Culture Secretary Matt Hancock has been criticised in a letter signed by more than 70 MPs demanding that the BBC allow female staff campaigning about equal pay to talk about it on air.
The letter, reported by the Guardian to have been “orchestrated” by Labour MP Stella Creasy, warns that preventing discussion about the issue could have a “chilling effect”.
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According to the letter, the government should “set the tone” for UK employers and use powers in the Royal Charter to “give a direction to the BBC to ensure the freedom of speech of staff in pursuit of equality of opportunity”.
|The BBC was plunged into controversy last week when China editor Carrie Gracie resigned over what she claimed was a “secretive and illegal” pay culture at the organisation.
Notable broadcasters, including Woman’s Hour host Jane Garvey, who had expressed support for Gracie were not allowed to report on equal pay issues if they had taken a position on the issue publicly.
In some cases presenters were replaced altogether in a bid by the BBC to enforced impartiality guidelines.
A statement from the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said: “It is clearly important that the BBC remains operationally and editorially independent from government.
“However the secretary of state has been very clear that the BBC must be a beacon for the British values of fairness that this nation holds dear.
“That includes fair pay and equal pay for equal jobs – it’s not just about levelling women’s pay up but reasonable pay at all levels. The BBC must act, because the brilliant women working at all levels of the BBC deserve better.”
A BBC spokesperson said: “We will be publishing a report and setting out a range of further actions shortly. People should see that work and action before judging our approach.
“Meanwhile we will continue to report the story across our airwaves. Whilst we’re always mindful that presenters and correspondents need to be aware of our impartiality rules, no other media organisation would have covered a story about itself in such great depth.”
Picture: Reuters/Hannah McKay