Carrie Gracie: How Today programme perfectly illustrated BBC's awkwardness about gender pay gap

John Humphrys sat beside co-presenter Carrie Gracie and explained how he couldn't interview co-presenter Carrie Gracie ... So he was going to talk to another presenter

Adam Lusher
Monday 08 January 2018 15:54
Carrie Gracie on quitting the BBC over equal pay: There is a 'hunger for an equal, fair and transparent pay system'

For an hour and a half they just about managed to keep the Today programme on the straight and narrow as a serious news programme.

Then, just after the 7.30am news, the Today programme went the full W1A.

For those who don’t know, W1A is the BBC’s satire of management culture at the BBC. It’s fiction, but real events constantly conspire to make it look more like a documentary.

As Monday’s Today programme – broadcast in the wake of an almighty row caused by the BBC’s China editor resigning in protest at a “secretive and illegal” gender pay gap – was about to prove.

“Let’s pick up that story about the woman sitting next to me,” said John Humphrys, male, £600,000-£650,000 salary, in the studio beside … Yup, co-presenter, very much ex-BBC China editor, Carrie Gracie, female, pay £135,000 and flipping angry.

Not that Mr Humphrys could just turn his chair slightly and, you know, interview Carrie Gracie about the row concerning Carrie Gracie.

Because if Carrie Gracie is presenting the BBC programme discussing the row about Carrie Gracie, Carrie Gracie can’t discuss the row about Carrie Gracie on the programme discussing the row about Carrie Gracie.

Or, as Mr Humphrys earned some of his hefty salary by succinctly explaining: “Now, BBC rules say presenters of a programme aren’t allowed to use that programme to declare their own views. A presenter can’t suddenly turn interviewee... So I need to talk to another presenter.”

So it was that John Humphrys, with Carrie Gracie sitting beside him, discussed the row about Carrie Gracie with Mariella Frostrup, who was not next to him, but talking down a “bad line” from “rainy Somerset”.

Not to worry, though, this is the BBC. Other media organisations might keep their skeletons in triple-locked cupboards, never to be mentioned on-air, online or in print, ever. Not the Beeb.

Rather gloriously, pretty heroically, they were going to give this Carrie Gracie thing another go, on Woman’s Hour.

“Now, because of BBC impartiality rules,” began presenter Jane Garvey.

Ms Garvey, who criticised the BBC after the disparity between male and female stars was revealed in July, and who has also joined colleagues in describing Ms Gracie as “brave and brilliant”, could not discuss the issue.

But now, an hour after the Today programme finished, Carrie Gracie could discuss the row about Carrie Gracie because she was no longer presenting the programme discussing the row about Carrie Gracie, and the BBC had devised a cunning plan.

“Jane Martinson,” explained Ms Garvey, “Is a freelance journalist. She is in our radio car and she is going to speak to Carrie Gracie.” (Location unstated, but presumably fairly close to the BBC studio.)

So what, finally, did we learn once Gracie could speak unfettered by BBC impartiality rules about her’s BBC pay?

Well, if you will send a fearless reporter to examine the actions of a secretive, “heavily censored one party state” [as she put it in her resignation letter] …

“I could NOT go to China and collude, knowingly, in what I considered to be unlawful pay discrimination,” said the dissident Gracie.

“NOR”, she added, “could I stay silent and watch the BBC perpetuate a FAILING pay structure by discriminating against women.”

“I chase around being surveilled the whole time”, she explained (talking about China not the BBC), “dealing with intimidation, dealing with police harassment.”

She added: “Every day I go out without fear or favour, facing intimidation in China, facing censorship, actually telling the story and shining a light.

“I am not going to NOT shine a light when I find a problem in my home organisation.”

“I didn’t want more money,” she said. “I wanted equality, and there was still a big gap between myself and my male peers.”

She didn’t name those male peers, but they were presumably her international editor counterparts, Jon Sopel the US editor who was revealed in July to earn £200,000-£249,999 a year, and Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen, £150,000-£199,999.

And yes, Ms Gracie did have the self-awareness to add: “I believe in public service broadcasting. I do think salaries at the top are unacceptably high, for presenters, and stars and also the managers.”

Which might not have been music to the ears of BBC director-general Tony Hall (£450,000-£499,999).

They had already tried a judge-led audit of rank-and-file BBC staff pay that found “no systemic discrimination against women”.

On Monday the BBC added a statement that declared: “Fairness in pay is vital. A significant number of organisations have now published their gender pay figures showing that we are performing considerably better than many.”

But journalists and presenters, male and female, within the BBC and at other organisations, were still speaking out in support of the dissident Gracie.

And the dissident Gracie was now doing a pretty fine job of talking for herself.

Maybe it was time for Tony Hall and chums to have a meeting, try a bit of good old managerial blue-sky thinking?

Ms Gracie has already said she is returning to the BBC newsroom, presumably as a presenter: so what about telling wonderful Carrie she can have that presenting job for life (while gently reminding her about those BBC impartiality rules for presenters)?

There may, alas, never be another series of W1A, but the Today programme is back again tomorrow morning.

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