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January 9, 2018updated 10 Jan 2018 9:56am

Former BBC China editor Carrie Gracie to give evidence to MPs as Culture Secretary calls for ‘more action’ on gender pay gap

By James Walker

Former BBC China editor Carrie Gracie has agreed to give evidence to MPs on the corporation’s gender pay gap as new Culture Secretary Matt Hancock today said it had to take “much more action” on the issue.

Gracie resigned this week over what she claimed was a “secretive and illegal pay culture” at the BBC that did not value men and women equally, revealing she was paid less than other male international editors.

BBC journalists who have tweeted their support for Gracie or “stated a position” on BBC pay have been told by the corporation that they cannot present items on the issue in line with impartiality guidelines.

The result has been an effective gagging order on the issue of BBC pay.

BBC Radio 4 presenter Winifred Robinson was replaced on the You and Yours Radio 4 programme today due to impartiality guidelines. Robinson has tweeted support for Gracie and pushed for pay equality at the BBC.

The BBC was forced to divulge the salaries of top-earning on-air talent last year, revealing a 9 per cent gender pay gap, although an independent pay audit of rank and file staff at the organisation found no “systemic discrimination against women”.

Addressing MPs on the BBC gender pay gap in response to an urgent question in the House of Commons, Hancock said: “Like most members of this house, I strongly support the BBC and like most of the license fee payers who fund it, I would go so far as to say that I love it.

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“But as a treasured national institution, the BBC must not only uphold, be but a beacon for the British values of fairness that this nation holds dear. That includes fair pay and equal pay for equal jobs.

“This isn’t just a matter of levelling women’s pay up, it’s a matter of pay equality. Working for the BBC is a public service and a great privilege, yet some men at the BBC are paid far more than other equivalent public servants.

“Now the BBC have begun to act, and I welcome that. But more action, much more action is needed, especially when BBC foreign editors can earn more than her Majesty’s ambassadors in the same jurisdiction.

“In the specific case of Carrie Gracie, I welcome the Equality and Human Rights Commission decision to look into the issue she’s raised. The BBC must act, because the brilliant women working at all levels of the BBC deserve better.”

Hannah Bardell, the SNP MP who raised the urgent question on the BBC’s gender pay gap, said: “I pay tribute to Carrie Gracie, she will be a huge loss and she has shown great bravery and determination over this issue.

“Her letter makes for staggering and shocking reading. Salary disclosures at the BBC, forced to make six months ago, revealed not only unacceptably high pay for top presenters and managers, but an indefensible pay gap between men and women doing equal work.”  

The Labour MP Jess Phillips said: “The issue about it being a problem at the BBC is one that is writ large in the debate today.

“My email is full of women signing non-disclosures for all sorts of reasons, equal pay amongst them, so we must be careful we don’t bash the BBC unnecessarily.

“However, as Evan Davis took to Newsnight to talk about this last night, after going on Twitter and giving his very clear opinion, of which was neither right nor honourable, about this issue, why has he not been silenced when women who have spoken up as part of the campaign group have been taken off-air?”

Evan Davis hosted a segment on the BBC gender pay gap on Newsnight last night, including a two-way panel discussion on the issue.

Yesterday Davis tweeted: “I don’t think the idea that there should be equal pay for the same work makes sense in showbiz.

“No junior actor working alongside Tom Cruise should expect to get the same pay as him. I would not have expected to get the same as John Humphrys when I joined the Today programme.”

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Select Committee has also invited BBC director-general Tony Hall to discuss what the BBC is doing about the gender pay gap with the committee.

In a letter to BBC director general Lord Tony Hall, committee chairman Damian Collins said: “In November 2017 you gave evidence to the DCMS Committee about the BBC Annual Report.

“The session included discussion of the gender pay gap at the BBC. You told us that you had brought in external consultants to assist with a process of consultation meetings.

“The Committee has followed this issue closely. As a result it is eager to hear the latest on the process, especially following Carrie Gracie’s resignation from her role as China Editor on 7 January in protest at the gender pay gap.

“Accordingly, the DCMS Committee plans to hold an evidence session as soon as possible (and certainly by the end of January) to hear the results of your analysis. The Committee will take evidence at the same session from Carrie Gracie—and possibly other BBC reporters—about the gender pay gap.”

The BBC has yet to respond to a request for comment on Matthew Hancock’s statement in the commons.

Picture: PA Wire/BBC file photo

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