Journalist, writer and broadcaster Samira Ahmed arrives at the Central London Employment Tribunal, Victory House, London, where she taking the BBC to an employment tribunal over an unequal pay claim. PA Photo. Picture date: Thursday October 31, 2019. See PA story TRIBUNAL BBC. Photo credit should read: Aaron Chown/PA Wire
TV presenter Samira Ahmed pictured at the Central London Employment Tribunal in October last year © PA

The TV presenter Samira Ahmed has won her gender discrimination case against the BBC in a landmark ruling for equal pay campaigners, which could leave the UK’s publicly funded broadcaster open to costly future claims.

An employment tribunal on Friday ruled that work by the female Newswatch presenter was “of equal value” to that of fellow presenter Jeremy Vine, who at £3,000 per episode was paid almost seven times as much for anchoring another BBC programme, Points of View.

“No woman wants to have to take action against their own employer,” Ms Ahmed said following the ruling, thanking the National Union of Journalists for backing her in the case. “I’m now looking forward to continuing to do my job, to report on stories and not being one.”

British law has since 1970 stated that men and women must be paid the same for equal work. Ms Ahmed’s ruling could inspire a wave of gender pay claims against other companies and organisations as well as the BBC, which has been heavily criticised recently for alleged discrimination.

The broadcaster is expected to be pressured into raising the pay of female employees who have lodged equal pay claims in the wake of the broadcaster revealing the gender breakdown of its top-earning talent.

The tribunal was in November told that the BBC’s internal grievance body was processing roughly 70 gender pay cases, a number that the BBC said was now “significantly lower”.

The 40-page tribunal judgment described the difference in pay between the two presenters as “striking”, arguing that the BBC had failed to support its claim that Mr Vine was paid more than Ms Ahmed because he had a greater status and that presenting Points of View required more work.

It also argued Mr Vine had been overpaid, directing a blow at the BBC, which had argued that the 54-year-old had been paid the “market rate”.

The BBC’s legal team argued the difference was partially due to Mr Vine’s ability to be “cheeky” and have a “glint in his eye”, an argument dismissed by the tribunal, which said “the light hearted tone and any cheekiness” came from a script that was prepared by other BBC staff.

The broadcaster said it would “consider this judgment carefully” before deciding whether to appeal or offer Ms Ahmed the £700,000 she had argued she was owed in back pay.

The BBC added it was “sorry” the tribunal had found it lacked the evidence to back up its arguments, saying it had not been able to call on managers who made decisions on Mr Vine’s pay in 2008 as they had “long since left the BBC”.

“We have always believed that the pay of Samira and Jeremy Vine was not determined by their gender. Presenters — female as well as male — had always been paid more on Points of View than Newswatch,” it said.

One senior BBC journalist said Mr Vine had been treated “quite unfairly to be honest”. “Samira has been rather grateful to him. It’s nothing about him as a bloke.”

Anger over unequal pay at the public service broadcaster surfaced roughly three years ago when the BBC was forced to publish its first list of on-air talent earning more than £150,000. Women made up only one-third of top-earners, sparking deep concern about the corporation’s pay structures and management processes.

In January 2018, the BBC’s former China editor Carrie Gracie stood down from her role as she accused bosses of operating an “illegal pay culture”.

Her departure prompted the UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission to launch an investigation into the BBC’s alleged discrimination against women, which is set to conclude by March.

The BBC has since sought to close the gender pay gap with several senior BBC journalists agreeing to take pay cuts, such as the former Radio 4 Today presenter John Humphrys and Mr Vine, who at the time called accepting the cut a “no-brainer”.

Senior BBC journalists said staff did not expect another round of voluntary pay cuts for male TV journalists. The ruling could, however, put downward pressure on the pay packages of some “big stars”, which might be of benefit to the BBC as it faces threats of funding cuts from the Conservative government.

Letter in response to this article:

Nice work if you can get it / From Mark Solon, Chairman, Wilmington Legal, London E1, UK

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