BBC Boss Tells Pay Hearing: "I Am Absolutely Committed to Equality"

Tony Hall – P 2013
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Tony Hall appears in London's House of Commons in a public evidence session along with other top executives of the public broadcaster and former China editor Carrie Gracie.

BBC top executives, led by director general Tony Hall, on Wednesday appeared before the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee of the British parliament's House of Commons in a public evidence session on the public broadcaster's pay system and criticism of a gender pay gap. 

"I am absolutely committed to equality within the BBC," Hall said. "I want us to be the place where people come because we are the very best workplace."

"Since I came back to the BBC, equality, and especially equality [of] women, is something that I have felt strongly about and wanted to fix," he also said, but admitted that more needs to be done, especially in terms of narrowing pay bands and increasing pay transparency.

"We will not discriminate on gender," Hall said. "Transparency will give people a sense of where they sit in the organization," he said, adding that a new and transparent pay framework that the BBC unveiled Tuesday it was developing will be key. "We have not been clear with people about why you are paid that or why you are paid that." 

Hall said not everyone, such as every news editor, should be paid the same given differences in experience and the like, but he emphasized that "it should not be a matter of gender, outrageous if it was."

He spoke after an appearance in the committee by Carrie Gracie, who recently resigned as the BBC's China editor in protest over unequal pay. Hall acknowledged that the BBC made a "mistake" when it failed to review her pay for her China role when it brought in a new Washington, D.C., editor who got paid more.

The BBC on Tuesday published a report on its pay system for on-air talent in its news and current affairs department, which it commissioned with accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers following criticism of its gender pay gap.

The BBC emphasized that the report found "no evidence of gender bias," but promised to address "unfairness" and "create a fairer and more equal" system. 

"No one should be paid differently because of their gender," Hall said in unveiling the findings. "The BBC has a special role representing Britain. That is why we need to be and want to be an exemplar on gender pay, and equal pay."

Also speaking at the same session were BBC chairman David Clementi, Fran Unsworth, the director of BBC News and Current Affairs, and Anne Bulford, the broadcaster's deputy director general.

Earlier in the day, Gracie said she had agreed to become China editor and urged for equal pay at the time. "The BBC is extremely secretive on pay," she said, highlighting that she would like to see benchmarks against which to check her salary. "And I thought I had won a commitment to pay equality." She said she was then shocked to find out last summer that male colleagues in similar roles got higher pay. 

"This is damaging the credibility of the BBC in a completely unacceptable way," she said about the pay disparities. "BBC management needs to stop treating us as some kind of enemy, putting up a kind of fortress."

Gracie also highlighted that the BBC finally gave her a grievance payment last week after 89 days of a 90-day period it had at its disposal, even though the broadcaster had promised to expedite it.

Hall on Wednesday called Gracie a "first-rate" journalist and lauded her for taking a strong stance on the issue of pay. "I am sorry it went to a grievance, and I'm sorry it has taken so long," he said about her pay case and its resolution.