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BBC 'conflating' factual and entertainment programming, says lawyer in Samira Ahmed equal pay case

Lawyers for TV presenter Samira Ahmed have accused the BBC of “conflating” factual and entertainment programming to defend the pay difference between non-news presenters and journalists.

Barrister Claire Darwin made the claim in her closing submissions to the Central London Employment Tribunal today where she represented Ahmed in her equal pay case against the BBC.

Darwin said the corporation had used the phrase “light entertainment” to create a “kind of intermediary category” between the two genres, which was not used on official contracts.

The BBC has described Points of View as “mainstream light entertainment” as opposed to news, like the “serious” Newswatch which Ahmed presents.

It has said the two programmes operate in different markets requiring different skills in explaining the pay difference between Ahmed and Jeremy Vine, who presented Points of View from 2008 to 2018.

Ahmed is seeking nearly £700,000 in backdated pay after learning Vine was paid £3,000 per episode of Points of View while she earned £440 per episode of Newswatch. Vine’s pay was halved in January 2018.

Ahmed claims presenting the programmes – both of which run for about 15 minutes and cover viewer feedback – represents equivalent work.

“The BBC, in an entirely slippery fashion, is seeking to conflate factual with entertainment [programming],” Darwin, of Matrix Chambers, told the tribunal this morning.

“We know from the documentary evidence we have seen that these are two entirely separate genres.”

Darwin said “light entertainment isn’t a genre used by the BBC”.

The tribunal is expected to deliver a verdict next month at the earliest.

In its evidence to the tribunal, the BBC has said: “At the core of [Ahmed’s] case lies a contention that pay for news presenters, and entertainment presenters, should not diverge so greatly.

“But the fairness of the fact that news, and non-news, markets operate very differently is not something that can be adjudicated upon, let alone corrected, in an equal pay claim.”

In his witness statement, Roger Leatham, former head of operations and business affairs for entertainment for BBC Vision, said the market for journalists “operates differently” from “non-news presenters”.

Darwin said in her closing submissions this morning that the market rate paid to Vine for Points of View was within the factual and not the entertainment genre, as opposed to the BBC’s claim.

She said the corporation’s attempt to conflate entertainment with non-news was an “absurd position to take”, adding: “[By] that definition, sports is entertainment, factual documentaries are entertainment, children’s TV is entertainment.

“Indeed everything other than news is entertainment.”

She dismissed the BBC’s assertion that Ahmed is really seeking fair pay, not equal pay, saying: “Fair pay is the BBC’s construct. It is a legal nonsense.

“The complainant is here today because she wants equal pay for equal work and I would invite the employment tribunal to uphold her right to this.”

Ahmed is supported by the National Union of Journalists in her claim.

Picture: Yui Mok/PA Wire

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