Samira Ahmed: A Landmark Victory?

Yaamir Badhe says the presenter's case shows there is still much more to do for pay equality

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Last Friday, journalist and broadcaster Samira Ahmed won a landmark victory in her case against the BBC regarding equal pay. Ahmed claimed that she was being severely underpaid for her role presenting Newswatch, allegedly receiving £440 per episode of the programme, which she pointed out as was significantly lower than the £3000 per episode enjoyed by fellow presenter Jeremy Vine for his role presenting Points of View.

These claims were followed by a tribunal that came to a close last week, in which the BBC attempted to defend its decision to pay Vine more than Ahmed, by arguing that the difference in pay was due to Jeremy Vine’s “celebrity” status and “market value as a major star”, rather than the fact that he is a man.

This proved to be dissatisfactory evidence, with the tribunal swinging in Ahmed’s favour: as a result of this, Ahmed received the entire pay differential between her and Vine, amounting to a sum of £693,000.

Ahmed’s victory in the case has been hailed as an emphatic one and can be expected to set a precedent for other female broadcasters who claim to have been paid significantly less than their male counterparts for similar work.

However, while Ahmed’s success and victory in this case is something to be celebrated, it is perhaps also necessary to consider what the very fact that this case took place says about the BBC and about the gender pay gap. Samira Ahmed is just one of many BBC employees who have felt that their pay has been unfairly determined based on their sex; fellow broadcaster Carrie Gracie resigned from her role as BBC China editor in January last year citing the BBC’s “secretive and illegal” pay culture as her primary reason for doing so. Looking further back, in 2017, BBC radio host Jane Garvey also spoke out about the issue of equal pay at the BBC, calling on the BBC to “act now” regarding the pay discrepancy and claiming that BBC bosses have “fobbed women off” regarding the issue of the gender pay gap.

Clearly, Ahmed’s case is not an exception, and the BBC, along with many other organisations, has now been publicly revealed to have a serious issue regarding the equal pay of its employees.

One might think, then, that Samira Ahmed’s case, which is arguably one of the most prominent and widely reported of such cases to reach the headlines in recent years, would prompt a change in tone of the BBC with regard to the issue of equal pay. However, the BBC’s reaction and statement regarding the case suggests that it has barely acknowledged the underlying issue at all.

The verdict of the tribunal was that the BBC was unable to provide suitable evidence to show that Vine was paid more than Ahmed because of his celebrity status, to which the BBC responded after the case: “We have always believed the pay of Samira and Jeremy Vine was not determined by their gender … We are sorry the tribunal didn’t think the BBC provided enough evidence about specific decisions.”

We might consider the tone of this reaction to be rather worrying; although the tribunal worked in Ahmed’s favour, this reaction suggests that the BBC has failed to acknowledge the issue of equal pay itself, let alone the magnitude of it, and still holds the view that Jeremy Vine’s higher pay was justified.

As we near the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act, Samira Ahmed’s case shows us that while the issue of equal pay can be corrected on a case by case basis, it remains widespread and all the more pertinent today.