No Unlawful Pay Discrimination at the BBC? A Finding Is Quickly Disputed.


LONDON — A report released Thursday by an equal rights commission that found no evidence of unlawful pay discrimination against women at the BBC was quickly described as a “whitewash” by Carrie Gracie, the former journalist who raised the issue of unequal pay at the broadcaster more than two years ago.

Britain’s Equality and Human Rights Commission said it examined evidence from over 100 British Broadcasting Corporation employees, reviewed 40 pay complaints and narrowed its focus to 10. In the end, the commission’s 80-page report suggested that the BBC increase transparency and “rebuild trust with women.”

Ms. Gracie, who sparked an outcry over pay disparity at the BBC in 2018 after she discovered that she been paid far less than male colleagues for years, said in a tweet that the commission’s report “feels like a whitewash.” She expressed outrage at the examination of only 10 cases among the hundreds of payouts the public broadcaster has issued.

A group called BBC Women said the findings “do not reflect our experiences.”

“New cases are coming forward, and women are still heading to court,” the group said in a statement shared on Twitter. “We fight on.”

The report comes almost a year after the BBC lost a high-profile case over pay disparity: In January, TV host Samira Ahmed won after suing the broadcaster for 700,000 pounds, or about $915,000, in back pay after she learned that a male colleague doing similar work was paid more than six times as much.

The commission acknowledged that “as Samira Ahmed’s case demonstrates, this does not mean that pay discrimination has not occurred at the BBC in individual cases,” adding that it had identified issues with the broadcaster’s past approach.

“We did identify themes relating to past pay practices that could give rise to a risk of pay discrimination,” the report said. “These have now largely been resolved through the BBC’s range of pay reforms.”

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The National Union of Journalists said that the many individual settlements, including Ms. Ahmed’s, “underlines the clear problems that have existed.”

Since 2017, more than 600 women have been granted pay rises as a result of formal complaints or informal inquiries, The Guardian reported. The corporation said that 99 percent of pay inquiries have been resolved.

“It is easy to see why trust between some women at the BBC and the organization has broken down,” said Caroline Waters, interim chair of the commission. “Many women felt their voices were not being heard and have been left feeling confused as to how decisions about their pay have been made. This took a heavy emotional toll on those involved in the process, and the strength of feeling of women at the BBC should not be understated.”

The BBC’s director general, Tim Davie, said that while commission had found no unlawful pay discrimination, the broadcaster would have to work harder. “The BBC has made a series of wide-reaching reforms which have significantly improved the coherence, consistency and transparency of its pay systems,” Mr. Davie said in a statement.

While acknowledging past blunders, Mr. Davie said “the reforms have reduced the risk of pay discrimination considerably.” He said the broadcaster will conduct regular pay audits, improve technology used for pay comparisons and review job pay ranges.

The row began in 2017 after the Conservative government forced the BBC to publish a list of its highest-paid entertainers and journalists earning over £150,000, or about $204,000, annually. Only one-third were women; even fewer were Black, Asian, or members of another minority group.

The data produced broad criticism, and the broadcaster responded by cutting the salaries of several prominent male journalists. But the list released the following year was still gloomy for women: In 2018, only two women ranked among the BBC’s 20 highest-paid stars.

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That year, Ms. Gracie, then a senior journalist and China editor for the BBC, resigned from her post and publicly criticized the broadcaster after discovering that she and other female colleagues had been paid far less than men doing similar jobs. She said the company was operating a “secretive and illegal” salary system. Her cause drew support from other women in the organization

She eventually returned after the BBC apologized and said it would return her backdated wages for the years she was underpaid. Ms. Gracie resigned in August, after 33 years with the BBC, saying she was proud to have “fought for a fair workplace.”


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