communications industry said yesterday they were pleased to see the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission raising the issue of salary discrimination against women by filing suit on behalf of former anchorwoman Rudy Miller.

But they added that the anchor desk was one place where women sometimes made more money than men in the TV news industry. They also said that the formula for arriving at anchor salaries could be a complicated one tied to audience research and ratings rather than gender.

"While women have traditionally worked cheaper, when it comes to [anchors], I think the pay has been comparable," said Robin Hughes, editor of FineLine, a national journal of ethics in the newsroom.

Ms. Hughes, who worked 14 years in radio and television news as a reporter and editor, added that she was glad to see the gender and salary issue being raised.

"Part of the problem is that people are so secretive about salaries. And women especially have been taught that it's not polite to talk about money," she said.

Two area anchorwomen -- Denise Koch of WJZ-TV (Channel 13) and Sally Thorner of WMAR-TV (Channel 2) -- echoed that sentiment but said they felt factors other than gender often played the biggest roles in determining salaries.

"I'm glad to see it raised," said Ms. Koch, "because I think any time you raise an issue like this it makes people begin to examine how equally women are utilized in the media and then how equally they are treated once they are."

"On the other hand," she added, "when this all came up, obviously we talked about it a lot in the newsroom. And there is another part of me that says people in television are a little bit like free agents in baseball. That's why you have agents who work with you. . . . Because it really does, at a certain level for people on the air, come down to you get what you can command."

Ms. Thorner said she thought "research" mainly determined salary for anchorwomen. She said she had not been the victim of salary discrimination, insofar as she knew.

Nonetheless, "I'm glad to see it raised," she added, "because even if it isn't as prevalent in my industry as some would have you believe . . . since television is so pervasive, [raising the issue] is going to give everybody pause in other areas, not just TV talent."

A television TV news consultant who asked not to be identified said there were "many" anchorwomen making more than their male counterparts, though they were not a majority. Anchorwomen in Chicago, Miami, Louisville and Cleveland were cited as examples.

Ms. Hughes and others said pay disparities occurred most often for female editors and others in non-on-air positions.

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