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BBC's Samira Ahmed learned of 'obscene' pay gap in phone call with Jeremy Vine

BBC journalist Samira Ahmed has told a tribunal she found out the “obscene” pay difference between her and Jeremy Vine when he confirmed it to her during a phone call.

Ahmed is pursuing an equal pay claim against the BBC for paying the Radio 2 presenter nearly seven times more than her over a number of years for what she claims is equivalent on-air work.

Vine earned £3,000 per episode for his work presenting Points of View between 2008 and 2018, while Ahmed has been paid a maximum of £465 per Newswatch episode since 2012. Both shows are under 15-minutes long and cover audience views.

Ahmed is pursuing nearly £700,000 in backdated pay from the BBC.

The BBC has said Newswatch and Points of View operate in different markets, drawing a distinction between news and entertainment, which require different skills from their presenters.

Ahmed told Central London Employment Tribunal today that she got in touch with Vine in November 2017 raising her concerns about their pay, but said he “did not get back to me for several months”.

A month earlier she had notified BBC head of news output Gavin Allen of her pay concerns in an email.

Ahmed said Vine “rang me in a personal call after months of silence” in February 2018, adding: “It had clearly been on his mind.”

By that time Vine’s pay had been cut to £1,300 per episode, following the release in July 2017 of a list showing on-air talent paid more than £150,000 a year by the BBC through the licence fee.

Vine was revealed as its highest-paid journalist for 2016 earning up to £750,000. Ahmed was not listed. Vine’s pay, along with a number of other top-earning male journalists, has since been slashed.

Ahmed said she “felt instinctively there would be a very large pay gap” between her and Vine, comparing their work on Newswatch and Points of View, but had no idea what the figures were until he told her.

Ahmed said her conversation with Vine was “very awkward for him”, but added: “He definitely felt he wanted to be helpful and [that] this was not a fair situation”.

She said Vine “seemed to imply he was very aware there was a connection with Points of View” and Ahmed’s work on Newswatch, which airs on the BBC News Channel on Friday and again during BBC Breakfast on Saturday.

“He said he had agreed to halve [his fee],” she said. “It was a very nice personal call. A lot of this was being done in phone calls. They weren’t written down in emails…”.

Ahmed said Vine told her he still enjoyed doing Points of View, even though he was being paid less. “I said to him: ‘You know that’s three times what I’m on’,” she told the court.

During the evidence, Rachel Crasnow QC, for the BBC, asked Ahmed why she had not included the phone call with Vine in her written witness statement.

“I was hoping we wouldn’t have to go to tribunal,” she replied, adding: “My issue is with the BBC, not with Jeremy Vine.

“I’m incredibly grateful to him as a colleague. I don’t want it to be about him and I’m sorry his name has been dragged into this.”

She went on: “I think Jeremy was in a very awkward position. He has always struck me as a very good and honourable person… I think he told me the truth because he felt bad about the situation.”

“Something wasn’t right – that’s what he told me,” she said. “I know he wanted there to be fairness between us.”

Ahmed’s first formal grievance hearing at the BBC was in October 2018.

“I said there was an obscene pay gap – and this is because Jeremy had just told me,” she said.

Ahmed also revealed Vine left Points of View in July 2018 because he believed the programme was going to be taken off the air, saying: “He didn’t want to be associated with failure.”

The BBC said there had been plans to move it to iPlayer, however the show still airs on BBC One on Sunday lunchtimes now with a voiceover from Tina Daheley.

The BBC’s legal team says Ahmed was paid the same as her Newswatch predecessor Ray Snoddy, who they refer to as her pay comparator, and that male stand-ins were paid slightly less.

But Ahmed argues that she should have been paid more than Snoddy, claiming to be a “much more experienced broadcaster”.

The BBC’s legal team also claims Vine’s fee was arranged during a commercial negotiation, against a background where his predecessor Terry Wogan was paid £3,500 per episode.

A number of BBC bosses are expected to give evidence to the Central London Employment Tribunal as part of the case.

Additional reporting from PA Media.

Pictures: Aaron Chown/PA Wire and Reuters/Neil Hall

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