NEWS
08/01/2018 17:52 GMT | Updated 09/01/2018 08:15 GMT

Carrie Gracie Quits: BBC Accused Of Trying To 'Shut Up Little Women' Over Coverage Of Gender Pay Row

BBC impartiality rules prevent presenters becoming interview subjects on shows they host.

PA Wire/PA Images
Carrie Gracie speaks to the media after turning down a £45,000 pay rise late last year during the BBC's equal pay controversy 

The BBC has been accused of trying to ‘shut up little women’ over the Carrie Gracie equal pay controversy, after staff were being told they can no-longer present segments on pay if they have expressed an opinion on the story.

The directive, confirmed by the BBC, follows an awkward morning for the corporation that saw it stage-manage two on-air appearances involving Gracie, one of which took place on Radio 4′s Today programme which she was co-hosting.

The other, on Woman’s Hour, was conducted by the Guardian’s former media editor Jane Martinson instead of host Jane Garvey - who is a member of the BBC Women group campaigning for pay equality.

BBC rules around impartiality prevent presenters becoming interview subjects on the shows they host.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has since said it will consider whether further action is required based on the BBC’s response.

The EHRC said it would write to the BBC, “requiring them to provide us with information on their pay policy and the facts in this individual case”, and will then consider if further action was required.

Labour MP Jess Phillips said the directive was “tantamount to shut up little women” and said she would be writing to the Director General. 

It comes after Gracie received support from some of the corporation’s biggest stars overnight, leading a former employee to suggest it was “shooting itself” in the foot, and the move would impact women further.

A BBC spokesperson told HuffPost that the guidelines around impartiality were not new. The guidelines read: 

Where BBC Content or the BBC is the Story

4.4.15  When dealing with controversial subjects concerning the BBC, our reporting must remain duly impartial, as well as accurate and fair.  We need to ensure the BBC’s impartiality is not brought into question and presenters or reporters are not exposed to potential conflicts of interest.  It will be inappropriate to refer to either the BBC as “we” or the content as “our”.  There should also be clear editorial separation between those reporting the story and those responsible for presenting the BBC’s case.

The BBC confirmed to PA that it had reminded staff that those who have publicly expressed a view on a particular subject are not permitted to conduct interviews on that issue, as per the corporation’s editorial guidelines.

The Times’ Media Correspondent Matthew Moore suggested, given how much support Gracie had received from both her male and female colleagues, that the directive, “threatens to turn into a farce”. 

Speaking on Today, Gracie’s co-host John Humphrys explained that BBC rules around impartiality meant he could not quiz Gracie as “presenters can’t suddenly turn into interviewees on the programmes they are presenting”.

To get around this, Humphrys asked Gracie about reaction to her resignation - announced in a barbed open letter outlining her employers “secretive and illegal pay culture” - rather than what prompted it. 

Gracie told the programme: “It’s been very moving actually. Two things have really struck me and moved me most is the scale of the feeling, not just among BBC women but also across the country and internationally - the support that I’ve had.”

She added: “I think it does speak to the depths of hunger for equal pay. What was also lovely was the amount of people mentioning my China work. I would not wish to be remembered forever as the person who... the woman who complained about money...”

Humphrys interrupted, “too late, too late”, before Gracie continued: “I want to be remembered as the woman who did some fine China work and enough people are saying that to feel that it will not get buried as a result of this.” 

Later, on Woman’s Hour Gracie detailed how she quit the BBC out of frustration having failed to resolve her equal pay dispute internally.

She first raised it in August, warning she would resign over it, as the “important principal” was a condition she had “insisted” upon when she agreed to go to China. 

In October, Gracie said the BBC offered to increase her pay from £135,000 to £180,000, but she told them she was “not interested in more money, I was interested in equality”.

“I didn’t need more money, I just wanted to be made equal,” she told Woman’s Hour. 

When the issue failed to be resolved before Christmas, Gracie told Martinson “enough was enough”, saying that her job in China came with a lot of pressure and that if she could overcome that, she felt compelled to “shine a light on my home organisation”.

“I (decided I) would not go back to China and collude knowingly in what I considered to be unlawful pay discrimination,” Gracie said.

“I could not do it, nor could I stay silence and watch the BBC perpetuate a failing pay structure by discriminating against women.”

Gracie did not comment directly when asked if legal action would be forthcoming around equal pay at the BBC saying that “we (BBC staff who have lodged pay grievances) are all very committed to the BBC” and implored the broadcaster to do better.

“The sooner the BBC deals with this problem and puts in place a better structure for the future, the sooner some women, perhaps many.... will be prepared to forgive some of the problems of the past.”

Read Carrie Gracie’s full letter here or below.

Dear BBC audience, 

My name is Carrie Gracie and I have been a BBC journalist for three decades. With great regret, I have left my post as China Editor to speak out publicly on a crisis of trust at the BBC.

The BBC belongs to you, the licence fee payer. I believe you have a right to know that it is breaking equality law and resisting pressure for a fair and transparent pay structure.

In thirty years at the BBC, I have never sought to make myself the story and never publicly criticised the organisation I love. I am not asking for more money. I believe I am very well paid already – especially as someone working for a publicly funded organisation. I simply want the BBC to abide by the law and value men and women equally.

