Carrie Gracie has accused the BBC of ‘belittling’ the work of its female journalists for decades and choked back tears as she told of her anger about how women had been treated by the broadcaster.
The former China editor, who quit her role earlier this month in protest at men getting paid more than women for doing the same job, said her decision to walk away was never about money and branded the organisation’s approach to her grievance “disgraceful and insulting”.
She told MPs at the Commons’ Culture, Media and Sport select committee she wanted proper systems put in place to ensure the work of male and female employees is valued equally and that senior managers - including former head of news James Harding - had dishonestly dismissed claims of inequality.
Visibly emotional, Gracie said she noted the BBC had thanked senior male presenters Huw Edwards, Nicky Campbell, John Humphrys, Jon Sopel, Nick Robinson and Jeremy Vine for agreeing to take pay cuts, after it was revealed two-thirds of BBC stars earning more than £150,000 were male.
“They have never said they are very grateful to me for not taking a pay rise at the time,” she said.
“And they said at that point these are great broadcasters, great journalists who have a great connection with the public.
“I have 500 and more emails from the public here, in support of me, in support of my work as China editor and in support of my stand on equal pay.
“And I have more than 300 emails from members of staff who support that too.”
During her time in the job, Gracie - who questioned whether her replacement would find it easier to get on air if he was a man - battled breast cancer twice and supported her daughter through a serious illness.
“Someday it would be nice if the BBC could bring itself to say that the women, too, are good broadcasters and journalists,” she said.
“But instead it is effectively forced to belittle our contribution. Not just this year, not just last year, but for decades.”
Gracie revealed her employers had offered to pay her nearly £100,000 in backdated salary and attempted to justify her lower pay in previous years by claiming she had been ‘in development’.
“It adds insult to injury,” she said.
“It is unacceptable to talk to your senior women like that...they are trying to throw money at me to solve my problem.”
The former News Channel presenter - who speaks Mandarin fluently - said the BBC was unable to admit it had an equal pay problem because it “does not want to confront what may be fiscal liabilities, which we all agree are there”.
“I do not want any more money, that is not what it’s about,” she added.
“This will not resolve my problem. My problem will be resolved by an acknowledgment that my work was of equal value to the men I served alongside as an international editor.
“An apology would be nice.”
Gracie said she had no desire to “get into a fight” with male colleagues who were paid more than her.
“One of the things that’s made me sad is the tendency for this to turn into a comparison between me and the North America editor, and me and the Middle East editor,” she told MPs.
“I admire the work of Jon Sopel and Jeremy Bowen. I have been proud to stand alongside them as international editors. I do not want to get into that fight.
“What I want to talk about more is the sense in which my case is just an example of the bigger problem.”
The mum-of-two said she requested equal pay in 2013, whe Harding asked her “on bended knee” to become China editor, and criticised him for appearing on a program last year dismissing claims of an equality problem.
“I just thought, ‘No! That’s not what BBC journalists do! They tell the truth’. And that’s our director of news,” she said.
Gracie branded her own employee grievance procedure after she raised the issue ‘a disgrace’, and said she decided to go public to attempt to change the culture within the organisation.
Asked if she believed the BBC was in breach of the Equality Act, Gracie told the committee: “Emphatically yes. And I was astonished when I heard the Director General [Lord Tony Hall] say that he had resolved many cases, because I know some of those people personally and they would not use that word.”
She said she believed many female employees continued to be exploited because they were unable to leave the BBC or raise a proper grievance.
“They need the job. Many of them have children,” she added.
Lord Hall, who also gave evidence to the committee, said he accepted the BBC had “got some things wrong” and that he held Gracie in great esteem.
“I also admire the stand she has taken on this,” he added.
“It takes courage to speak out against the corporate which, as she says, she loves a great deal.”
He said as part a programme of extensive reforms, the BBC was taking the issue of equal pay seriously, as well as striving to ensure a 50/50 split between male and female presenters on air and getting more women into senior positions.
“Equality and equality particularity with women is something I have felt very strongly about and wanted to fix and make long term changes, and we have made - I think - a lot of progress,” he added.
“I want the BBC to be the very best workplace for people to come to and give us their best.
“If we get things wrong then we will say so, I really believe in that sort of culture, and I believe in a culture of openness too.”