Byzantine BBC

BY JAMIE FOSTER

The latest row at the BBC shows how byzantine and secretive the organisation is and how unfit for its role as a public broadcaster it is. China editor Carrie Gracie has quit her role in protest over the fact that male colleagues in similar roles get paid 50% more to do their jobs.  She is supported by a massive twitter campaign under the hashtag #IstandwithCarrie and many high-profile female journalists have taken to Twitter to sing her praises. It is typical of the BBC to allow itself to become embroiled in such a scandal. With its PC holier than thou output the organisation would appear to stand for values such as equal pay, but in reality, it is so large and inflexible that old fashioned problems like gender inequality still dog it.

It is unsurprising that this has become such a popular cause with women. Last year’s revelations about the pay of BBC stars revealed two things. They are paid far too much, and men are paid more than women. Equality law requires men and women doing the same jobs to be paid equally and it is clear that this simply isn’t happening within the BBC. For an organisation funded by a licence fee neither the huge salaries for top stars nor the inequality in pay are defensible.

Women working for the BBC naturally feel undervalued having had confirmed what was long suspected, that male counterparts are paid more for doing the same jobs. The inequality undermines the argument for stratospheric male salaries. It is argued that pay needs to be high to attract the right people but clearly this isn’t true if females are willing to work for less. Surely the BBC could pay its staff the same as the women who are willing to turn up for lower pay? As a public broadcaster it is ridiculous to imagine that pay needs to be stratospheric in order to attract talent.

There is no reason why the BBC couldn’t be open and transparent regarding pay and ensure that male and female talent is rewarded equally. The BBC is funded by licence payers being forced by law to pay and therefore should be accountable to those who fund it. It is simply wrong in the 21st Century for an organisation like the BBC to have such outdated pay practices. There can be no justification for pay inequality in the field of broadcasting in which men and women do the same jobs to the same standard.

The story of Carrie Gracie is a peculiarly BBC story in itself. She has quit her role as China editor despite being offered a £45,000 pay increase but she has not left the BBC. She will return to her work on the BBC news desk, where she is confident she will receive equal pay. Her salary was already £135,000 so there is no question that she was underpaid for her work, merely that her pay was unequal in comparison to male counterparts. Nonetheless it is wrong in any rational sense that this state of affairs exists.

The time has come for the BBC to get its house in order. It claims to be doing so saying that a recent judge led inquiry into rank and file staff showed no discrimination against women. Something is clearly rotten in the state of Denmark if Carrie Gracie’s case is illustrative of the status quo. The anger expressed by so many BBC women around this subject will not easily be placated. It is an understandable anger from those who feel cheated by an organisation that should behave better.

Every part of the BBC story tells the tale of a massive organisation that is not fit for the 21st Century. It is time for the entire funding of the BBC to be reassessed. It cannot be right that the poorest in society face prison for a failure to pay a licence fee while the organisation itself flouts equalities legislation. It is time that the BBC valued the women who work for it equally. It is also time that it valued those who pay for it appropriately. Carrie Gracie’s story is not just a scandal for the BBC, it should be a turning point.

Jamie Foster is the Chief Writer for Country Squire Magazine and a Country Solicitor. 

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