On pay, the BBC is not living up to its stated values of trust, honesty and accountability. Salary disclosures the BBC was forced to make six months ago revealed not only unacceptably high pay for top presenters and managers but also an indefensible pay gap between men and women doing equal work. These revelations damaged the trust of BBC staff. For the first time, women saw hard evidence of what they’d long suspected, that they are not being valued equally.

Many have since sought pay equality through internal negotiation but managers still deny there is a problem. This bunker mentality is likely to end in a disastrous legal defeat for the BBC and an exodus of female talent at every level.

Mine is just one story of inequality among many, but I hope it will help you understand why I feel obliged to speak out.

I am a China specialist, fluent in Mandarin and with nearly three decades of reporting the story. Four years ago, the BBC urged me to take the newly created post of China Editor.

I knew the job would demand sacrifices and resilience. I would have to work 5000 miles from my teenage children, and in a heavily censored one-party state I would face surveillance, police harassment and official intimidation.

I accepted the challenges while stressing to my bosses that I must be paid equally with my male peers. Like many other BBC women, I had long suspected that I was routinely paid less, and at this point in my career, I was determined not to let it happen again. Believing that I had secured pay parity with men in equivalent roles, I set off for Beijing.

In the past four years, the BBC has had four international editors - two men and two women. The Equality Act 2010 states that men and women doing equal work must receive equal pay. But last July I learned that in the previous financial year, the two men earned at least 50% more than the two women.

Despite the BBC’s public insistence that my appointment demonstrated its commitment to gender equality, and despite my own insistence that equality was a condition of taking up the post, my managers had yet again judged that women’s work was worth much less than men’s.

My bewilderment turned to dismay when I heard the BBC complain of being forced to make these pay disclosures. Without them, I and many other BBC women would never have learned the truth.

I told my bosses the only acceptable resolution would be for all the international editors to be paid the same amount. The right amount would be for them to decide, and I made clear I wasn’t seeking a pay rise, just equal pay. Instead the BBC offered me a big pay rise which remained far short of equality. It said there were differences between roles which justified the pay gap, but it has refused to explain these differences. Since turning down an unequal pay rise, I have been subjected to a dismayingly incompetent and undermining grievance process which still has no outcome.

Enough is enough. The rise of China is one of the biggest stories of our time and one of the hardest to tell. I cannot do it justice while battling my bosses and a byzantine complaints process. Last week I left my role as China Editor and will now return to my former post in the TV newsroom where I expect to be paid equally.

For BBC women this is not just a matter of one year’s salary or two. Taking into account disadvantageous contracts and pension entitlements, it is a gulf that will last a lifetime. Many of the women affected are not highly paid ‘stars’ but hard-working producers on modest salaries. Often women from ethnic minorities suffer wider pay gaps than the rest.

This is not the gender pay gap that the BBC admits to. It is not men earning more because they do more of the jobs which pay better. It is men earning more in the same jobs or jobs of equal value. It is pay discrimination and it is illegal.

On learning the shocking scale of inequality last July, BBC women began to come together to tackle the culture of secrecy that helps perpetuate it. We shared our pay details and asked male colleagues to do the same.

Meanwhile the BBC conducted various reviews. The outgoing Director of News said last month, “We did a full equal pay audit which showed there is equal pay across the BBC.” But this was not a full audit. It excluded the women with the biggest pay gaps. The BBC has now begun a ‘talent review’ but the women affected have no confidence in it. Up to two hundred BBC women have made pay complaints only to be told repeatedly there is no pay discrimination at the BBC. Can we all be wrong? I no longer trust our management to give an honest answer.

In fact, the only BBC women who can be sure they do not suffer pay discrimination are senior managers whose salaries are published. For example, we have a new, female, Director of News who did not have to fight to earn the same as her male predecessor because his £340 000 salary was published and so was hers. Elsewhere, pay secrecy makes BBC women as vulnerable as they are in many other workplaces.

How to put things right?

The BBC must admit the problem, apologise and set in place an equal, fair and transparent pay structure. To avoid wasting your licence fee on an unwinnable court fight against female staff, the BBC should immediately agree to independent arbitration to settle individual cases.

Patience and good will are running out. In the six months since July’s revelations, the BBC has attempted a botched solution based on divide and rule. It has offered some women pay ‘revisions’ which do not guarantee equality, while locking down other women in a protracted complaints process.

We have felt trapped. Speaking out carries the risk of disciplinary measures or even dismissal; litigation can destroy careers and be financially ruinous. What’s more the BBC often settles cases out of court and demands non-disclosure agreements, a habit unworthy of an organisation committed to truth, and one which does nothing to resolve the systemic problem.

None of this is an indictment of individual managers. I am grateful for their personal support and for their editorial integrity in the face of censorship pressure in China. But for far too long, a secretive and illegal BBC pay culture has inflicted dishonourable choices on those who enforce it. This must change.

Meanwhile we are by no means the only workplace with hidden pay discrimination and the pressure for transparency is only growing. I hope rival news organisations will not use this letter as a stick with which to beat the BBC, but instead reflect on their own equality issues.

It is painful to leave my China post abruptly and to say goodbye to the team in the BBC’s Beijing bureau. But most of them are brilliant young women. I don’t want their generation to have to fight this battle in the future because my generation failed to win it now.

To women of any age in any workplace who are confronting pay discrimination, I wish you the solidarity of a strong sisterhood and the support of male colleagues.

It is a century since women first won the right to vote in Britain. Let us honour that brave generation by making this the year we win equal pay.