BBC women denounce unequal pay, turning heat on broadcaster


LONDON — Women working for the BBC have complained they were paid less than men in equivalent jobs and have accused managers of misleading them about their pay to hide widespread gender discrimination at Britain’s public broadcaster.

Pay has become a tricky issue for the BBC since it was forced to name its best-paid on-air staff last July and disclose their pay bands, revealing that two-thirds of the high earners were men and that some were paid far more than female peers.

A cherished institution funded by a license fee levied on TV viewers and reaching 95 percent of British adults every week, the BBC stands accused of lavishing excessive amounts of public cash on male employees while short-changing women.

Angry female staff have been seeking redress but have become bogged down in opaque internal processes that have failed to address the gender discrepancies, according to BBC Women, a group of 170 staff.

“Women have experienced veiled threats made against them when they raised the subject of equal pay,” the group said in written evidence to parliament’s media committee, which is investigating BBC pay.

BBC Women provided 14 individual examples of women in a range of roles, all of whom described frustrating battles with managers over the issue of pay discrimination.

“I have co-presented with a male colleague for many years ... I estimate he’s paid around double what I earn for doing the same job,” said one of the unnamed women in a typical submission. “I raised the equal pay issue many times over the years, but nothing was done.”

The BBC said it was committed to equal pay and had been complying with Britain's equality law.

The parliamentary committee is due to hear oral evidence on Wednesday from Carrie Gracie, the BBC’s former China editor who quit this month in protest over being paid less than her male peers, and from BBC Director-General Tony Hall.

The BBC will propose a pay cap of 320,000 pounds ($450,000) per year for news presenters as part of a wider restructuring of pay, its own media editor reported on Tuesday.

But lawmaker Damian Collins, chair of the media committee, said the cap would have made no difference in Gracie’s case as her annual pay as China editor had been 135,000 pounds while her counterpart Jon Sopel, North America editor, had been paid between 200,000 and 250,000.

Sopel was one of six high-profile male presenters and journalists who agreed to take pay cuts in the wake of Gracie’s resignation.

“The focus on top men taking a pay cut really doesn’t address the issue of the lack of equal pay throughout the organization,” Collins told Sky News.

The pay issue has led to bizarre situations on BBC radio and TV, with some people whose own pay packages were part of the debate presenting news programs covering the topic.

On the day when news of Gracie’s resignation broke, she was co-presenting the flagship morning radio program Today with John Humphrys, a BBC veteran whose annual pay of over 600,000 pounds was one of the most controversial disclosures.

Humphrys is one of the six men who have agreed to pay cuts. — Reuters