Samira Ahmed’s equal pay battle with the BBC is “emblematic and extremely important” to other women preparing to fight similar cases, according to former China editor Carrie Gracie.
Gracie (pictured) added that “about a dozen” women are now in the pipeline to follow Newswatch presenter Ahmed in taking the BBC to an employment tribunal, having exhausted internal grievance processes.
Ahmed was flanked by about 20 mostly female friends and colleagues as she arrived at Central London Employment Tribunal today to begin her case.
She argues that Points of View presenter Jeremy Vine was paid nearly seven times more than her for equivalent work at Newswatch over a number of years. Vine was paid £3,000 per episode while Ahmed earned £440.
Ahmed has presented Newswatch, which airs on BBC One and the BBC News Channel, since 2012. Vine left Points of View in July last year.
The equal pay case was expected to start today but was delayed by a fourth preliminary hearing, which was kept closed to the press, as the BBC resisted the disclosure of certain documents.
The judge ruled in Ahmed’s favour and witness evidence is now due to begin on Wednesday.
Speaking to journalists at the court, which she attended to support Ahmed, Gracie said the BBC had been “extremely resistant to hearing the voices” of any of the women who have made internal equal pay complaints in the past two years.
In July 2017 the BBC published its list of its highest-paid stars for the first time under Government edict, revealing the extent of pay differences between some women and their male colleagues.
More than 40 women wrote to director general Tony Hall urging action on the disparity between the pay of men and women at the corporation and, after struggling to reach a resolution in her own case, Gracie resigned as China editor in January 2018.
Six months later, the BBC apologised and admitted Gracie was underpaid, giving her full backdated pay to match North America editor Jon Sopel. She still works for the BBC.
Gracie said today she is disappointed there was no “turning of the tide” at the BBC since her case.
She and her colleagues hoped the BBC had “taken the view that it needed to be big enough to just deal with these cases and not stick its fingers in its ears and fight them,” she added.
“I think one of the reasons why so many people turned up today was to make the point that this is a fight where there is a very high degree of solidarity and we will not be divided.”
Although the BBC has said it has addressed more than 1,000 equal pay cases, Gracie said it “doesn’t ask the women involved whether they’re happy with the outcomes that are offered to them”.
Revealing that she is aware of about a dozen cases drawing towards tribunal Gracie said: “These are extremely brave and determined people in my view.
“I had to look at the prospect of litigation in my own case and it’s very expensive unless you’ve got the support of the [National Union of Journalists] behind you, which thankfully Samira has.
“[It’s] hugely expensively financially, hugely expensive in terms of your stress, hard work and potential career damage because this is not the type of thing that management likes to see, so none of these people are going to be the favourites of their management while doing this.”
Gracie added: “I cannot tell you how dismayed I personally feel that Samira has to be here in tribunal and that the rest of us have to watch her doing this – it’s not an easy thing to do.”
Gracie confessed it was initially “extremely uncomfortable” to continue working at the BBC after her equal pay grievance was made public, but said everyone in the BBC Women group – made up of at least 170 journalists and producers – now want to see it through to the end.
“I think we all still have to pinch ourselves that we are here because we all thought at the beginning that reasoned argument would fix this,” she said.
“We all just thought a sensible conversation between sensible people would resolve this so it’s still painful and uncomfortable, but I think many of us feel that it’s necessary and that we have begun and we need to finish.”
But Gracie stressed that none of the women involved “want this to be a stick with which to beat the BBC” because the corporation’s issues mirror what is happening elsewhere.
“We want to draw attention, by means of an important story which is happening within the BBC, to a problem that is widespread in our society,” she said.
Ahmed has already secured an agreement from the BBC to receive full backdated pay with her male counterparts for her work on Radio 4’s Front Row and Night Waves/ Free Thinking on BBC Radio 3.
On Front Row her male comparator was being paid 50 per cent more than her, according to the NUJ. On Night Waves her male comparator was being paid 33 per cent more.
A BBC spokesperson said: “The BBC is committed to equal pay. Points of View is an entertainment programme with a long history and is a household name with the public. Newswatch – while an important programme – isn’t.
“Samira was paid the same as her male predecessor when she began presenting Newswatch. Gender has not been a factor in levels of pay for Points of View.
“News and entertainment are very different markets and pay across the media industry reflects this.”
Picture: Fran Monks